Special Masses and gatherings have been held in a number of schools and parishes across the Archdiocese in recent weeks to bless pilgrims who are preparing to head to World Youth Day (WYD) in Lisbon, Portugal. Sixty-one parishes, 57 schools and 16 communities and movements will be represented in the Melbourne pilgrimage group of close to 600 people, one of the largest groups to ever attend a World Youth Day outside Australia.

This Sunday, 16 July, an Archdiocesan-wide commissioning Mass for all pilgrims heading to World Youth Day will be held at St Patrick's Cathedral, where Archbishop Peter A Comensoli will bless all pilgrims as part of the 11am Mass. The group will then make a ‘mini’ pilgrimage by walking down to the nearby Catholic Leadership Centre for final preparations before the first group of pilgrims departs Melbourne on Wednesday 19 July.

Local WYD blessings have already taken place at Catholic parishes and schools across the Archdiocese, including the parishes of Maidstone, Croydon, Glen Huntly, Syndal and Mordialloc/Aspendale, with more still to come in Hampton Park, Ferntree Gully and other schools around the Archdiocese.

In the western suburb of Hoppers Crossing, pilgrims from St Peter the Apostle Parish were prayed over by their local community and Assistant Priest Fr Simeon Antony during weekend Masses a few weeks ago. The parish is sending nine pilgrims: a mix of under-18s and over-18s, including a newly married couple.

Fr Simeon says the pilgrims have been working hard to fundraise for their pilgrimage in recent months. ‘Most of them are from our young adults group, and they really actively participate in our parish,’ he said. ‘During the recent Masses we called all of them up and gave each a Rosary and prayer card, and a letter from our parish saying how we are praying for them.’

Fr Simeon told the pilgrims to remember that ‘it’s not just about going overseas on their own’ but that the pilgrims are ‘bringing with them their fellow parishioners in prayer’.

Parishioners at St Peter’s have been asked to write their prayers, which the pilgrims will then take with them and offer up at various points in the pilgrimage, such as their visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima.

‘We will be connected with them in prayer,’ he says.

Penola Catholic College in Melbourne's north-west will be sending 16 students and three staff members in what is their biggest delegation to World Youth Day since Sydney in 2008. Melissa Fry, who has been assisting local preparations, said the students are extremely excited as the date of departure nears, and that while there has also been some anxiety, particularly for those travelling overseas for the first time,most of that was allayed once the students met some of the other young people attending from across Melbourne.

‘Speaking to them recently, they can’t wait now! They feel like this has taken forever to come.’

‘I’m hoping it’ll increase their faith,’ said Melissa when asked about her hopes for the students. ‘They’re also looking to meet people from different parts of the world and mixing with other cultures as well.’

As it happens, all those attending WYD from Penola had participated in an Alpha series organised by Penola teacher Dennis Alberto, who is also attending WYD as a small group leader. The school will be hosting an assembly this Friday which will include a blessing and commissioning of the students heading overseas.

Down south on the Mornington Peninsula, pilgrims from the Catholic parishes of Rosebud/Dromana, Mt Eliza and Padua College Mornington will be gathering later this week to meet one another and their chaplains. Local priests Fr John Paul Mount (Rosebud/Dromana), Fr Patrick Bradford (Mt Eliza) and Fr Jude Johnson (Mornington) will be accompanying the group overseas.

‘These Mornington Peninsula pilgrims have been attending Archdiocesan WYD gatherings and meeting locally at Padua College,’ says Fr Jude. Their next discussion, he said, will focus on how they might continue to grow in friendship with each other and with God.

‘We pilgrims also take this WYD Pilgrimage as a time to carry special intentions for ourselves and for others who are unable to travel,’ says Fr Jude. ‘We would like to pray for their intentions while praying rosaries at Our Lady of Fatima Grotto, attending Adoration and attending Masses, especially the Final Mass presided by Pope Francis.’