Excitement is building as the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne prepares to embark on its largest ever pilgrimage to a World Youth Day overseas.

More than 500 young people from Melbourne have responded to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to go on pilgrimage with Archbishop Peter A Comensoli to Lisbon, Portugal, for World Youth Day in August this year.

In this year’s Patrick Oration, Archbishop Comensoli pointed out that among the young pilgrims, ‘134 are students, 82 are young teachers, and 17 are seminarians.’

Other young people from Melbourne will also journey to World Youth Day with various Catholic communities, including youth movements and the Australian Catholic University, which means a total of around 600 pilgrims across the Archdiocese have now registered for World Youth Day. They will join an expected contingent of one million pilgrims from across the globe.

World Youth Day was established by St John Paul II in 1985. The Catholic Church’s largest international youth gathering has occurred every three to four years since. The week-long festivities are an opportunity for encounter, celebration and deepening of faith. Several major events will be held, including the Way of the Cross, Vigil and Mass with Pope Francis.

For Fr Nicholas Pearce, Senior Chaplain for Youth, Young Adults and Campus Ministry, ‘World Youth Day is a wonderful way to walk alongside young people in the way of discipleship.’

The Archdiocese offered pilgrims the opportunity to journey through significant locations associated with our faith heritage before converging on Lisbon for the week of World Youth Day. One pilgrimage will follow the footsteps of Jesus, journeying through the Holy Land. Another will makes its way to the heart of the Church in Rome and Assisi. Both of these pilgrimages will visit the sacred shrine of Fatima.

Anthony Van Styn is one of the hundreds of young Melbournians who will be going on pilgrimage. ‘I registered for World Youth Day because it is an event that every young Catholic should get to experience!’ he says. ‘Having been able to previously attend two World Youth Days, I know of the joy, excitement and graces provided by God. It is a chance to recommit to what matters most and return home with the fire of the Holy Spirit to live as a disciple of Christ.’

For the first time, the Archdiocese is offering the Emerging Leaders Program, a unique opportunity for Catholic school teachers and upcoming young leaders from Catholic parishes and organisations to be formed in the way of Christian discipleship and leadership. They will learn from Australian and international experts in Rome and Assisi before joining the rest of the pilgrims in Portugal.

Also among the pilgrim group are people who will lead and support our young pilgrims as pilgrimage leaders, small group leaders, musicians and medical personnel. These leaders will prepare for pilgrimage through a new Archdiocesan offering, Essentials of Christian Leadership. Comprising a series of workshops and a retreat, the program is designed not just to prepare them to lead pilgrims safely but also to form them intentionally as disciples who will then guide our young pilgrims into a deeper relationship with God.

Richelle Mendoza is a Catholic primary school teacher and will be a small group leader on pilgrimage. She is ‘looking forward to the amazing energy that World Youth Day brings.’ Richelle says that she loves ‘journeying with young people in their faith. World Youth Day is such a beautiful experience, and knowing that I can be there to share in their experience is an honour and gift.’

The Archdiocesan World Youth Day pilgrimage was launched by Archbishop Comensoli at St Patrick’s Cathedral last August. Since then, parishes and communities have been at the forefront of encouraging hundreds of young people to register for World Youth Day, and have been generously supporting pilgrims by holding fundraising events.

St Andrew’s Parish in Werribee have been holding fundraising events for 10 pilgrims from their parish who will be setting off on pilgrimage to World Youth Day, with aim of raising $30,000. Susanne Sweeny, who has helped to organise these monthly events, said that ‘there is so much support because they’ve seen these young people in the church for many years … and they’re seen as the future of our parish. Honestly, the generosity of so many has blown us away—these are the people we have behind us.’

Susanne’s hope for the pilgrims is that they ‘come away from their experience with a deeper personal relationship with Christ—that they know Christ loves each of them personally. And that this experience of Christ impacts them so much that they have the confidence to live their faith and to share it with others.’

Over the next few months, pilgrims will prepare for an unforgettable and life-changing World Youth Day experience through a series of pilgrim formation sessions, culminating in a Commissioning Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral in mid-July.

Over the next few months, follow the journey of our young pilgrims on Melbourne Catholic or on Facebook or Instagram. The first pilgrim formation session will occur on Sunday 30 April. Please pray for our pilgrims.