Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Australia - The Return Trip

So it’s all over except for the cleaning up. God knows what the Randwick field must look like this morning, I’d guess that there will be lots of tarps, sleeping bags, and other contributions for the local charities. For our part, we had until 11 AM to get ourselves ready and I availed myself of the time to sleep in a bit and then to process pictures and begin composing the blog text for the past day(s).

When it came time to pack, I’d decided to leave various items (sleeping bags, etc.) behind for the Brothers to use as they saw fit and stuffed the rest of my things into the luggage I’d brought. Thank God for expandable suitcases.

The group met at the picnic table at 10:30 AM where we had morning prayer together followed by some reflections from Br. Peter and others. Pete got kind of choked up, as well he might, when he described what this experience had meant for him. Br. Rich and myself made some comments of appreciation as well, followed by a couple of the guys in the group. In the end, Br. John, the principal of the place, came along and spoke with us a bit, and then it was on to another group shot and let’s load up the bus. Several Brazilian students joined us on the bus as well.

At the airport we let the guys know what Pete had told Rich and myself earlier today – our scheduled flight had been delayed by a couple of hours. This may impact some of the connecting flights for people but we’ll make the best of it. We stood in line to check our luggage in and get our seat assignments, each of us trying to get at least an aisle seat in this fully booked 747. One in our party tried to persuade the Qantas agent that he needed a seat with lots of leg room because of his recent orthoscopic knee surgery – a bogus story, of course, but the person involved would no doubt simply call it a "dialogue." It didn’t quite work, although he did end up with a bulkhead seat. What people won’t do for a good seat on an airplane.

We had a couple of hours to kill and they wouldn’t let us into the gate area until an hour or so before the flight. So groups found places to eat or simply to sit. Rob and Eric had brought along a copy of the Staten Island Advance – their local paper – in order to take a couple of pictures showing them and the paper at the airport. Apparently, these photos will then be published by the paper in their travel section. We took pictures overlooking the airport, in front of a Sydney wall poster and even on the tarmac itself. One of those should make it in, I suppose.

There were two international terminals, with a bus ride in between them, and most of our little sub-groups found their way over to both. I went to the other terminal with Rob and Eric to see if we could use the Red Carpet Club, the United Airlines club that I belong to this year. It was an Air New Zealand lounge that had contracted with the Red Carpet Club to provide Red Carpet Club service at the Sydney airport.. However, we were rejected by an older, fake-smile, insistently polite guard lady because my ticket was with Qantas, which is not a Star Alliance member. This hadn’t happened to me at SFO in the past and I told her so, but no amount of argument would do and we weren’t able to get in. The guys with me had certain unkind observations about the lady involved, but I think I’ll just let my membership lapse after an experience like that.

On the way over via the bus, we passed a Singapore Airlines A380, the brand-new double-decker plane. It was being towed to the main runway for its flight. What a monster that one is! We didn’t see it take off but it almost seems too large to do so.

Back at our terminal it was simply a waiting game. When we finally were able to board, my aisle seat (66D) was towards the end of the plane while the rest of the group was seated around row 52, except for the bulk-head kid and Br. Rich who’d gotten an aisle seat in the very last row of the plane. Toward the end of the boarding process, two smiling young nuns in full traditional getup came down the aisle with their luggage. They were seated in the last row along with Br. Rich. However, within a few minutes they were coming back down the row with their luggage. I found out later that they’d been upgraded to first class, so now Rich could have some empty seats to stretch out in. Here’s a good example of “the last shall be first" for these nuns. I’m sure that the Sisters appreciated the experience, since it's one that they would never be able to have on their own volition. Maybe I’ll wear a robe the next time I get onto a plane. At least I wouldn’t be trying to bluff my way to a better seat because of orthoscopic surgery.

The flight was long, long, and long. Qantas did a fine job of trying to make us comfortable, with regular food services, snacks, and liquids. But I found it almost impossible to sleep in a seat that reclines back only 20 degrees or so. Thankfully, Qantas has a whole variety of entertainment programs available on individual screens. I watched “The Bucket List” and several documentaries, followed by listening to various classical CD’s while I tried to read. The noise-canceling headphones helped as well, but I developed a pretty serious head-cold kind of thing (toothache-like face pain, strange drainage, loss of hearing on the one side, etc.) that is only now gradually disappearing. After fitful sleeping, some walking around the plane, and a bit of prayer, we finally landed at SFO around 2:20 PM, a couple of hours before we left (crossed the international dateline).

After processing through immigration, those who were scheduled for a Continental flight at 3:15 PM to NYC sprinted for the luggage terminal hoping that their luggage would be among the first off the plane. That way they might still make their connection. Qantas had already made accommodation for missed connection flights because of the later departure and those from NYC found out that they’d be on the 10:10 PM flight on Continental. Meanwhile, I’d taken care of Roberto’s Southwest flight online in Sydney, switching him to a later one this afternoon, and Logan would have a later flight to Portland as well. It’s the guys from the East Coast that had to scramble around a bit. Rob and Eric had hoped to be able to grab the early Continental flight, but Rob’s Australian didgeridoo took a long time to come out on the luggage carousel. The upshot was that Br. Rich and the others made the Continental 3:15 PM flight, Roberto and Logan were all set on later flights, Brendan was on a 11 PM United flight to NYC and had received a free hotel room at the Hyatt nearby plus some meal vouchers, I was hanging around to make sure they were okay before hooking up with Chris Patino who had come to pick me up, and Br. Peter along with Rob and Eric were too late for the 3:15 PM flight and were now booked for the 10:10 PM one. Pete managed to get hotel rooms and meal vouchers for them as well. It took a while amidst the hubbub of the airport to figure all this out – using cell phones, passed-on messages, and a little guessing – but it all worked out.

After reaching him by phone, Br. Chris Patino met us at the Continental airline desk, where the others checked in their luggage. Then we made our way to the Burlingame Hyatt where Br. Pete got a room and Rob and Eric got one. Chris and I met them in a sports bar in the hotel and we proceeded to relax a bit. By around 5:30 PM Chris and I had to leave because Chris was giving a talk at Saint Mary’s College as part of the workshop for young Lasallian leaders. We said our goodbyes and drove to SMC. I wanted to stick around for the talk, but it was all I could do to concentrate on driving. I knew I would never last through any talk, no matter how good it might be. ,So I dropped Chris off and drove back to Napa where I brought my luggage into my room, set it down, and then did "crashed" onto my bed, falling asleep more quickly than I’d thought possible.

As a last reflection on this whole experience, let me say that it was a wonderful, intense experience of both “church” and “community” - one that was in many ways transformative. During our two weeks together, it was a privilege to form community with young people who were serious about their faith life and appreciated their Lasallian formation. They sort of reminded me of myself during the later years of high school. Being able to seriously pursue your faith life within a community of like-minded individuals is a real grace, and I think that despite the little problems and challenges along the way, we grew to appreciate one another to a degree that wouldn’t have been possible if this had been simply a camping trip or a “tour” or even a class. This was a pilgrimage and we were blessed by being pilgrims together. As time goes on, I’m certain that each of us will recall different things. But all will recall the quality of our time together and the multiple ways that God’s grace came to be discovered along the way. Those seeds will grow more deeply with time and will bear fruit in ways yet undiscovered. It was an experience of the theme for WYD 2008: 'You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses.' Acts 1:8

Pictures, as always are at http://picasaweb.google.com/gvangrie

Australia - The Longest, Last Day(s)

I will be combining the two last days into one entry. For me, for us, this was a single and singular experience. Today, the morning after, it’s all a bit of a blur for me, so writing it all down will help process the whole thing.

The first thing to be said is that I had made the decision on Friday not to join the rest of the group for their departure at 4 AM on Saturday morning and this was a good thing. Three of the guys wanted to join me in coming later but Br. Peter wisely determined that they would all go together on this pilgrimage. I spent the whole morning processing photos and writing the two blog entries for the previous days (okay… I also slept in a bit), finishing around 1 PM. Then I packed up my stuff, put on my robe (with lots of clothes underneath), stuffed more things into one of the bright green WYD food bags I had snagged (air mattress, reading material, sweatshirt, etc.), slung my backpack and sleeping bag over my shoulders, and set off on my own little pilgrimage to the Randwick Race Course, a horse-racing venue that had been co-opted by the government (much to the consternation of horse-racing fans, apparently) as the only appropriate venue for World Youth Day.

I’d decided to take the “long way” over the Sydney Harbor Bridge (about 10 km), especially since they’d closed the bridge in order to accommodate all of the pilgrims, along with a bunch of city streets. I knew that this plan was iffy because it was later in the day, but nevertheless I’d take advantage of the opportunity.

There were very few people on the train into Sydney, so most of the pilgrims must have already gone on their way to Randwick. By the time I got to the Milson’s Point stop on the other side of the bridge, perhaps 20 – 30 people got off along with me to walk across the bridge. It was a short walk outside the train station and up some stairs to get to the bridge. Once up there, I found that they had “closed” the closed road about three minutes before I arrived, and I saw the brightly-vested line of volunteers down the road that marked the end of the last pilgrim group. So my walk across would not be on the roadway – which remained fully without cars throughout – but rather on the normal walkway on the side. Still, it was a fine day and I didn’t mind.

Almost as soon as I’d started my walk, a man walked up beside me, offered to take one of my bags, and introduced himself as an Anglican priest on his way to St. Mary’s Cathedral (that would be the Catholic one) for a visit. We walked together for a couple of miles, having a great conversation about all things church and art and pilgrimage, until we got to the cathedral. By this time, I couldn’t quite make out how to get to Randwick. Asking a couple of roving policemen, they’d replied to my inquiry: “You’re not going to walk out there are you?” They suggested I take the train to Central Station and go from there. It was only one stop from the nearby Museum Station, but it would probably be best to follow directions in this case. Walking to the nearby train station I saw a bus that said “Randwick Junction” so I got onto that and went one stop before discovering from the bus driver that I’d have to walk 20 minutes from Randwick Junction to get to the race course. So it was off the bus and back to the station.

Arriving at Central Station, things were well marked and organized. Streets outside of the station had been blocked off, and large displays told us how far we’d have to walk. Folks along the way encouraged us with megaphones and the like. Locals watched us and cheered us on from outside caf├ęs, upstairs windows of apartment buildings, and the front steps of houses. I’m sure they’d rarely seen so many people walk down their street – streams and streams of them and all pretty happy and fervent. Along the way I stopped to get a bottle of water and again the locals were friendly and helpful, even to this strange guy in a robe. On the road, there were a number of people I chatted with, including one young man from Jerusalem who’d graduated from our school in the Old City, and a young pilgrim from Brisbane who’d come to Sydney to be part of this unique event simply because it was being held here in Austalia.

Several miles later I arrived at the race course and proceeded to search for section E4, the section number on my pilgrim passport. They wouldn’t let anyone in who didn’t have such a passport and there was a security tent where they went through everything you’d brought with you, followed by walking through a phalanx of police with sniffing dogs. After a good twenty minutes of searching I found our group well established in the front corner of section E4, with a straight line of sight to the altar area half a mile away, but also near one of the large screens distributed all around the field. They showed me my “spot” and I sort of settled into this new abode for the next 24 hours or so.

Rob and Eric had put together a nice little tent for themselves, while the rest of us would tough it out in the open, most of us on air mattresses and some on the ground. I’d arrived around 4:30 PM or so, having picked up a pilgrim bag with food on my way in, so I ate a little bit, taking in the mass of humanity around me. The Brothers told me that just before I’d arrived the group next to us (from Texas) had invited us to join them for Mass on a cardboard box altar. I’m sorry that I missed it. Apparently the liturgy was quite special for all those involved, including the folks who were walking by, saw what was going on, and promptly plopped down to join in. Live church.

Rich had gotten ill within a few hours of arriving at Randwick this morning and he had been brought to the nearby infirmary for some hydration, rest, and medication. I joined Br. Peter as we spoke with various folks in order to find out how to get to the main infirmary where he had been brought. Several conversations later we made our way to an area below the grandstand and found him watching TV and feeling a lot better. The tests that they took hadn’t returned yet from the lab but he was free to go, as long as he stayed warm. The doctor spent a bit of time making sure that he would do okay sleeping outdoors, but eventually he was released and we went back home to E4.

By this time the evening vigil had started. Gradually, thousands of candles were lit as the prayer began. Boxes of them had been left at the various sections. It was quite amazing to see that many candles swaying with the music or just keeping people a bit warm. At one point, the pope popped out on stage through a hidden door and led the rest of the vigil, delivering a longish but excellent talk about the Holy Spirit in our lives. The vigil ended with a full-blown Benediction service, including the most monstrous monstrance I've ever seen. It must have been 5 feet wide or more. The amazing part for me was to see so many people kneeling on the grass in devotion during the benediction service. Who would have thought that something like that was possible?

At the end of the vigil, when the pope had popped back into his area below the stage – perhaps with a white sleeping bag awaiting his night’s rest? – several hours of concert began. To the relative surprise of we Brothers, all of the guys in our group were soon in their sleeping bags and fast asleep, or simply trying to keep warm. The three of us sat in our portable chairs (remember that trip to K-Mart a few days ago?) and enjoyed the concert, laughing at the fact that it was us old guys who were still up. Peter wrapped himself up in his sleeping bag, robe and all, while Rich and I made our own arrangements for sleep. By the end of the second concert we were also encased in our sleeping bags, and to the sounds of the rosary being said in a combination of languages over the speakers we gradually drifted off to sleep.

I awoke several times during the night because of the cold and the relative discomfort of sleeping out like this, but the ear plugs and the extra sleeping bag draped tent-like over my head seemed to help pass the night more comfortably. Every once in a while, the noises of local groups singing loudly or simply talking it up would wake me – it seemed as if that was going on all night – but then I’d drift off again.

In the morning, about 6 AM or so, I woke up, decided I wouldn’t fall asleep again, and got up. I was a feeling a bit grungy, had wax stains on my robe from the night before, and was amazed that I had survived the night relatively unscathed. After putting my robe back on, along with anything else I had to keep me warm, I had a walk around the place, took a few pictures of folks – including one guy who was trying to keep warm by burning leftover candles from last night – and watched the sun come up.

By the time I’d gotten back to our group, most of our guys were up and around. Br. Peter and I accompanied Rich to the main health center behind the grandstand to see how the tests had come out from the night before. We found out that wiith the great crowds, they hadn’t received the results, but the doctor looked at Rich and pronounced him much better, which Rich confirmed.

At 8 AM there was morning prayer for this intimate group of about 150,000. It was well done, with a choir of seminarians leading us. But it seemed that most people in the crowd were either dressing, eating, going back and forth to the toilets, or the like. Some of us had our little liturgy booklets out and were singing along as best we could, but we seemed to be the exception. Right in front of our E4 section, a group from Uruguay had set up shop last night along half of what was supposed to be a walkway, so we were no longer in the front of our section, and this morning an elderly group from the Catholic Italian Federation of Syndey joined them in the space that remained, with a couple of elderly Italian women – decked out in their finest and their hair just so – passing out coffee from thermoses and Italian cookies to anyone within reach. So our previously clear view was now partially obscured. But then again, it’s all part of the experience and we’d just have to stand a little taller to look beyond them. Besides, the screens were sufficiently large that things were pretty clearly visible.

A little while after the morning prayer service, I decided to make my way towards the front just to see how close I could get. I found out that wearing the robe helps because a couple of times the volunteers, decked out in their bright uniforms, would simple say “Good morning, Father” and open the gate. I didn’t argue or correct them (Is this the sin of omission?). Pretty soon I was up at the front, right where the race track – kept clear throughout the event – turned into a lane going up to the altar. As I’d surmised, this would be a good place to catch a glimpse of the popemobile. The large contingent of NSW (New South Wales) police along the perimeter of the track was another hint.

An hour or so later, security folks began to rush around and talk to one another on their radios, and while the folks coordinating the pre-Mass show (music, singing, and some talking) were doing their best to keep the crowd’s attention, we could see on the big screens that the Holy Father was about to enter the racetrack. The crowd grew more excited and began pressing up against the railings. As predicted, when Benedict arrived he did a full circuit of the track and then half around again to go up the main lane where I had planted myself. So I saw him go by twice, with people cheering and taking pictures. I’m not big on cheering but I did take a number of pictures. When I thought about it later, it seemed funny that so many folks take pictures on occasions such as this, since the newspaper pictures were much better. I think it’s simply a matter of being able to say “I took that picture. Look how close I was.” Or something like that. Anyway, I took some great pictures. Look how close I was!

I watched as the popemobile turned into the lane and stopped some distance towards the altar where a baby was handed over the barricades and brought to the pope for a photo op. Although kind of hard to see, one of the pictures I took shows the little kid in mid-passing with a what-the-heck-is-going-on expression on his face.

The pope vested in a tent just in front of the altar and pretty soon the grand procession made its way up the inclines and to the sanctuary area for the final Mass. Once that procession started I negotiated my way back to E4 – it was quite a distance – and I joined our group, some of whom (won ‘t tell you who in order to protect the innocent) sort of half-slept through it all.

During the homily, one of the women in the group in front of us gestured me over and asked how many priests were in our group, because the two vested priests standing in the passageway in front of us needed more Eucharistic Ministers. I told her that we were Brothers but that we’d be happy to help out. She relayed that to the priests who immediately made “Yes, yes, of course” gestures and I told Br. Peter and Br. Rich that we’d been commissioned to help out. We took off our coats and hats, disinfected our hands (one of the kids had a bottle of the stuff) and went to the front where the priest spread us out at various places along the walkway in front of section E4. The other priest carried a large plastic container filled with a number of ciboria containing consecrated hosts.

We stood there in front of the section as the liturgy proceeded. After the Lamb of God, the priest came over and gave each of us a ciborium with hosts, telling us that we could start distributing communion after he’d come over and given each of us communion. So at the appointed time, that’s what we did. I turned around, asked the people in front of me to clear some space and form a line, which they quickly and quietly did, and proceeded to give communion to all those who approached.

This, for me, was a grace-filled conclusion to WYD and a profoundly moving experience. People of all colors, dispositions, races, ages, and dress came forward. A number of them, for example, were Chinese from China, and others were clearly from Slovak countries. I began to notice the variety of hands that devoutly took the host – some hard working hands, others soft, others wrinkled, others small and tender – and the expressions on the faces of many of the young people who came forward. Most took the host in their hands, but about 10 – 15% took the host on their tongue (a bit tricky, that). Some knelt in the grass before taking the host. A number of kids from our own group came over to receive communion from me, these kids whom I’d gotten to know and grown quite fond of. One father asked me to bless the young boy he carried with him. In the middle of this vast crowd, estimated at 400,000, here I was an agent sharing the source of our common faith, the reason we were all here, in a reverend atmosphere in the midst of an Australian racecourse, to people whom I could honestly say I loved in one way or another. It was enough to make anyone choke up, which indeed happened to me as I was returning to our section afterwards. And when I talked with Peter and Rich about this afterwards, they said that they experienced the same thing. For us this was a wonderfully surprising capstone to our WYD experience.

At the end of Mass there were a number of thank-you speeches. Cardinal Pell was short and sweet, but some other cardinal went on and on and on. He was head of some Vatican office for the laity, Italian, and apparently eager to use this singular opportunity in the limelight to best advantage. Instead of this elderly cardinal making conclusions about how significant the whole thing was for the young people, I would have liked to have seen them pick two or three young people out of the crowd before Mass to share their appreciation extemporaneously. Yes, I know. Dream on.

At the end of the speeches, Benedict XVI had the last word. Most people were eager to here where the next WYD would be, something that's traditionally not announced until the very end. When he came to the end of his short talk, he paused dramatically and announced that he will meet us all again in (another dramatic pause here) Madrid in 2011. Loud cheering, especially from the Spanish folks, followed by a beeline for the exits. Our group took a picture of ourselves there on the field – the “official” WYD photo for us, as it were – and then we split up into smaller groups to make our way out. The rule was maintained that no one should be by themselves. A couple of our guys rushed to the exits, pretty much sprinted to the front of the line, and ended up getting back to Bankstown way before anyone else. Good for them, I guess, although I never quite saw the point. The group I was part of (Br. Peter, Br. Rich, and Brendan) made our way out at a normal pace, enjoying the crowds and camaraderie. Again, the thing was very well organized. We didn’t have to stop or wait much anywhere along the line. When we finally got to Central Station some 5k down the road, they’d organized things so that each train to various destinations had its own entrance. Soon enough we were on the train and on our way home.

Once back in Bankstown, Peter had decided that we would have a final dinner together at the Sports Club in downtown Bankstown, the same place where we’d been earlier in the week, and so we trooped down there after a chance to clean up (Boy, a shower sure felt great just about now) and had dinner together at the grill. At the conclusion, different smaller groups decided to spend the rest of the evening in different ways. One group went into Sydney for some really nice late meals (think kangaroo meat and the like), another stuck around the Sports Club and ended up dancing and singing in their Karaoke lounge, and our small group (Peter, Chris, Brendan and I) stuck around the place for some relaxed conversation, desert, and reflection on the whole experience.

When we got back to the Brothers house at the school, I didn’t try to pack up since we’d have time to do that tomorrow morning but just moved right into a blessed and sound sleep.

Note: There are a whole bunch of pictures for today at http://picasaweb.google.com/gvangrie

Friday, July 18, 2008

Australia - Stations of the Cross

We’re sort of getting into a routine these days. In the morning, we have a quick meeting at “the bench” or somewhere nearby and talk about the options for the day. Then it’s off to morning prayer and catechesis in the church which ends with Mass at about 11 AM. After that, we’re able to do as we like except for formal events for which we reassemble – or try to – somewhere near the venue.

This morning, Rob had been asked to give testimony of his faith life for about five minutes or so after morning prayer, and he did a fine job of it, New Yawk accent and all. He’d prepared it ahead of time and folks in the church seemed to be well engaged. After his presentation, I left for the Brothers house in order to finish up all of the blog work that was left to do. And so I missed the bishop who was doing the catechesis this morning. From what I heard later, I probably made the better decision. Enough said.

Lunch followed for the whole group. There had been a problem getting the food for today from the folks organizing WYD, but the St. Felix Church volunteers brought out the leftovers from the past two days and everyone seemed to get enough food – a sort of modern multiplication of the loaves scene. I met a very nice local family, all of whom were very involved with providing the lunches and we took a couple of pictures together. After lunch Br. Adrian Watson showed up with his motorcycle – a passion with him – and a photo was required. He will be living in our community in San Francisco while on studies starting in a month or so, and it will be interesting to see if he ends up getting a motorcycle there. For our Brothers on the West Coast, there’s a rule against motorcycles that was established by the Visitor some years ago. I don’t know if it applies to Brothers from other places, but I’m guessing that he will be the exception to the rule.

Chris had found a makeshift pole for the American flag that he had bought downtown, but it needed some work to get the flag attached to it. A couple of the trading pins did the trick however. The flag became a good marker in the crowds as the day progressed. Later in the day, when Logan carried the flag into the Sydney Opera House, he was stopped by security and had to check it into the coat room in order to come in. Apparently, they thought it might be used as a sort of weapon. Who would have thought it?

Then we were off to downtown and the Stations of the Cross scheduled for today. Our tickets were for the “Domain” area – a grassy spot within the botanical gardens near the cathedral, and so we once again got onto a train that began relatively empty but was absolutely packed by the time we reached town, with a South American group – complete with guitar – singing hymns and songs that soon got practically the whole car singing.

It was relatively easy to get into our location. While the others settled into a chosen grassy spot, a couple of us went looking for both some souvenirs and for the WYD stoles that we were supposed to have gotten for the priests in our group liturgies. Now they were desired as free souvenirs for parishes back home. We ended up on the cathedral side of the street where all of the major tents (merchandise, registration, first aid, confession, etc.) were located. The merchandise tent was organized chaos. Lines of people waited outside to get in, and once inside they snapped up items left and right, with lines at the cash register 20-people long. I just got a pullover hat with WYD08 on it and a t-shirt with the stations of the cross printed in Aboriginal style, along with a CD of the music that we’d been hearing throughout the week. Our small group reassembled outside of the merchandise tent (Rob never did find the stoles, having gone off in search of WYD officials) and we tried to get back to the larger group but found the streets blocked off. At first we thought it was because the pope would be going by. But actually the stations had started some time ago and the procession of actors were going to be passing by on their way to the third station. So we stayed there (little choice) and had a pretty good view as they passed by, behind the WYD cross and followed by Cardinal Pell and Bishop Fisher (the organizer of WYD here in Sydney). The actors were surrounded by camera people since the whole thing was being broadcast throughout Sydney on the large screens at each of the major venues for these Stations of the Cross, and throughout the world. We’re probably in the background at some point, since we were so close to the action, but it’s the only part of the stations that we saw for some time. Another half hour later, they opened the streets and we were able to make our way back to the large group where we watched the rest of the stations on the big screens in front of us.

During the time we were there, I was able to catch up a little on my blogging, since I'd brought my laptop computer with me. The ground was wet but we didn't seem to mind. The whole thing was captivating.

It was all rather cleverly done as well, utilizing both the great sites of Sydney and the late afternoon and evening light. (Check the websites for the Daily Telegraph and the Sydney Morning Herald for more details.) By the time the crucifixion happened, it was sunset and the whole thing was rather dramatic against the Sydney skyline. The actors were good but I’ve never seen a Jesus that I really liked, including this one. All actors are somehow too specific to do justice to the reality. Perhaps it should be like the depiction of Mohammed in the movie “The Message” where you never see his face, you only see what he sees (each time Mohammed was depicted, the camera was his face and you saw what he saw). An icon, for example, give you the freedom that fiction gives you, not being contrained by a certain specificity - an interpretation that Br. Mike here in the community just shared with me.

The actor here in Sydney seems to have wanted to really act out this role, because I noticed that just before he was crucified, one of the soldiers surreptitiously pulled out a small spray bottle (of antiseptic?) from the folds of his costume and sprayed it on the actor’s palms. And it did look like he was really bleeding from his hands and his head. So I think that the 14th station, which we didn’t see completed, probably consisted of having him put into an ambulance instead of the tomb.

I would say that the entire experience was very prayerful and powerful. At the end, when Jesus was being carried off, most of the folks in the grassy area we were in (called "The Domain") stood up and began to leave. A couple of our guys had gone earlier to go pick up our dinner at the food tent – an hour’s job by itself – and they just happened to return at that time. So while Jesus was being carried away on the big screens, we were digging into our dinners, passing plates and bread and plastic bags (already warmed) with some sort of stew. It was an interesting contrast.

At the end of our dinner we moved to the back of the park and made our way to the Sydney Opera House. Along the way, Paul stopped a number of Italian pilgrims, trying to make a trade for one of their blue blanket-like capes. He worked hard at it, hawking several t-shirts from the states, pins, and whatever else he had. But no luck. The Italians knew they’d need those warm capes on Saturday night and they weren’t going to part with it. But Paul is determined to get one at some point during the next couple of days.

At the opera house we found the place to pick up our tickets and then walked around the place, resting here and there and filling up the time watching all the pilgrims wandering around. It was a fine night – a bit cold but not seriously so. It was fascinating to see bright, colorful WYD hanged every couple of minutes. Along with all the other lights of the area, it mprojections on the support towers of the harbor bridge which cade quite a sight.

When the time came, we went into the opera house and to our seats. The eight of us had chosen to buy these tickets for Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis much earlier, when the trip was first organized, and we had pretty good tickets for the event. Most of the people in the hall were pilgrims and the concert was grand and impressive. There were a whole bunch of cardinals and bishops in a separate seating section of the hall. At the end of the concert I happened to be at the bottom of the main stairs, waiting for some others, and several cardinals said “Hello, Brother” as they passed me. Of those, I only recognized Sean O’Malley from Boston (Franciscan habit with a scarlet zuchetto on top of his head), but there was also an Italian cardinal who everyone seemed to be falling over to greet. I’m not enough into knowing the cardinals to know who was who. Apparently some 28 of them are here in Sydney for WYD. Cardinal George was among but I didn’t see him come by – although I did see him seated in the high church seating section.

Afterwards we made our way to the Circular Quay train station, where we’d just missed a train to Bankstown and had a twenty-minute wait for the next one. But again there were lots of pilgrims who jammed the station and there was plenty of conversation to go around. I ended up speaking with a group of three girls from Sicily, one of whom had been born in LA, and a group of Italian guys who knew the Brothers in Italy. When our train did come, we were all able to find seats and soon enough Rob and Eric were engaged in a spirited conversation, punctuated by various songs, with a group of girls from Brisbane. When Rob offered to trade some NYC pins with them, they practically jumped out of their seats and Rob scrambled backward over his seat to the seat behind him. Then began some true NYC style negotiations. Diplomatically, he gave the best pin – which they all clamored for – to the lady chaperone accompanying the group.

At Bankstown station we stopped at the nearby 7-11 and even though it was almost midnight we ended up buying slurpees for ourselves, standing around and talking about the day. Then we made our way back up to the road to La Salle College. I showed people the things that we’d bought a couple of days ago (portable chairs, air mattresses, etc.) and they took them along for tomorrow's journey. Earlier in the day, Pete told me that he’d decided – based on a survey of our guys and other factors – to leave tomorrow morning at 4 AM and walk to the place for the Closing Mass – racecourse in Sydney – in order to find a good spot. We had talked about this possibility before and I’d told him that I would stay, work on the blog tomorrow morning, and then make my way there. Rob, Eric, and Logan worked hard on Br. Peter to allow them to come with me, but wisely Pete decided that the group would stay together. It’s a great pilgrimage experience for them, but there are some other factors at play in my case. It will all be fun enough, I’m sure, where I get there.

More pictures at http://picasaweb.google.com/gvangrie although I’ve run into lots of problems uploading them. I’ll keep working on it as the day moves along.