World Youth Day Spirit Link 2008
Pittwater Parish sponsored six young Solomon Islanders from the Gizo Diocese for World Youth Day in Sydney, from July 15th to July 20th 2008. They were actually in Australia from the 9th to the 23rd of July. The six were hosted by Pittwater's Soul Group, and strong links were established between the visiting young people and those from our Pittwater Parish. Time after time young people from the Islands have planned to go to other World Youth days, but always those plans fell through because they could not raise enough money. Their best hope was to come to Sydney which is so much closer than ever before. Sadly, left to their own resources, it was going to be very difficult to raise enough money to come here. The country has the lowest per capita income in the world and very few young people have paid work- in fact less than 10% of people of any age are in paid employment.
Tsunami and Earthquake
In April 2007 a magniitude 8.5 earthquake and tsunami devastated all parts of the Diocese, destroying entire villages and killing many people, bringing down homes, churches and clinics as well as destroying the boats that are people's livelihood, flooding their gardens and demolishing their water tanks. In the midst of this disaster, the World Youth Day Cross arrived in Gizo, even though the Cathedral had been so severely damaged so that all celebrations were outside. People broke off from their urgent disaster recovery work and came out in their numbers to welcome it. The Cross was a sign of hope that there was a future. It was especially fitting that some of the young people could be in Sydney to take that hope further.
Gizo Diocese selected one young person from each Parish. Each had to commit their time for one year after their return, so that they could share with others the messages from World Youth Day. They were truly representative of the youth of the Diocese of Gizo, four young men and two young women. One came from the Shortland Islands and three from different parts of the Island of Choiseul. Both these Islands are many miles away from Gizo, the centre of the Diocese. The other two hailed from the centre of the Diocese, Gizo.
Planning started eighteen months before with a committee established first to raise the necessary funds, over $12,000, and then to co- ordinate the trip. There were many potential problems to anticipate and overcome, including arranging internal and international flights, registering the Pilgrims, ensuring that they had passports and visas, making sure they all had shoes when they arrived and providing them with warm clothes in the middle of Sydney's winter. Most had never experienced temperatures, day or night, below about 25 degrees Celsius so many layers of warm clothing were needed. Since the flights from the Solomons land in Brisbane not Sydney, a contact in Brisbane was needed to meet the incoming flights and look after the Pilgrims until their domestic flight left for Sydney, usually the next day. This was repeated on the return journey.
Finally, there was accommodation to arrange for the six in the Parish before and after World Youth Day as well as during the actual event. One Parish family indicated that they would be able to accommodate all six, as well as their Soul Group liaisons. This was a very generous offer and proved a great success. As a bonus, when a couple of the Pilgrims succumbed to the flu they were in very good hands, as their hosts were a doctor and a nurse. Finally there was the need to arrange transport and activities, particularly before and after WYD. None of these young people had been outside the Solomon Islands before, so it was a great opportunity to expose them to some of the sights and features of Sydney, particularly Pittwater. Within the Parish there were several special events, including Mass to welcome the Pilgrims and an Italian night to farewell them.
The Spirit Link Project was a spectacular success because of the generosity of the people of Pittwater Parish. All the necessary money was raised through a pancake night and an appeal at Sunday Masses. There were also generous donations from individuals and St Leo's College Waitara raised funds through a Talent quest. Youth Minister Simon Hyland's family readily agreed to be our Brisbane hosts. They spent many hours driving to the airport to meet planes that were often late, and must have washed and changed dozens of sheets during the month of July. Some clothes were bought from Parish funds and were ready in Brisbane as soon as the young people arrived. Other clothing was provided by our local St Vincent de Paul, and the extra cash allowance given to each Pilgrim meant that they had money to spend if they needed anything else. The Mater Maria Warriewood bus was made available for the trips to and from the airport, with volunteer drivers, and the local trips were arranged by members of the Steering Group.
The members of the Soul Group were outstanding hosts. Their enthusiastic welcome and their support meant that the Pilgrims felt comfortably at home and could move around the city with confidence. Without the Soul Group's assistance, this would have been a very daunting experience for the Solomon Islanders.
We hope that the messages and discoveries of World Youth Day will be spread far and wide by these impressive young people. We hope too that the connection between the Pittwater Parish and Diocese of Gizo will continue so that many more blessings flow through this “Spirit Link”. The Solomon Island group has already been involved in one youth rally in Gizo to share their experience, with another planned for December 2008 in the Shortland Islands. Many more young people from their country will be touched by the World Youth Day experience, thanks to Pittwater Parish.