As of Tuesday 8 August, Melbourne’s pilgrims to Lisbon for World Youth Day 2023 will begin making their way home. Despite sweltering temperatures, the pilgrims’ time in Lisbon, Fatima, Rome, Assisi and the Holy Land was a rich immersion in the story of Catholicism, and a great chance to meet other young Catholics from around the world who are excited about their faith.

Jordan is a young schoolteacher at St John’s Primary School in Footscray. Despite being ‘extremely exhausted’, she is ‘so, so happy’. ‘My cup is very, very full,’ she says.

For Jordan, World Youth Day has had many highlights, but the sense of belonging she experienced among fellow pilgrims was powerful. ‘The unforgettable thing is the sense that all of us pilgrims have. We’ve made this community, and seeing the worldwide Church and seeing everyone from all walks of life come here for the same reason and be so open and caring and immediate … Friendships have been formed.’

‘There’s just so many things I’ve taken away personally and professionally and spiritually,’ she says.

In Rome, Jordan had the incredible opportunity to hear Pope Francis speak in a special private audience with Melbourne pilgrims. His reflections on guiding children to ‘find freedom to be who they are for themselves’ have filled her with hope for the future.

The pope’s message during the Saturday night sleep-out also moved her. ‘He said that joy is mission, and I think this whole experience has been that. It’s just been the spreading of joy. I think for the youth of today, there’s lots of things that are a bit scary about our future, but it’s really beautiful knowing that sense of joy is being spread, and there’s always something to celebrate.’

Jordan is returning home with a renewed belief in the importance of openness. ‘Be open to people who aren’t your friends. I think that is really key. So many amazing opportunities will find you, things that you won’t expect. Go with the unexpected, lean into it.’

Another pilgrim, Nicholas, shares Jordan’s sense of being overwhelmed by the sheer number of Catholics from around the world. He reflects on the experience of gathering with everyone to welcome Pope Francis in the popemobile, recalling how much excitement was in the air.

‘You see all the different flags from Colombia, America, Costa Rice, Panama, Cambodia, people waving their flags, and we were waiting in anticipation for the pope to come,’ he recalls. ‘We knew he was going to drive down the park up to the central area where he was going to talk to us, and we were all packed on the side of the road.’

‘There was this short Brazilian lady that was behind all of us, so she wasn’t able to see, and one of the people in her group joisted her up on his shoulder so she could see,’ he says. ‘And then the pope drove past, and we were maybe 5 metres away and he was giving us his blessing … It was such a powerful moment, sharing it with these Brazilian Catholics I’d never met before. And the girl had tears in her eyes.’

It’s really inspiring. And I think it’s such an opportunity because often we feel like we’re the only young person in our parish going to Mass, but then we see this community.

Tanya is a Prep teacher at Our Lady of Lourdes in Prahran. While the chance to meet people from all over the world was incredible, she was especially moved by her time in Assisi, at St Claire’s Basilica. That was where ‘God really spoke’ to her.

‘We had just been to Rome, where everything was big and grand, and then we went back to the simplicity of this beautiful area,’ she says, ‘and it was just the nature around it, and it felt very God-given. And the people we were with, the moments of silence we took, it just felt like … God was really with us at that time.’

Tanya is also coming home with a sense of openness. ‘The main message I learnt from this trip was something that was said to us in the first couple of days, which was to be open to the experience, and the more open you are, the more you’ll get from it.’

On Monday 7 August, before journeying home, the Melbourne pilgrims gathered together one last time in Lisbon, celebrating a Mass of thanksgiving with Archbishop Peter A Comensoli.