By now, I have almost gotten used to getting up real early, getting ready for the day, and spending a good hour or more in the lobby of the Discovery Hotel to upload the blog and pictures. It’s the only place where the wireless connection is solid, if somewhat slow. That task completed, I’d make my way over to the café where others from our group were already having their breakfast. This morning we lingered a bit so that by the time we arrived at De La Salle College, we had missed morning prayer and folks were moving to the gym for the first session there.
The keynote speaker was the Maronite Archbishop of Galilee, Elias Chacour. He was a great hit with everyone. His story, message, and presence were very engaging, sincere, and even holy. The hour went by in a flash. He told of his experience as a child in Palestine when Israel was created in 1948 and his subsequent vocation and involvement with the Palestinian Christians. He identified himself as a Palestinian, as a Christian, and as an Israeli citizen. His appeal and challenge was to work for reconciliation and to resist categorizing either Jews, Christians, Muslims, or Palestinians. He started out saying the he sincerely loved each student in the room, spoke some Arabic to the group from the Middle East, and then launched into a talk from the heart. I really wished this had been videotaped. It would be something that could easily be used in any history or contemporary issues class in the West. (I taped the end portion of his talk on my small camera and will try to edit and upload it to YouTube.) At the end of his talk, the kids spontaneously gave him a standing ovation and they pretty much mobbed him during the tea break that followed.
The next session was similarly engaging and inspirational, but it was from an entirely different part of the experiential spectrum. Jessie Manibusan is a funny, inspirational, and talent liturgical musician and clinician who soon had the group laughing, dancing, singing, and thinking seriously about their Catholic faith. He first makes fun of himself – a good strategy that archbishop Chacour used as well – and then moves into ideas, notions, and questions that keep people intensely focused while moving them from one idea to the next. I’d say that both of them were excellent teachers, on different levels. These two sessions were a good balance to the information-bound sessions from yesterday, and by the end of the morning, folks were in a good place.
The afternoon was “free” for the groups to shop, tour Melbourne, or do what they needed to do. Our group had a brief meeting in the gym and then we disbursed to different places. Some had a box lunch here at the school, while others left for the train and downtown Melbourne. The group I was part of decided to have lunch elsewhere and made our way to town via train. On the train, we met a group of Lasallian Youth from Adelaide, and we decided to join them for a while, wandering down Bourke street and looking into various shops along the way. When our groups split off, we made our way to Melbourne Central where we went to the food court so that each could get their own preferred food but we could sit together at a table. After lunch, of course, a couple of guys needed to get a Baskin Robbins ice cream to round out the meal.
By now it was almost time to reassemble for the evening’s activities. We went by our hotel, and while the rest went inside, Robb showed me Victoria Market (a bunch of stalls selling most things imaginable) where I looked for a good hat. We saw lots of hats (see some of the pictures that I’ve uploaded to the Google website), but there were none that I found particularly appealing, and so we returned to the hotel.
The group assembled downstairs at about 4:30 PM to make our way to the Telstra Dome for the Diocesan Days liturgy. It was about a twenty-minute walk away, but the exercise would do us good. Along the way, we were startled by a small animal that had made it’s home in a tree along the sidewalk. We didn’t know quite what it was but it was very interested in us. When it was pointed out to the group, practically everyone had to get a picture of it. It just kept looking at us with a serious expression, darting back into the body of the tree every once in while, with its mate looking out from another hole in the tree. It wasn’t quite a possum but reminded me of one.
Telstra Dome is located right next to a major rail station. It seems to be a fairly recent addition to Melbourne and looks as if it could seat about 100,000 people. As it was, we were told that 50,000 people would be there. Once inside, we went up the third level and found our seats in a section where all the Lasallian Youth, except for the Vietnamese group from San Jose, had been assigned. The next hour was filled with songs, flag-waving, shouted-out calls, group picture-taking, and general fun and vocal mayhem. The Egyptian LY group organized a “wave” for our group, and after working on it for a good ten minutes managed to get one going throughout the stadium. It went around some 6 – 8 times before petering out. The thing really got going when, on the opposite side of the stadium, the 300 or so priests (all vested in white) who were sitting there did the wave along with everyone else.
As noisy as the whole thing was, as soon as the Mass started everything went completely quiet. The atmosphere turned on a dime and now we were focused on the Liturgy. First, about 10 minutes before the procession, these “incense machines” along the processional route were activated and smoke began to fill the inside of the stadium (I’m presuming it was incense and not just smoke, although I never smelled anything.) A long line of some 40 bishops processed in, followed a short time later by 10 – 12 others who were either archbishops or cardinals, along with bishops from various Orthodox traditions.
The archbishop of Melbourne presided, with his visage on the large color stadium screens, singing all the prayers in a rather good voice, with the choir and others responding in their parts. The whole thing lasted a couple of hours, of course, but the experience was a foretaste of what the large WYD liturgies will be like. It was interesting to see the many things that they did to try to create a “holy space” in this huge stadium. For the most part, I’d say that they were successful, given the circumstances. A large part of the success, of course, came from the serious spirit of those in attendance.
At the end of the Mass, most of our group walked to a place that Br. Peter had picked out on his walk here – the Celtic Club – for a bit to eat. This place, we found out, was established in 1887 for the Irish community in Melbourne and, while inviting and filled with good spirit and music, had two burly security guards at the door and seemed to be focused mostly on the Irish members who were part of the club. It took a bit of effort, on the part of Paul Avvento mostly, to talk our way into the upstairs restaurant part of the Club. Once in, they couldn’t have been nicer. We had to become temporary members and filled out some sort of membership form before going upstairs for a very nice meal with some great conversation .
It was a wonderful ending to an inspirational day.