Pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Melbourne met the Holy Father in Rome on Wednesday 26 July, in a special private audience as part of the lead-up to World Youth Day Lisbon. During the meeting, Pope Francis encouraged the pilgrims in their faith journey and happily answered questions on topics ranging from education to evangelisation, the environment and caring for our common home.

‘I’m very happy to welcome you here and to see such courageous young people’ said Pope Francis. When asked what message he wanted to get across to young people, the Holy Father simply said: ‘The main message I want to get across is that the Lord is always by your side—always. Even in the most difficult moments, he is always with us. He never tires of walking with us!’

Archbishop Peter A Comensoli expressed his deep gratitude to the Pope for taking the time to speak with the young Australians.

‘To have the Holy Father speak with our young leaders today, to listen to their own experiences, and to encourage them in their journey of faith is a real gift,’ he shared. ‘Melbourne pilgrims laughed and cried while listening to the wisdom of the Holy Father and his words of freedom, accompaniment, joy and encouragement. The Lord is good.’

‘As Pope Francis expressed recently, our faith and tradition have been enriched by the lives of those who have gone before us, and while the World Youth Day event is aimed at youth, we know that we are part of a larger tapestry of faith.

B9f88dc0 3c06 48c6 9de0 cd9b35f61bd7
Pope Francis welcomed the Melbourne pilgrims and encouraged them in their journey of faith

Music and Religious Education teacher Aaron Charles from John Paul College in Frankston was visibly emotional after the papal audience. ‘It was incredibly unexpected! I asked Pope Francis what advice he had for us in being able to serve our small communities, and he said it’s not about imparting an idea, but imparting a relationship … guiding your students and allowing them to make mistakes and be themselves and to grow into their own.’

‘I cried the whole way through,’ Aaron said. ‘It was just absolutely moving and the very first thing I did afterwards was to call Mum!’

The Melbourne pilgrims are a few days into their pre-WYD experience in Rome, and form part of the almost 600-strong group of pilgrims from the Archdiocese heading to World Youth Day via Italy, the Holy Land, Fatima and Lourdes. One group, travelling to Lisbon via ‘the Italian Way’, began their trip to Rome with a visit to the Church of the Gesù, where they heard about the life and works of St Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus. The other group—led by Archbishop Comensoli and made up of young professionals from schools, parishes, and the health and social services sectors—is travelling on a unique formation experience, the ‘Emerging Leaders Program’, designed to open them to leadership in the life of the Church.

The two groups came together at Casa Santa Marta (the papal household) for this special meeting with the Holy Father.

Bridget Taylor, a Maths teacher from Clonard College in Geelong was overjoyed by the experience. ‘To be honest it was a bit of a blur! I’m just completely in awe of what I’ve experienced. Being an emerging leader and passionate about the future of Catholic education, I was fortunate enough to ask what his message was that we can share with our staff and students.

‘He said to accompany our students and to work with our staff, create boundaries but also give them the freedom to accept whatever faith they follow and to believe in the Church. I can’t wait to go home and share this with the students, staff at Clonard and the community in Geelong!’

Over one million young people are expected to descend on Lisbon next week for the 16th international World Youth Day. Our Melbourne pilgrims—youth, young leaders, clergy, religious and staff—will carry today’s special experience with them, along with the prayers of the Archdiocese.

‘World Youth Day will be a time of powerful spiritual encounter with the Lord for each pilgrim in their own personal journey of faith’, said Archbishop Comensoli.

‘It is something they cannot help but share on their return, and we look forward to the many fruits that will unfold.’