As more than 500 young people came together for the first time on Sunday 30 April in preparation for Melbourne’s pilgrimage to World Youth Day (WYD) in Lisbon, Portugal, the Fitzroy campus of Australian Catholic University was alive with joy, music and the Holy Spirit.

The pilgrimage’s more-than-100-strong leadership team, who recently began their formation in Christian leadership, happily welcomed pilgrims as they walked through St Mary of the Cross Square. The sound of chatter, laughter and live music grew as Cathedral Hall filled with pilgrims from parishes, youth groups, communities and schools across the Archdiocese.

The energy and noise gave way to a reflective time of prayer, as pilgrims meditated on the gospel passage of the Annunciation of the Lord and the Visitation, where Mary journeys to visit Elizabeth—the passage from which the WYD theme is drawn: ‘Mary arose and went with haste’ (Luke 1:39). Lucy Rochford called her fellow pilgrims to be open to God and to new, joyful experiences.

As they reflected on the age-old saying ‘You’re a pilgrim, not a tourist’, pilgrims were introduced to the idea of pilgrimage as a journey of growth and encounter with God and faith, and explored the history and format of World Youth Day.

Parents and guardians attended a concurrent session, where they were able to explore the practicalities of the pilgrimage and ask questions of the World Youth Day team and travel provider.

Pilgrims then spread out across the campus as they gathered in their various pilgrimages: Direct to Portugal, Footsteps of Jesus to the Holy Land, the Italian Way and the Emerging Leaders Program. Breaking into smaller groups, they introduced themselves to each other and shared their responses to the themes explored in the sessions so far. Small groups will be an essential element of the pilgrimage, helping pilgrims to foster community and make sense of their WYD experience.

Fr Michel Remery, a priest of the Diocese of Rotterdam in the Netherlands who is well known for his popular book and app Tweeting with God, spoke to pilgrims about the meaning of pilgrimage. Observing that the saints were on a journey too, growing ever closer to Jesus, he said that pilgrims are invited to become saints and to follow Jesus as his disciples.

In fact, the pilgrims would be heading to a ‘double destination’, according to Fr Remery.

We are all going towards Lisbon to celebrate World Youth Day. But your destination in life is a different one, it is to live your vocation—that of what God is asking of you.

Fr Remery also spoke to parents and guardians, encouraging them to be companions on their children’s journey. He invited parents to engage in conversations with their children before the pilgrimage and to welcome them when they return to day-to-day life by listening to their stories and responding to their enthusiasm, taking their experiences and concerns to prayer if they wish.

The gathering ended as Archbishop Peter A Comensoli livestreamed from Rome to greet pilgrims and to share his experiences as a young priest on World Youth Day. ‘My hope is that Jesus will find you,’ he said. ‘In Jesus finding you, I hope you get a sense of wanting to go out … into your own communities … your communities you’ve formed on pilgrimage.’

More than 500 pilgrims will journey with Archbishop Comensoli to Lisbon, Portugal, in August this year, and over the next few months, pilgrims will continue their formation and preparation for World Youth Day. The next pilgrim formation session, to be held across the week of 15 May, will be pilgrimage-specific.

Follow the journey of our young pilgrims on Facebook or Instagram. Please pray for our pilgrims.