Sunday, July 20, 2008

World Youth Day

The last two days have been absolutely amazing! Saturday morning I travelled to North Sydney to meet up with the Filipino contingent of WYA so we could walk the 10km pilgrimage to the site for the overnight vigil. Taking the train across the bridge we saw out the windows thousands of people from around the world streaming across the bridge. There was not an empty foot of space along the entire bridge crossing Sydney Harbour. Arriving to North Sydney station every person on the train exited to begin the pilgrimage.

It took an hour for us all to find each other and begin, in that time the road exiting the station didn't empty or even clear for a minute. Trains arrived one after another, all filled to the brim. Some of the people walking were incredible; people being pushed in wheelchairs, families with small children, old people, I even saw one man of about 60 who walked with the assistance of two crutches get off to begin a 10km trek!

It was also fun to hear all the songs and cheers from the different parts of the world. Mexicans singing, Italians cheering, a group from some country in Africa (I didn't recognise their flag) walked by and all the cops turned to stare and listen as they were singing a traditional song which sounded straight out of a movie. By the end of the day all the police, security personnel, any city people recruited to keep the peace had completely relaxed - probably the easiest security job they'd ever had... They would approach different groups or individuals and just start chatting, some even started showing off different pins or souvenirs they had been given while others cheered and waved and encouraged us onwards.

The hardest part of the walk for the Filipinos was the last couple kilometres as they started to get tired and wanted to arrive and relax. The hardest part for me was the speed. Smaller legs means smaller steps and I had to keep shuffling my feet, walking backwards or finding other ways to maintain the Filipino pace. I discovered a little over halfway there, that if I held the Philippines flag, I also got to set the pace, from that point onwards, the flag was mine! So many people stared to see a tall, blonde Filipina... One woman who lived in Australia but was Filipina saw the flag and came running over to get her picture with it, and nearly tripped and fell backwards when she saw me carrying it. Then she cracked up and got even more excited to have me in the picture with her.

Many locals hung out on their balconies or rooftops to watch us all walk by. At one point, while I was waiting for everyone to catch up, some guys on a rooftop asked what flag I was carrying, then they asked where I was from and learned all about WYA as they were trying to figure out why a Canadian would be travelling with 12 Filipinos and be the one carrying the flag. Another time, as I was speaking to Ren, some people who passed us were overheard very confused that a white girl and a Chinese girl had a Philippines flag.

The vigil itself was so much fun. We arrived around 3pm and quickly settled ourselves to ensure we had a spot to sleep that night. While hanging out, I started to throw a frisbee around with some Lebanese who were surrounding us. It was great fun as people came in and out of the game and lots more looked like they wanted to join but were too shy. Until at one point, the frisbee wasn't caught and nearly hit a French woman. She was so angry so I quickly pointed to myself to take the blame and she marched over to me and threatened to steal it until I reminded her that wasn't the right thing to do at WYD, then she ordered me to put it in my bag since, if she saw it again, she would rip it in half. I didn't think she looked that strong, but didn't want to test her aggression and put it away. Within the next 30 minutes everyone who had disappeared at the woman's wrath trickled over to me so disappointed our game had been cut short. I even met an Australian woman from Melbourne who plays competitively, as she came over to introduce herself afterwards.

We settled down then as the Pope arrived for a couple hours and spoke to us. After he left a few bands came on to keep the crowds awake and warm. I snuggled into my down sleeping bag (good till -7C) and slept peacefully and warmly till morning. I'd offered the day previously that if anyone froze they should let me know and snuggle in with me, but I don't think they understood what a difference a sleeping bag could make as they all shivered in their sleeping bags all night and not one took me up on my offer. When I demonstrated its warmth the next day a few felt quite sad they'd missed out. We hung out in our sleeping bags all morning till the portapotties called with undeniable appeal then grouped together for mass with the Pope.

While waiting we handed out WYA charters and stickers to passersby, hopefully we have a few hundred new members from our efforts. Many people were trading local paraphernalia and a number of us were given gifts from various parts of the world for spreading our message of dignity, win-win!

The mass with the Pope was beautiful. We all sat or stood in the early morning sunlight, or lack of at times, surrounded by a few hundred thousand young people from around the world, in silence or singing. The Pope's homily was quite catechetical and I have to admit I've already forgotten what he said. I do remember though, being quite enraptured in the moment and thinking that I absolutely must find a copy of it when I return to NY. Hint hint to all you who weren't there or have memories like goldfish as I do...

Upon leaving the grounds, security had decided to reduce congestion by blocking people at certain points. At three places upon leaving we were forced to wait for upwards of 20minutes until they opened a barrier or the gates to allow us to leave. Lucky them, they knew their clientelle and had no need to worry about brawls or anger ensuing as a result of this. Everyone waited patiently and cheered each time we were allowed to move on.

It was so nice to return to Mike and Jenny's, I joined Mike outside and I think we went through 3 or 4 pots of tea just relaxing and then had dinner altogether after watching "the Chaser's War on Everything". It's Aussie political/social satire and is absolutely hilarious! Definitely check it out if it exists on youtube or somewhere. And today? Today I have relaxed, caught up on work, delightful day.

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