A buzz of energy, joy and anticipation filled the Catholic Leadership Centre on Saturday 22 and Sunday 23 April 2023 as the leadership team of the Archdiocese of Melbourne’s World Youth Day (WYD) pilgrimage gathered to begin its first two sessions of their formation and training program, the Essentials of Christian Leadership series.

Last week, the Archdiocese announced its largest ever overseas WYD pilgrimage, with over 500 pilgrims expected to journey with Archbishop Peter A Comensoli to Lisbon, Portugal, in August this year. The Archdiocese has offered four pilgrimages: Footsteps of Jesus, the Italian Way, the Emerging Leaders Program and Direct to Lisbon.

To support a pilgrimage of this size, around 120 pilgrims will step into leadership roles, including chaplains, pilgrimage coordinators and small-group leaders. The pilgrimage will also have nurses, first-aiders, a child-safety officer and a psychologist.

A new program has been devised to help prepare and form the pilgrimage leadership team—the Essentials of Christian Leadership series.

The series will prepare those leaders in relation to safeguarding, emergency management and the practicalities of leading a group of young pilgrims safely overseas.

Intentionally, the Essentials of Christian Leadership series has been devised through a discipleship lens. Based in Scripture and following the model of Jesus calling and growing his disciples, the aim of the series is to form leaders who, as disciples of Christ, can go out and effectively accompany young people in encountering Jesus and developing a deep friendship. Personal accompaniment and fostering encounters with the Lord are at the heart of the transformation of a life towards faith.

The pilgrimage’s focus on small-group discipleship is reflected in the series’ intention to focus particularly on small-group leaders who will be guiding young pilgrims throughout their pilgrimage. Each over-18 pilgrim small group will have a ratio of 1 small group leader to 8 pilgrims, and each under-18 pilgrim small group will have a ratio of 1:6.

Small group leader Kimberley, from St Kevin’s Hampton Park, hopes that her pilgrims will be able ‘to open themselves out and allow themselves to experience God … and new things in their faith.’

The Saturday session focused on introducing the leadership team members to each other. Topics included the importance of journeying and pilgrimage in the growth of a person, as well exploring the characteristics of a disciple through reflecting on Jesus’ call to Peter and Andrew at the Sea of Galilee.

Sunday began with Mass. The Gospel reading—the story of the risen Jesus appearing to his disciples on the Road to Emmaus—provided an opportunity for the group to reflect on the need for a disciple to connect and reconnect constantly and personally with the Lord.

The Sunday session called small-group leaders to a time of retreat, an opportunity to reflect on their relationship with God. The program explored various aspects of God the Father—particularly through the parable of the Prodigal Son. The participants then reflected on the life of Jesus, and the redemption and salvation he brought, before going on to explore the active role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Small-group leaders were led into an experience of praying for each other.

Kimberley said that she learnt how to strengthen her faith, ‘learning about the Holy Spirit, God the Father, God the Son, how to be a disciple, how to journey.’

Small-group leader Sheldon, from St Kevin’s Hampton Park, said that he ‘came into this program feeling a bit nervous. But after this weekend, I am feeling more confident and looking forward to the pilgrimage.’

‘I hope that I’ll be able to be a rock and inspiration to my group, and help to lead them, not only spiritually, but also to be there for them.’

As the series continues over the next few months, please continue to pray for the leadership team of this WYD pilgrimage. Their role is essential to both the safety of the pilgrims and their growth as disciples of the Lord.