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.

Australia - Pope's Official Arrival

Today the main event is the arrival of the Pope at Barangaroo, the same field or warf area where we had the opening Mass. He will arrive by “boatacade” from another part of the Sydney harbor and greet the 140,000 or so folks that comprise the welcoming committee.

Most of us decided in the morning that we would not go to Barangaroo to see him arrive. (Those who did told us later that they had gotten to within 100 feet of where the pope was.) Instead, we would make our way to Darling Harbor and watch the proceedings from the large screens set up for that purpose in the middle of harbor. This morning I also had to miss most of the catechetical activities in order to update the last few days of blogs. A slow internet connection combined with a computer that crashes every twenty minutes or so make it an increasingly time-consuming process.

I joined the folks at lunchtime in the garden area of the church next door, St. Felix, where all of the catechetical presentations and the assemblies and liturgies were being held. The lunch included canned tuna, bread, canned beans, and various other complementary goods. Actually, it was all rather well thought out – fast delivery and good variety. A group decided at the end of lunch to take the train into the Town Hall station and to make our way to Darling Harbor from there. The Bankstown station, of course, was packed with pilgrims, with more trying to enter the train as it neared Sydney. After several stops, the announcement was made that the train, which was now packed with pilgrims, would bypass outlying stations and go right into Sydney. Most of the train emptied out at the Circular Quay, while the rest of us went on to Town Hall.

We walked down to that harbor, found some seats along the water, and proceeded to watch the arrival of the pope via the screens. There was great coverage by way of the helicopters following the boats and the cameras on the boat itself. It was almost better than being there. As it was, Br. Adrian Watson was on that the big boat that the pope was on. He had to get there three hours early, of course, and couldn’t get off until the whole opening ceremony was over. He didn’t get to meet the pope, but he did see him come onto the boat and leave it when they arrived at Barangaroo. While it might have been nice to have been on that boat, as with most modern events, the TV coverage puts you much closer than you might be able to be in the best of circumstances.

For most of the time that we were sitting there, the sun was nicely warm and there was a fine breeze coming in. So, of course, it was the perfect incentive to take a little nap, and indeed this is what happened. It was interesting to watch the event unfold on the screen and to also see, in the distance, the water sprays from the fireboats and the “pope boat” when it left Barangaroo. We were too far to see it arrive, but we saw some of the sideline activity, as it were.

When the Holy Father had completed his homily, a couple of us wanted to see if we could make our way to the cathedral area and watch the motorcade go by. And so we walked over to the park areas around St. Mary’s Cathedral. However, the crowds were so thick along the motorcade that we wouldn’t see much from where we could stand. I asked the guys what they wanted to do, and they said that they’d rather go eat than stand there to get a glimpse of the pope. I was kind of surprised at that, but so be it. We walked back the way we had come.

Once back to Darling Harbor, the boardwalk was covered with crowds walking back from Barangaroo to Central Station – the same route I had taken a number of nights ago coming back from the Opening Mass. This time, however, we walked against the current and found the other guys in our group at a restaurant right next to the boardwalk. ((Along the way, I stopped to speak with an Indonesian bishop - stationed in Sumatra - who greeted me an knew the Brothers. We spoke a little Dutch and took a picture together. He wanted me to greet Br. Ray Suplido, I believe.) We found a table, ordered some food, and spent a good hour or so there, looking at the crowds passing by in front of us and talking about the day’s experiences. Every once in a while, a rather loud group of pilgrims would go by singing or shouting, and our guys would shout out to groups of Italians and Americans (Paul did this mostly) or Irish or Australian. Whenever we recognized someone going by, we invited them in to join us for a bit. Both Br. Adrian Watson and Br. Peter Iorlano (who really connected with our guys a couple of days ago and has joined us for various things) were ones that we called out to and joined us for a bit, with Adrian telling us about his experience on the papal boat.

Following dinner, Eric, Rob and I walked over the Convention Center where I was scheduled to staff the vocation booth. Along the way, we stopped at a rather fascinating water feature in front of the center, consisting of spirals of water flowing down into a large hole in the ground. By now it was dark and loud Christian rock was coming at us from different venues around the harbor area. A couple of times, someone would shout out to me, or high-five me, obviously recognizing the robe and wanting to make some sort of connection. It was all rather interesting and very unique in my experience.

In the Convention Center, we went to our booth and checked out some of the other booths in the hall. The place was doing pretty well in terms of people stopping by, picking up information packets, and the like. I was soon involved in various conversations with people about the Brothers’ vocation. This evening, this was a hopping place. And it didn’t let up until just before closing time at 10 PM. At some point, I made my way up to the upper level where the Missionaries of Charity had a large exhibit on the life of Blessed Mother Teresa, including glass cases containing her sari, handbag, sandals, and the like. The displays did an excellent job in depicting her life and death, including an honest and insightful consideration of her experiences of “darkness” in her life of prayer. I’ll have to look around for the book from which the exhibit was created.

At closing time, two of the Brothers who were there and had come by car offered to take us home to Bankstown. We were happy to take advantage of the offer and rode back to the residence. The students went to bed in their classrooms but some of us stayed up a bit to talk about the day and process some of our experiences this week. The Brothers have been very hospitable to us, making the whole thing both instructive, communal, and personal.

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.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Australia - Sydney Cathedral

Another cold morning in Bankstown. A significant number of folks have gotten ill. Nothing serious, just colds and the like, but just the effects of being in a climate that is very different from their accustomed one at this time of the year. And being in classrooms where the air the shared is probably not helping matters much. But there are few options in terms of accommodations, so those who need it are sleeping a lot more while the chaperones and Brothers are looking after the others as best they can. Eric rejoined the group today from his recovery time in the Travelodge, but he’s taking it easy.

Today was the first day for catechetical input. It started at 9 AM, so we couldn’t have our “normal” morning prayer. This was a good thing because the Brazilians had taken over the chapel anyway. So we met at the bench, did a short prayer, and got ready for the day.

Most of the morning was spent in the church next to the school. Here we had morning prayer as a group, followed by different catechetical elements – some live interviews of participants, some testimony from students, and some input from a bishop from India. All of that lasted a couple of hours after which there was a group Mass led by the bishop. Like more catechetical experiences, there were some very nice parts and some very boring parts – I won’t pass judgment on which was which. Suffice it to say that those portions that concentrated on the kids were all quite engaging.

Afterwards, lunch was served by volunteers from the church on the yard outside. They had it down to a fine system. We had hot dogs (“sausages”) on a hamburger bun, with fried onions, and chips, a drink, and several kinds of candy. People were in a good mood, the sun had warmed everyone up, and we were now ready to face the rest of the day.

The rest of the day would be our own. As with yesterday, different smaller groups in our US contingent decided to do different things. I joined the other two Brothers, along with Brendan and Ryan, in plans to join up with Paul downtown, see the Cathedral, and from there make our way to the vocation booth in the exhibition hall. The Brothers decided to continue to wear our robes and blacks, as we had this morning for the catechetical session, since we were surrounded by 200,000 felly Catholics. Not only was it a witness value, in line with the WYD theme, but we would be doing our “job” as vocation promoters in this place of high potential, as it were.

Although it felt a bit funny to walk downtown and to get onto the train in my robe, I was soon beyond all that. Along the way, we got a few twisted heads from passersby, but generally the reception was pretty respectful – almost expected. I’m afraid I steered our group wrong when we transferred to another train, and we ended up going away from central Sydney, on an express train no less that bypassed some 8 stations along the way, before figuring out how to get onto the right train into the city and the Town Hall station.

At the station, we phone Paul and he met us, complete with an American flag draped like a superman cape, at one of the corners near his hotel. We proceeded to the rooftop of his hotel where there was an absolutely fabulous view of the cathedral and of all of Sydney. We spent quite a while up there, admiring the view and taking pictures. Then we made our way to the Cathedral and the crowds there. It took a while to figure out how to get into the cathedral for a visit. We had to “sign in” online at a nearby tent. While Br. Peter did that, Br. Rich, Brendan and I went to the shameless commerce division of WYD and shopped to souvenir items. In the middle of our shopping, a man tapped me on the shoulder and told me that a guy outside dressed like I was asked him to tell me that we should hightail it out of the shop because our scheduled visiting time to the cathedral was in five minutes. So we pretty much dropped the stuff we were going to buy and made our way out and to the front of the cathedral. There we encountered a line some 500 or more people waiting to get into several security sections. All in all, it would take at least 90 minutes to get in, even with our “scheduled” time.

Peter used some of his New York savvy, negotiating his way to the volunteers in front of the line, where he explained that we were scheduled to be at the Vocation Hall later, had a “scheduled” time, and so on. The bottom line was that he came back over and said that he’d made a deal with them – smiles all around. He said that he, Rich and I could go in ahead of the line but that the others would have to stay in line – not smiles all around. So the three of us went to the front where one of the volunteers took us past all of the crowds waiting for security to the very front where we had to check in our backpacks (to be picked up later), went through the whole security routine – including security arches, dogs sniffing at your clothes, and the like – and made our way to the cathedral. The others would decide what to do about the line (turns out they didn’t care to wait and made their way back to Paul’s hotel room, from where they went to Bondi Beach).

Inside the cathedral there was some very nice devotional music playing in the background and the smallish crowd moved through the place in an orderly fashion. We admired the various artistic aspects of the place, taking a few discreet pictures now and then. When we were up front, this older man came up to us and introduced himself as the “warden” of the church. His name was Tim Ryan and he had been a Brother until he left in the Scholasticate. Jokingly, I asked if he still had his six-decade rosary. Darned if he didn’t reach into his pocket and pull it out. We chatted for a while, and I tried to see if perhaps he could get us a few tickets to the pope’s Mass here on Saturday. (He had the pull, but he didn’t’ have the tickets.) One of the impressive sections was the grave of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, a young man who lived and died in Turin, Italy, but whose coffin had been brought out to Sydney, since he is a sort of “patron” for WYD. His is a fascinating story of a real person who led a saintly life without being a holy-roller.

We spent a good deal of time in the Cathedral before leaving and finding our way to the big tent where the backpacks were being stored in order to reclaim ours. From there we moved in the direction of Darling Harbor and found the exhibit hall and the vocation booths there. The Brothers had taken two of the booths and were having lots of young people stop by to talk or to pick up literature. Peter and Rich were scheduled to be there for about an hour, and I was scheduled to be there after them, so I wandered around the hall looking at the other booths there. Almost all of them concerned vocations. There was even one for the priesthood in the United States, staffed by young seminarians.

At one end of the vocation hall was a stage that featured continuous “Catholic Rock” of some kind or other. It was a pretty noisy place. But it was also terrific to see so many young people looking seriously at various vocations and how to best pursue them.

When the time came, I returned to the booth and Peter and Rich moved off to wander around themselves and then make their way back to Bankstown. By ten o’clock we closed up shop. Br. Mark McKeon, the Vocation Director, offered to drive Br. Peter and Sr. Patricia and I back to Bankstown, where he was staying as well. We gladly took him up on his offer. It took a while to find the parking garage where he had parked our car. But all went well and we arrived back home around 11 PM. By that time we were all pretty well bushed and went straight to bed.

More pictures at http://picasaweb.google.com/gvangrie

Australia - Facing the Hordes

My apologies for not keeping the blog up to date every day. It’s a challenge to put in a full day and still have the couple of hours necessary to process the photographs, write the blog, and upload it all over a fairly slow wireless connection in the house. But today (Thursday morning) I’m catching up with Tuesday (July 15) and Wednesday (July 16).

This very cold morning, people seemed to get up in a fairly good disposition – except for the sickies for whom their physical ailments seem more exaggerated because of the cold. We met as planned at the picnic table around 8:30 AM and then moved to the Brothers Chapel for morning prayer followed by a brief discussion of the day’s plans. Since this was the day for the Opening Liturgy at Barangaroo – a large warf area near Darling Harbor – we would plan to meet prior to the 4:30 PM event at the Vocation Booth in one of the exhibition halls. Nice to make a plan. None of it came to pass.

A large group of us decided to go to Taronga Zoo, which would involve taking a ferry across the harbor. Others were either laid up (Eric) or decided to do something else (e.g., Rich, Chris, and Robb would join Paul for a visit to Bondi Beach and its environs).

We took the train to Circular Quay and got our ferry tickets to the Zoo. Then we waited 15 minutes or so for the ferry. Since it was a wonderful day, the views as we traveled across the harbor were fantastic. The boat was filled with other pilgrims and the spirit was positive and ready for a day of fun. At the dock, there were buses to take us to the top of the hill, where the entrance to the park was located. This took another ten minutes or so, followed by yet another line to buy our tickets and get into the park. Thankfully, the Zoo was the “official tourist attraction of WYD 2008” and therefore we could get in for half price ($19.50 instead of double that). I was scheduled to staff the vocation booth this afternoon at 2 PM, so I only had an hour or so to run around the Australian portion of the zoo. Nevertheless, the must-see animals were duly seen (kangaroos, koalas, and emus), and I made my way down the hill, through the various exhibits to the dock on the bottom. There, I ran into Br. Paulo, the Visitor of Brazil and a friend from General Chapter days, and part of his group. So we had a good time talking about this and that as we made our way back to Circular Quay on the ferry.

I was going to go with them further, but suddenly I was distracted when right in front of me I saw Francis George (cardinal of Chicago and a priest whom I got to know when I stayed in the Boston OMI community while studying at Boston College back in the nineties) asking for directions. I went up to him and we were both surprised to see one another there. I helped them find the place where they needed to go (one of the wharfs where the bishops were taking a tour of the harbor) and we had a brief conversation on the way. He told me that while his cancer is in remission, his walking difficulties are getting worse. I told him that it was probably because he was getting older. We were able to take a quick picture and then he was off to his event. Later in the day, during the Mass, he was one of those behind Cardinal Pell on the other (of course), but it was great to briefly see him on the street.

By now it was time to make my way to the Vocation Booth. I had been told that it was in section E8, and I mistakenly thought that this meant a section of Banrangaroo. So I followed the volunteer guides – lots of them with brightly colored jackets and pointers – and the growing horde of folks making their way down blocked-off streets. When we got past the tunnel underneath the Sydney Harbor Bridge, things came to a halt. From that point forward, we inched along quite slowly. But no matter, the kids and adults in the group were singing, shouting, doing the “wave” back and forth, and generally having a great time. I got to know some of the people around me in the crowd, tried to call some of the others in our group – “I’m stuck in people” – and generally decided that I had few options and might as well enjoy it. The fence blocked one side of the street was too high to scale over so I would just have to wait until another opportunity presented itself.

After an hour or so in this crowd, the street turned and I was able to hop over a smaller barrier and make my way down another street to the north (?) end of the warf. In one section of a street overlooking all of the park, the police had the thing completely blocked off. You could only be there if you were associated with the media. However, I spoke with one of volunteers in charge there and was able to take a shortcut through the street so as to get to the other major entrance to the warf. Once I found that entrance, I convinced some folks in a tent that I had to be at the vocation booth, and so I bypassed the long security line to go into a “workers” line, receiving a special day pass as a worker, and getting right inside. Once inside the place, with thousands and thousands and thousands of folks sitting, standing, eating, playing card games, etc., I made my way to section E8 only to find that there was no section E8, only E1 through E3, with the same true for all the other letters of the alphabet. It turns out that I was about a mile away from the exhibition hall where the vocation booth was located. Meanwhile, via a couple of phone conversations, the others had also gotten stuck in the crowds and the four who had gone to Bondi Beach and had assembled at the vocation booth were making their own way to a nearby venue from where they could watch the Mass on large-screens set up for the purpose.

Since I was now on my own, I made my way to the very front of the crowd, just next to the main aisle coming onto the altar area. There was sufficient room there so I stayed for the duration. As a result, I was able to take some really fine pictures of the various processions coming down that main aisle and of the main altar area during the Mass. I had a perfect viewpoint for the opening ceremonies, the bringing in the World Youth Day Cross and Icon of the Virgin, the Offertory Procession, and all the rest. It was also interesting to observe the police, media people, and officials running around trying to make sure that everything was being covered correctly.

One of the things that stood out for me was the fact that prior to the Mass everyone had been wildly celebratory, especially if they knew the cameras were rolling, including the camera whirring by on wires above us. But once the Mass started, you could hear a pin drop among these 150 thousand people. It was perfectly quiet, calm, and reverent, as in a very, very, very large church. Quite the experience, I assure you. During the longish homily, I joined some of those around me by simply sitting on the ground – which was quite a relief after several hours on my feet – but stood during most of the Mass. I was told by some others that at one point my visage, in appropriate contemplative and prayerful pose, was on the big screen. Cameramen were roaming about taking “candid” shots that were interspersed with the regular Mass coverage.

The really interesting part was the next day, when two of the main newspapers, The Australian and The Telegraph, had a large photograph of the crowds coming into Barangaroo that clearly showed Br. Peter and his group. We picked up several copies of these newspapers as souvenirs. If you go to the website to "The Australian" newspaper or the "Daily Telegraph" you might be able to find it. The picture was taken by Toby Zerna, according to the caption.

At the end of the Mass I made my way to the back of the crowd (actually after communion, which was a sort of push-your-way-to-the-front affair), thinking I could make a quick getaway. No such luck. The organizers had separated all the sections and were letting people our section by section. I was squeezed up against the barricades in a sea of humanity. Cajoling the police did no good. We would have to wait. Meanwhile, on stage, a couple of young MC’s were trying to convince the crowds to stick around to enjoy the upcoming concert. At one point, they had everyone take a flash picture at once – lots of light all of a sudden there. But mostly, we were all trying to get out.

When some of the barricades finally were opened, I was able to experience what those on the Hadj must experience. Squeezed tighter than sardines, concentrating on keeping your feet moving, I was carried through the funnel in a direction I didn’t want to go. No one was acting crazy or wild, but it was a bit scary to be moving because of the folks around you. I could probably have lifted my feet and been carried along, if I wanted to risk that. I didn’t. When I finally figured out where they were going (toward the food tents) I made some concerted efforts and was able to move my way to the outskirts of the crowd and begin following the hordes out of the park. I didn’t quite know where we were being led but figured that there would be a train station somewhere up ahead.

We were led through Darling Harbor and beyond, past restaurants where people looked at us with curiosity. People chanted, sang, shouted out national slogans, and continued the festive atmosphere from the Mass. I just followed the brightly-clad volunteers with their lighted wands. Gradually, people peeled off to get something to eat or met up with other groups. I think that this was part of the strategy. With so many people, having us go to the “Central Station” some miles away would spread the crowd out so that the trains could cope with the numbers. By the time I finally reached Central Station a couple of miles away, there was no problem getting a train back to Bankstown.

Not having had any dinner, I thought about stopping at the Bankstown Hotel on my way back, but since it was after 9 PM the kitchen was closed. Br. Peter Iorlando and Sr. Patricia from Bethlehem University were also on my train. We traveled together back to the Brothers house where they came in for a relaxing beer and conversation. Sr. Patricia had brought along some extra dinners from the Mass venue so I ended up having something after all.

But I never did make my appointment stint at the vocation booth, nor did I ever hook up with the rest of our group. Such are the experiences of World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney.

More pictures at http://picasaweb.google.com/gvangrie

Monday, July 14, 2008

Australia - Tourist Day

After a chilly but restful night, I got up rather late at 7 AM and made my way to the breakfast tent by 7:30 AM or so. They were pretty organized about all of this. Volunteers were helping out in distributing the food that the WYD organizers had sent over in pallets. One of the ladies, Margaret, was interested in a US pin that I was wearing and wanted to trade for a Koala bear that she gave me. A little later, Br. Peter gave me one of the ones he’d brought with me and I was able to complete the transaction. I hadn’t realized that this trading thing was a big feature of WYD and now I wish I’d brought a bagful of the stuff. Knowledge for next time.

No time for doing the blog either last night or this morning (I’m doing two days worth on Tuesday morning – right now.). Our group met at 8:30 AM for morning prayer – at least those who were interested in doing so (it was optional). By now Eric was not any better and we would have to have him seen to. The rest of us went over to the Brothers chapel – I asked earlier – and had our morning prayer there. It was a good, restful, prayerful way to begin the day and contextualize the whole thing for ourselves.

We decided to meet around 9:30 AM to make plans for the day. In between, Br. Peter and I were working out various details with those in charge at this location. The hospitality has been terrific, but there are always unexpected things that happen along the way (security alarms at night, folks getting ill, computer access, liturgy plans, etc.). When we got together, one group (Roberto, Otto, and Chris) went off with some student tour guides from the school and the rest of us decided to go beyond the Sydney Harbor Bridge and walk across it back to The Rocks area. Those who had wanted to go on the walk across the top of the bridge would not be able to do so (no openings – I’d checked last night) so this was the next best thing.

It was recommended that we should go one stop further (North Sydney) on the train and visit the McKillop Place where Blessed Mary McKillop lived and died. She’s the first Australian saint (Blessed for the rest of the world, for now) and they’re very proud of her. We met Paul at the station (he’s staying in a hotel in downtown Sydney – lucky stiff) and walked to the location. They are ready for thousands of people, with long lines and assembly areas all over the campus of the Anglican college located next door. We were pretty much the only people there, and they couldn’t have been nicer to us. We paid $5 to see a marble slab. Along the way there were tents with knick-knacks and all sorts of things for Catholics, staffed by very friendly people. I met a Sister who said she’d made the Sangre program recently, and she was very pleased to meet a Brother. We walked to the church where Mary McKillop is buried, walked quietly down the aisle while their daily Mass was going on, and took some pictures of the marble slab. Then we left.

We walked down to the main freeway and walked on a path along it until we arrived at the Sydney Harbor Bridge. Along the way, there was a nice little park with a statue of a Dingo dog (I believe). The guys wanted to take a picture there because one line that they’re using ad nauseum is from some movie: “The dingo ate your baby.” (Said with a pronounced Australian accent.) I have no idea of the context, but I don’t plan to see the movie. I would take bets, however, that they will repeat that phrase at least 50 more times before the end of the week.

The day turned out to be glorious and the effects were evident as we walked across the bridge, stopping every once in a while to take pictures by sticking our cameras through the metal grating on the side. We took a couple of group pictures with the Opera House in the background for most of them. I’d asked some passing people to take a group picture with me in it, but none of them figured out how to raise the camera high enough to have the Opera House in the background. The pictures are there, however, and that’s the main thing.

We walked to Circular Quay (pronounced “key”) where we split off into smaller groups for lunch, agreeing to meet back if we wanted to walk up St. George Street – the main drag. Br. Rich Galvin and I found some food and sat on one of the concrete walls, while very “friendly” sea gulls hovered closer and closer, eyeing any stray bits of food. When I was done with my meal and dumped my leftover fries onto the sidewalk, there was a feeding frenzy of gulls and all the food disappeared in ten seconds flat.

The group walked up St. George Street, stopping only when the guys saw a store advertising the new iphone. They were drawn in like a magnet and spent some time hovering over the phones on display, discussing relative merits of various models like professional salesmen. This new iphone had just been introduced a couple of days ago – hence the great interest.

By the time we reached the Queen Victoria building, the tempus was fugiting and we got onto the train to go back on the Liverpool line to the Bankstown station. It takes about an hour. Then there’s a 10-15 minute walk back to the school. Mass for the Lasallian group would be at St. Brendan’s and we had to get ready for it. Robb had checked this morning and found that they were happy to have him serve the Mass, so he and some others were off to the church directly upon arriving in Bankstown, first stopping by a Target for some pillows. The rest trooped back to the school to get ready ourselves.

Br. Ambrose offered me a ride to the church, which I gladly accepted, since getting there appeared to be quite convoluted. As it happened, many folks got lost trying to find the place and either arrived late or never arrived. At the church, the Mass was similar to the other Masses we’ve had, with the same music and style, although the priest(s) were less spontaneous than Fr. Chris had been – which was fine with most of us.

After Mass, the group made our way to the Bankstown Sports Club, a huge place that had lots of places to eat, slot machines, and a huge auditorium for performances. It took a bit of walking and asking of directions before we got there, but it was worth the effort. Each of us had a $12 food certificate to use at one of the eating establishments inside (won’t work for the slots) and had to plan to be in the auditorium at 7:15 PM or so. Br. Rich Galvin and I went to a relatively quiet “Tapas” restaurant at the end of the building where we had something to drink and something to eat. The waiter there saw our horde of people coming into the building and said, loud enough to be heard: “I hope sombody’s going to tell me what’s going on.” Apparently no one in the place knew that several hundred kids and chaperones were about to descend on the place. But it all worked out.

Br. Peter joined us toward the end of our meal. He had spent the day with Eric and a couple of other kids who were ill and needed to see a doctor. They were given some prescriptions and Eric and another student decided to rent a room at the Sport Club where we now were. Br. Peter checked into their situation and found that they were still sleeping – probably what they would do for the entire time there. Pete was ready to relax a bit and have a meal.

After our meal we made our way to the auditorium where a show had been planned featuring six or seven of the Lasallian groups. It was a lively, highly-spirited, very supportive and noisy crowd. There were performances by the Australian contingent, a group of kids from South Africa, another group from Colombia, a terrific one that featured the Vietnamese (real pros who do this all the time), and a striking one by the New Zealanders. By that time, I really couldn’t stay around and returned to the school with Logan, who was also ready to return. During the performance, I ran into Br. John Forsythe, whom I’d hoped to meet up with. John is from the school at Marrickville and had been very helpful to me the last time I was in Australia. I plan to visit Marrickville at some point this week, but if I don’t it’s good to know that I at least ran into him.

Upon my return, I was simply too tired to do anything with the blog. These are intense days already, and while doing this blog is a good thing, it takes a bunch of time. Nevertheless, it's a good record for myself and others so I'll keep doing my best to keep it up. For yesterday and today, however, pictures won't be uploaded to this site. You'll have to go to http://picasaweb.google.com/gvangrie

Australia - On to Sydney

Qantas had cancelled our noon flight and placed us on a 9:25 AM flight from the international terminal. I figured that it had something to do with the 100,000 or so people flying into Sydney. What it meant is that we had to be at the airport much earlier and the bust would pick us up at 6:00 AM. That means getting up at 5 AM, and so on. I’d packed the night before so I was pretty much ready.

Down in the lobby I tried to use some of the internet time that I had purchased earlier in the week while the others trickled down, mingling with the other Lasallians staying at the Discovery Hotel. The bus arrived, we crammed onto the sidewalk to pass suitcases to the luggage compartment and found seats on the bus. Somewhere in that mix of things, we noticed that three of our guys were missing – the ones in one of the rooms as a group. Br. Peter, as I was told later, ran up to the room and banged on the door. A sleepy occupant opened it and his saw that they were all still sleeping. He shouted out: “Get up now! Pack in five minutes! Be downstairs in six! Move!” Needless to say, they went from 0 to 60 in about ten seconds, and seven or so minutes later were in the bus, half-awake and grumpy, but present.

At the airport, it took a bit of time to figure out exactly where to go. This was a domestic flight but we would have to go through the international terminal (customs, etc.). Okay, fine. Just one of those things on this trip. So we did that and sailed through customs (a special sticker on our ticket allowed for that) and then waited at the gate area. At one point, it was time for our morning prayer, so Paul (who was in charge of it today) had everyone sit in a circle on the floor and led the prayer, at a volume that we (and those in the gate area) could clearly hear. A group of the Vietnamese Youth at the same gate sat down to join us. It was a unique experience for me and an indication of the strong faith life of these young people, perfectly comfortable to pray in an international airport terminal, with people glancing at them over the tops of their newspapers. A couple of the guys felt compelled to take out the American flag and sing a couple of patriotic songs to boot. Generally, the group was as energetic as ever. Only Eric from our group wasn’t feeling well and trying to find a quiet place to lie down.

The plane we eventually entered was a 747. Apparently, with so many travelers, Qantas was using its 747 planes to move people domestically as well, but only the international terminal could handle the jetways. In Sydney, once we collected our luggage and had cleared customs, we waited inside of the international terminal under I walked around and found the Vietnamese group waiting in the bus area. We moved over there and joined them. An hour or so later, the bus arrived and we made our way to La Salle College in Bankstown where we were met by Br. John Pill and Br. Jerry Barrett who showed us around the place, including the classrooms where the students would stay (the room would include a small group of Lasallian Youth from Hong Kong) and the one where the Brothers would stay as a group. Most students would sleep in the gym, where the showers for the kids would be located. I had spoken with John earlier in the week about the possibility of snagging a room in the Brothers house, and fortuitous circumstances (he is the principal there and Owen Mason was going to unexpectedly gone for the week) allowed me to have one of the rooms. He is now my new best friend. All of the Brothers were welcome to come to the Brothers house for showers, food, relaxation, and anything else. I’m just glad to have a quiet room, even though I’ll forego the experience of sleeping on an air mattress in a sleeping bag with 14 of my Brothers from around the world. I’ll get over it.

Our group had an organizational meeting in the playing yard, after which the guys wanted me to take a picture of the way they had organized their “spaces” into cozy nooks, or “nests” as I called them. We had asked about places to eat, and the Bankstown Hotel had been recommended to us – a 15 minute walk into town from the school. Once most things had been settled, we made our way there and had a great meal. The place was set up so that you would order your food and drink at the bar, and pay for it there. You would pick up your drink at the bar and the food would be brought to you. There were a couple of large sharks in a tank at one end of the room and the monitors advertised feedings on Tuesdays and Fridays at 6 PM (probably slow times for the bar). As it was, we were pretty hunger ourselves and had a fine meal under the watchful eyes of the two sharks in the tank.

Then it was back to the school, where by now there were at least 150 other students settled in, and went to bed after some conversation, etc. in the living room with some of the other Brothers who were here. The Brothers don’t have heating in their house, so I shared the same temperature (very cold) that all the others in the place experienced. Does that count?

Pictures at http://picasaweb.google.com/gvangrie

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Australia – Wrapping Up

Amazing how quickly these few days have passed. This is the last day of the ILYG in Melbourne. Since it was a Saturday, Muletta’s CafĂ© had changed the time frame for our breakfast. We could come in anytime before 7:15 AM, but after that whatever food had been put out for us would be it. They get a good weekend crowd after that and wanted to take advantage of it. I went over a little past seven to get my tea and toast. There were just a few folks still there. At 8:30 AM we met in the lobby of the Discovery Hotel and then split up by tram or train to go to Malvern. Of course, I took the train since it involved some nice walking and a train ride.

When we got to Malvern, our group consisted of myself and five of the students. Walking down the street from the train station to the school, the guys were amused by a couple of large signs advertising “colon irrigation” and wanted to make sure that we took a picture of it. There are a number of businesses here that you are unlikely to find in the US – this would probably be one of them.

We arrived in time for the opening prayer service in St. Joseph’s church, and by now we knew the lay of the land and found a pew. The morning prayer was similar to the other ones – lots of popular Christian music (all very singable, engaging, and rhythmic) followed by a couple of readings. During the closing song, one of the female chaperons from the New Zealand group was inspired to come to the front of the church and dance. It seemed to be the right thing to do and added a real festive element to the song.

Following the song, the students went back to the gym for the first of three more sessions today with Jesse Manibusan. At the same time, the Brothers gathered separately for our own meeting time. Br. Thomas Johnson and Br. David Hawke led the session. After some information for us all, we split up into small groups of 6 – 7 and discussed the challenges, opportunities, and horizons in our own situations. About 30 – 35 minutes was spent doing this, and then we returned as a large group to provide highlights and insights. The primary concern seemed to center around vocations, but it soon became clear that the important dimension of that concern reflected back to the quality of life in our communities and the interior life of the Brothers. David pointed out that its no coincidence that the first two sections of the Circular regarding the past General Chapter highlighted just these two topics. If the Brothers lead lives of authentic witness (passion, devotion to the Gospel, etc.) and a solid community life, vocations will be one of the results, if the experience of others is any indication.

At the end of this session, there were some announcements and then the group gathered for a group picture of Brothers. I didn’t get a shot of that, of course, since I was in it. But I did get a shot of all the folks taking the picture with a pile of cameras that the Brothers had put in front of them. And behind these picture-takers were the students plastered up against the plate-glass doors at the end of room, just coming back from their session, and ready for their morning break. They also were taking pictures through the glass. It was a rather humorous scene from our perspective.

Following the break, and while the second session with Jesse was going on, I found the computer center and worked on completing and uploading my blog and pictures. However, the internet connection was rather complicated and highly secure (this being a school, after all), and so I was only able to prepare it for uploading but couldn’t actually do so until I was back at the Discovery Hotel. I would have done the whole thing last evening but my computer went on the fritz, and that was true the next morning as well. I then discovered that the problem would go away if I simply kept the computer plugged in all the time. So to make a long story short, I worked on the whole thing late that morning.

By lunchtime, I wasn’t really hunger but rather returned to Melbourne Central and the Discovery Hotel in order to put together a package to send back to Napa containing all the stuff that I could no longer carry around with me (a set of shoes I ended up not needing, a nice jacket that’s now been substituted by the one given out for the Brothers, and the like). I’d seen a place on my way out to Malvern that both sold you the box and would ship the stuff home, and I took advantage of it. It involved some running back and forth between the hotel and the store, and there was a whole bunch of paperwork, but the thing was finally done. The bottom line, of course, was that I missed all the sessions that Jesse did. But by now I knew that I couldn’t do everything and I was content with it.

When I came back to Malvern the Closing Mass and Ceremony were about to commence. Before Mass, I had a chance to check in with those coordinating the liturgy in order to see how we might do a little special something that the Brothers had agreed to during our morning session. That done, I sat with our group as they trickled in and soon we again had a full church enthusiastic Lasallian Youth, ready to raise the roof.

Fr. Chris was again the main celebrant, and two of the guys from our group were acolytes. The liturgy began with a vibrant song, followed by “Let us remember…” in a bunch of different languages, said by representatives from those language groups. There was, of course, a variety of music throughout the liturgy. Fr. Chris played and sang a “Glory to God” that he had composed and also sang us one of his songs during the homily (this seemed to have become a pattern for him). This latter song was especially written for the occasion, it appears, and dealt with accepting oneself.

At the end of the liturgy, after the prayer after communion, I went up to the microphone and invited all of the Brothers (including Scholastics, Novices, and Postulants) to come up to the sanctuary area. It was moving to see them come up from the congregation, young and old, some with canes and others bouncing with excitement. The congregation spontaneously broke out in loud applause as we did so. Once assembled, I spoke briefly about how the Brothers usually tend to stay in the background, preferring to put our students up front, but we wanted to share something with them, something that we sang just when we gathered as Brothers, the “Honeur a Toi.” This morning, I had asked how many Brothers knew it, and over half of the group had raised their hands. Although we didn’t practice it, as soon as I started the song, they belted it out with passion. Practically everyone was singing it (one of the Brothers had prepared the text on small pieces of paper that were given out to the Brothers as he saw them today), and we really sounded good – as if we’d practiced for weeks – with clear, solid rhythm and no hesitation. You can imagine the reaction. Not only was there a wall of kids taking pictures of us as a group, but they were blown away by the song and our united “gift” of music to them. Their applause and cheering at the end were quite genuine and raucous, even as the Brothers walked, shuffled, and smilingly back to their pews and their places among the students. I’m sorry that I didn’t film it, but again… you can’t do two things at once. I’m hoping that someone else filmed it.

After our “performance” there was a very nice meditation song that incorporated photographs from our time together, and then the liturgy closed with a final song. But the closing ceremony wasn’t entirely over yet. After a short introduction, Br. Tom Johnston and Br. David Hawke came to the front to hand out certificates to all of the group leaders from the various countries, while their flag bearers went to the back to take up the flag that they had brought in at the beginning of the week. In between each set of countries, we sang “We Are Lasallian” with great gusto and enthusiasm, the flags waving back and forth and increasing in number. When all of the flags were present, Br. Ambrose spoke, thanking all those involved with preparing the week, especially Br. Adrian Watson, and urging us to go forward in the Spirit. Then the flags marched out and the folks from New Zealand came out to dance and sing in front of the church, quickly joined by others from the congregation.

When things finally settled down, lots of groups took group pictures with Br. Thomas Johnson (after all, he IS the Vicar General and the closest thing we have to the Founder – as we were told). Our group from the States was no exception. Of course several of the guys decided that we needed to sing something as an expression of our enthusiasm, and soon we were singing “America, the Beautiful” and “God Bless America” as the pictures were being taken. Hence the picture that I have shows most guys with their mouths open. But never mind, the picture’s the thing.

I had planned and looked forward to going to the Aussie Rules rugby game this evening at the Telstra Dome (the same place where we had the Diocesan Days liturgy), but by the time things were done, it was a half hour before the start of the game and we still hadn’t had dinner. We also found out that Qantas had canceled our noon flight tomorrow and we were not schedule for 9:25 AM, out of the international terminal, meaning that we would be picked up from the hotel at 6 AM. Folks wanted to go back to pack and be ready for that early rising. So decided to forego the game and hang around for dinner.

During dinner I had a fine talk with Br. Fadi from Alexandria, about vocations, the situation in the Middle East, the Brothers, and lots of other topics. The only down note is the fact that when I tried to pick up my food AND take pictures, I dropped the camera on the floor and effectively put it out of commission. I’ll have to see what can be done about it when I get back. As it is, it’s good that I brought an extra camera with me. But I’m going to be very careful with it when I take it out of my pocket.

After dinner, we made our way to the tram station nearby, but I decided to instead take the train, not only because it would involve a good walk but also because the group of some 25 students waiting for the tram were a high-spirited, singing, laughing, and loud group. When the tram came and these kids swarmed it to get on board, I could see the startled expressions on the faces of the driver and passengers who had anticipated a quiet ride home. Now, instead, they would have 40 minutes of excited singing and all the energy that a group of naturally high kids can generate. I took a nice quiet walk to the train station where I ran into Br. Mario and a group of Lasallian Youth from Indonesia, and we had a fine conversation as we made our way into Melbourne Central. They went out for a walk on the town and I returned to the hotel to pack and get ready for our journey tomorrow.

Note: These are some of the pictures taken today. All the pictures for any one of the days are uploaded to http://picasaweb.google.com/gvangrie