The countdown to World Youth Day 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal, is on! And with less than six months to go, a small group of young pilgrims from St Andrew’s parish in Werribee has been diligently fundraising since July last year. So far, they’ve raised more than $13,000 with the aim of raising $30,000 before departure day.

There has been no shortage of fundraising ideas and events for the 10 young pilgrims, aged 16–18 years, who are setting off on the Direct to Lisbon WYD trip in August. So far there’s been a number of sausage sizzles, home-baked goods sales after morning Mass, Christmas gift-wrapping, a Nativity play and carols night, a karaoke night and hot dog night, car washing, and carolling in people’s homes. And there’s still much more to come!

Mother of 15-year-old pilgrim Chiara, Susanne Sweeny has been part of the organising team since day one. She explains that their previous assistant priest, Fr Anil Mascarenhas (who is now at St Kevin’s Parish, Hampton Park), was the catalyst and key inspiration in getting the fundraising action started so early.

‘Fr Anil told us back in July that we needed to start the fundraising now, which we hadn’t anticipated,’ says Susanne. ‘So, we pulled everyone together and worked out who wanted to go and who was eligible; we formed a WhatsApp group; we brainstormed ideas, and decided to do a fundraiser every month, with the target being $30,000—which covers $2,500 per pilgrim and two leaders. We knew it was a big call, but we thought, “We can do it!”’

Susanne explains the parish already had a ‘very vibrant youth group’, which has been active for the past three or four years and involves the support of about 25 families, along with the wider parish community. There is also a team of mothers who provide fellowship for the youth group and who meet monthly, which has established strong bonds among the mothers. ‘So, the foundations were already in place to provide support to the young people going,’ she says.

From the beginning, all who are going have been part of the fundraising efforts, as well as the young people and families who aren’t going. In fact, the whole parish has been amazing and so generous in their support.

Their first fundraising event was a ‘classic’ sausage sizzle, raising $750, and the following month, they sold freshly baked goods after Mass over a weekend. That event alone raised over $2500 for the pilgrims. The young people (and their parents) commandeered the presbytery grounds over a weekend to wash and vacuum cars, which raised over $3000, and in the lead-up to Christmas, they spent two weeks (Monday–Friday) singing Christmas carols in parishioners’ homes.

'We had a roster and people booked us in for 15-minute slots across the Wyndham area,’ explains Susanne. ‘We had six houses a night over 10 nights, and people would give us donations for each visit.’ The group were blown away when one of the households donated $350 towards their fundraising goal.

‘The people around us are just beautiful,’ says Susanne. ‘We’ve had parishioners donate $50 for one sausage, or someone who’ll donate money even if they can’t attend an event, and people are constantly offering to donate goods for us to sell whether it’s for the sausage sizzle, the baked goods sale, or the upcoming garage sale.

I think there is so much support because they’ve seen these young people in the church for many years, attending Youth Group, doing altar serving, getting up and speaking at Mass, 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.

‘And what I find especially with this particular group of people—and I'm not trying to big note our parish—is that the spirit of generosity is contagious. When people are abundantly generous with their time and their talents, you’re inspired to contribute your own’.

It’s more than fundraising

Though the goal of raising $30,000 to send 12 people to WYD has been central to the fundraising events, Susanne wants to ‘reiterate’ the importance of prayer in all they’ve done, and how the events have led to a ‘stronger parish community, and an active witness to the presence of God in each of their lives’.

‘Everything we do and everything we've done has been consecrated to our Lord and to Our Lady,’ she says. ‘We have put everyone and everything into the Lord’s hands. We pray for our young people at the beginning of every planning meeting and feel it’s really building up their faith. The Holy Spirit is really moving within and among us.

The events are bringing our community together and we’re spreading the love of Jesus by doing these things—there’s a real buzz and energy in the parish.

The fundraisers have also provided an opportunity for people to share their gifts and talents, ‘at the service of others’.

‘And even though everyone’s busy, everyone’s helping out, even if they’re not one of the young people (or their families) who are going. It’s definitely been a team effort from the very beginning. We all have a lot of respect and love for each other, and we know that we're all on the same page. We're just trying to get our kids to World Youth Day.’

Susanne has personal experience of WYD, having attended three—in Rome, Italy (2000), Toronto, Canada (2005), and Sydney, Australia, in 2008. She experienced a deep conversion during her pilgrimage to Rome, which included a visit to the Holy Land, and felt especially confirmed and emboldened by the Holy Spirit to live her faith, knowing there were millions of other young Catholics from across the world who shared her love of God.

I hope that these young people 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. All along we’ve been fostering and encouraging leadership within our young people, so we hope this is something that will continue to strengthen and inspire others, too.

Susanne expresses deep gratitude for all who’ve been involved in the fundraising efforts, again emphasising the ‘team effort’ involved, and the generosity, encouragement and support of the wider parish community, including parish priest Fr Albert Yogarajah, assistant priest Fr Huy Nguyen, Fr Anil Mascarenhas (who continues to help young people in his own parish to raise funds for WYD), parishioners, the school community, and the Knights of the Southern Cross. ‘The Lord has really blessed this,’ she says. ‘We’re all in his hands, and for this, we give thanks.’

Upcoming fundraising events at St Andrew’s parish include a garage sale, a lawn-mowing weekend, a pizza and talent show night, another bake sale and sausage sizzle, a Bollywood dinner dance, and a bonfire night in July as the send-off party. Anyone wanting more information about how to host and run fundraising events is welcome to contact Susanne Sweeny.

Photos courtesy Susanne Sweeny.