There are now less than three weeks to go until the first group of Melbourne pilgrims fly out for World Youth Day (WYD) Lisbon. This year’s delegation is one of the largest to travel from the Archdiocese of Melbourne, with more than 500 pilgrims preparing to gather with Pope Francis and a million other young people from around the world. Over the weekend, members of the Melbourne WYD leadership team gathered for their final session of the Essentials in Christian Leadership series.

Speaking at the session, Archbishop Peter A Comensoli reminded the 130 leaders gathered to continually reflect on the purpose of going on pilgrimage. ‘Every pilgrimage has a purpose, an intention. Like Mary, who as we know “arose and went with haste” to her cousin Elizabeth, this pilgrimage is an opportunity to live our lives with a sense of direction and to share God among us,’ he said.

‘We are pilgrims on the way of Jesus Christ,’ said the Archbishop. ‘This is our identity. And then from there, we are “pilgrims assisting pilgrims”.’

He encouraged the leaders to start up their own prayer list, asking, ‘Who do you want to take with you as you make this pilgrimage? Who do you want to pray for?’

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The weekend also looked at the practicalities of leading young people on pilgrimage, from ensuring the safety of pilgrims—some of whom will be travelling overseas for the first time—to encouraging a sense of prayerful encounter and community with fellow travellers. Sessions explored how to effectively lead small group discussions and how to share one’s faith with others.

One of the small group leaders, Dennis Alberto, a local high school teacher, reflected on the uniqueness of the WYD experience.

Dennis’ first WYD was back in 2005, when it took place in Cologne, Germany. He remembers attending one of the Masses and being overwhelmed by the sea of people around him. ‘It was one of the most beautiful moments ... I just felt part of a big family and something burned in my heart that day. I felt like I was home,’ he shared. ‘The whole journey started for me with that moment.’

‘The hardest thing is to open up to something especially when it’s an unknown,’ Dennis said. ‘But it’s about taking that first step … and I want to challenge our pilgrims to take that first step and open up, allowing God to do his thing.’

Also travelling with the pilgrims is high-school teacher Louise, who will be leading a group of pilgrims aged under 18. Louise was a student herself when she attended her first WYD overseas. What struck her most about the event was ‘how many people love God and seeing so many youth from around the world that share the same faith’.

Louise hopes that this year’s pilgrims will have a similar experience and that it will ‘start a flame in their hearts burning for God and that they will come back home to share that with others, and become leaders for World Youth Day in the future!’

There are four pilgrimage groups heading to World Youth Day, with the first pilgrimage set to leave Melbourne on 19 July.