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  The Antioch way to WYD Madrid  
The Antioch Pilgrimage Group – ‘One for Others’ - has just returned from an exhilarating,
challenging, inspiring experience – WYD Madrid. No doubt the personal experiences of each of
the 35 participants will have their own very personal reflections of what happened. The
following is a quick overview of our reflections as we start to ‘unpack’ them in our own minds -
framed in the form of Q & A.
Why a pilgrimage? (Why not just go to WYD?)
Because a pilgrimage requires a very different mindset to a trip. It means doing something extra
and different to bring us closer to Christ. Traditionally, it involves a journey to some special
place and meeting others along the way from whom we learn and with whom we share our
experience of being a Christian. It requires an openness and generosity of spirit which is always
rewarded with spiritual blessings.
Why an Antioch Pilgrimage Group?
Because we already have a strong experience of Antioch, we can build on that more rapidly. And
the name of the Group – ‘One for Others’ – sums up the openness of the group to learn from and
share with the ‘others’ along the way. Of added significance was the fact that we departed on the
Feast Day of Mary MacKillop.
Why Rome?
The focus in Rome was St.Peter’s Basilica, the symbolic centre of our Church. In front of the
Basilica are two giant
statues, one on each
side – St Peter and St
Paul. This is typical of
many Italian churches,
big and small, a
painting or statue of
these two saints on each
side (usually in the
foyer or near the altar).
They remind us of two
important strands in
Christian spirituality –
Petrine and Pauline.
We started in the
Petrine tradition. Our
celebration of Mass at
St Peter’s was in a very
privileged place – the
Central Altar of the
Crypt of the Basilica,
within view of the spot
where the bones of St
Peter were discovered in 1939. The symbolism was powerful. As our two MSC chaplains, Fr
Peter Hearn and Fr Josh Gopini (both of Randwick Parish) raised the sacred host and chalice
at consecration, they were in a direct line of vision with the tomb of St Peter. They were also in a
direct line of ordination through the Bishops who had ordained them all the way back to the
original Bishop (and Pope) two millennia ago. Immediately on our right was the site where the
late Pope John Paul II had been buried six years ago. Immediately after the Mass we were able to
go upstairs to the main part of the basilica and pray where Pope John Paul II’s body was moved
at his beatification three months ago. This was an especially moving moment for three of our
pilgrimage group who were of Polish origin.
The Petrine tradition, tracing back to St Peter, is what gives our Church strength and stability. It
is like the skeleton of the body, giving it shape and direction. Our Bishops and priests have the
sacrament of Holy Orders, bringing order and discernment to our actions and clarify what it is
that the Catholic Church teaches. Inevitably we tend to take this gift of the Holy Spirit for
granted and complain about the restrictions (and abuses of power) that come from the human
exercise of authority. We tend to forget that the cohesiveness that it brings to 1.1 billion
Catholics is unparalleled in religious history.
Of course there was much more to our Rome stay. En route, at Singapore we had been joined by
MaryClaire and Chris Bailey of Melbourne and AJ Coronel from Henley Beach Antioch,
South Australia. When we landed at Rome’s Fiumicino airport on Tuesday 9th we were met by
Ania, Juan and Tomasz from Liverpool Antioch who were already in Europe. Now we had the
full complement of 35! We started with an orientation coach tour of famous sites such as the
Coliseum, the Roman Forum, Circus Maximus, the Palatine Hill and the Victor Emmanuel Tomb
at Piazza Venezia. We were also welcomed and shown around the recently opened Domus
Australia. This is a former Marist Brothers building near the main railway station, beautifully
restored to accommodate Australian visitors to Rome.
Our accommodation was in a pilgrim house of the “Family of Disciples’ Order founded last
century. One of their charisms is hospitality and this was evident in the warm care given us by
Don Antonio. Our first Mass together in their Chapel was one of thanksgiving for safe arrival.
The house was a stone’s throw from Piazza Navona and a short walk from the Pantheon, the
Vatican, the beautiful banks of the River Tiber, Trevi Fountain and other famous tourist spots.
On Wednesday, jet lag made it easier to wake up in time for 7am Mass at St Peter’s (see above).
Our heads were fuzzy but our spirits were high as we headed for the world’s largest art
collection, the Vatican Museum. A very lively guide kept up our interest as we struggled
through the huge crowds at, gaping at room after room of statues, paintings and tapestries of
extraordinary beauty. By the time we reached the Sistine Chapel, where the Cardinals meet to
select the Pope, it was hard
to take it all in. The Sistine
Chapel can all be seen at
leisure and in beautiful
detail on our home
computers but it is an
unique experience to
actually stand there and see
the ‘real thing’.
At lunch time, our
Antiochers livened up the
streets around the Vatican
with ‘Antioch songs’ and
then it was time for a bus ride to visit two more of the four basilicas of Rome, St Mary Major,
which is much loved by the Romans, and St John Lateran, which for many centuries was the
Papal centre and still is the Cathedral of the Diocese of Rome. A special highlight was a visit
inside the Coliseum.
On Thursday morning, the group visited the fourth Roman Basilica, St Paul outside the Walls,
built over the grave of St Paul. This was followed by a visit to the ancient Catacombs of St
Domitilla.and a Mass celebrated there by our chaplains. Then a ‘free afternoon’ to explore the
Eternal City.
Midst all this we were able to gather each evening as a group to debrief, reflect on the day’s
experience and pray together.
Why Orvieto?
Thursday morning saw off to an early start to parts of Italy ‘where the real Italians live’. By
9.30am we were at Orvieto - one of scores of well-preserved medieval towns. It was one of 10
Etruscan cities built on
cliff-lined hills rising
steeply from the Tiber
Valley. They had a highly
developed civilization –
terribly bad luck to be so
close to Rome and so the
first to fall under its
It was fun exploring the alley ways and little shops
and sampling gelato. Then we arrived at the focal
point: the Cathedral. The façade is arguably the most
beautiful in the world and inside are two worldfamous
chapels. We visited first the St Brisi Chapel
with walls and ceiling covered by massive paintings.
These include the Last Judgement, the Resurrection
of the Body and the Antichrist and are considered
the masterpieces of one of the most famous
Renaissance painters, Luca Signorelli.
It is one of the finest examples of religious art. The
tradition of expressing our faith through art
continues to this day. One of our friends who lives in Orvieto is director of an annual fortnight of
street shows of religious theatre. We once met a young woman who went as an atheist to study
art in Orvieto and who had a deep conversion experience in the process of trying to understand
what the artists were trying to express.
Then we arrived at the real reason
for our visit: the Eucharist Chapel,
containing the corporal of the
Miracle of Bolsena. In the year
1263, a German priest, Peter of
Prague, stopped at Bolsena, a small
town near Orvieto, while on a
pilgrimage to Rome. He was having
difficulties in believing in the Real
Presence of Christ in the consecrated
host. While celebrating Mass, at the
words of consecration, blood dripped
from the host onto the altar and the
corporal (cloth). He immediately met
with the Pope (Urban IV) who at the
time was staying in Orvieto, with a
number of Cardinals and
theologians, including St Thomas
Aquinas. That miracle was a major
impetus to the declaration of the
Feast of Corpus Christi (Body of
The beautiful Cathedral
was built to
commemorate the
miracle. The corporal,
with its blood stains,
has been on display
ever since above the
altar of the Eucharist
Chapel. Every year on
the Feast of Corpus
Christi the sacred cloth
is carried in procession
through Orvieto,
preceded by a
procession of
townspeople in
medieval costume. It
was in front of this
famous relic that our
chaplains led us in our
own Eucharistic
As you all know, the concept that we are the Body of Christ is central to Antioch’s relational
spirituality. As St Augustine said, we should say a double ‘Amen’ when we receive the
Eucharist, meaning ‘yes’ this is Jesus truly present in the consecrated bread and wine and ‘yes’
he is truly present in the community of believers. A relational emphasis is present in many ways
in Antioch. For example, we have ‘share groups’ rather than ‘discussion groups’, hold hands as
we pray and say ‘Amen’ to each others’ prayers and our follow-up talks have titles like
‘Friendship’, ‘forgiveness’, ‘Importance of thanking others’, ‘praise’, etc.
Why Assisi?
By evening we were at Assisi. We started below the town in the Porziuncula, the little hut where
St Francis spent his last years and finally died. This tiny structure is in the middle of one of the
world’s largest basilica, St Mary of the Angels.
Up in the town itself, we first visited the Church of St Clare and filed past the saint’s preserved
body. This was of special significance to the ‘Clares’ of our group, Claire Carniato, Kiara
(Claire) Pirola, MaryClaire Bailey and Mavis Claire Pirola (photo below).
We prayed before the ‘Cross of St Damian’
that spoke to St Francis, squeezed through tiny
passages to rooms where St Clare prayed. The
next day we visited the Basilica of St Francis
with his tomb in the crypt and celebrated Mass
at the altar of St Catarina, one of the chapels
of the vast basilica.
Even by secular standards, this is the home
town of two of the most significant people in
European history: St Francis and St Clare.
These ancestors are still very alive in the
minds of the modern citizens of Assisi,
including our guide, Giuseppe.
We were now following in the Pauline stream
of Christian spirituality. St Paul was the great
missionary who lived ‘in the world’ but was
not ‘of the world’ He had one central
conviction: no human power or effort, even scrupulous commitment to law, can save us unless
we open ourselves to the person of Jesus. The Pauline stream gives the Body of Christ flexibility
and relatability. St Paul was the tentmaker who could make his God relatable to the sophisticated
Athenians who had many gods.
A young Australian, Sam Clear, joined us for an hour in Assisi and shared on his 15,000km
journey on foot across South and North America, Asia and Europe – all to encourage people to
pray for Christian
Unity. His countercultural
approach was
confronting to us who
live in a culture that
focuses on pleasure.
It reminded us of how
counter-cultural to
their society were the
lives of St Francis
and St Clare and
many other saints.
Many of the group
found Sam’s talk a
meaningful step on
this pilgrimage of
ours to know Jesus
The impact of St
Francis and St Clare on Christian spirituality was profound. But some interesting side points
were the fact that the name ‘Francis’ did not previously exist. His mother was French and when
he was born, his father called him Francesco, ie ‘the little French boy’. The Christmas crib also
originated from St Francis as well as the blessing of animals from this man with a great sense of
There was so much to take in! However, in the evenings, we continued to come together as a
group to reflect on the day’s happenings and to pray.
Finally, Madrid!
A bus back to Rome airport and a one and a half hour flight and we were in magnificent Madrid.
We had been warned repeatedly that it would be hot but it was even hotter than predicted and it
seemed unrelenting. We were saved by having wonderful university accommodation, with small
private rooms, showers that worked, a good cafeteria and, wonder of wonders, a swimming pool!
The Harvest staff had looked after us so well. They had arrived late at night in advance and
found that the Australian pilgrim bags (over 3,000 of them) had not been packed, so they pitched
in and did it themselves. Our limited Spanish could only get us so far but fortunately we had one
member of the group, Juan Frech, who came from Nicaragua, and spoke the language and
repeatedly solved our communication problems.
The WYD programme consisted of major functions, usually in the morning, with the afternoons
free for a wide range of spiritual and cultural events across the city – travelling with free public
transport passes.
Our first WYD event was the
Australian Gathering in a
Convention Hall, prior to the
Opening Mass celebrated in a major
square by the Archbishop of Madrid.
At the Australian Gathering, there
were over 3,000 enthusiastic
Australians with their various
banners. Our Antioch banner was
proudly held aloft by Annie Paseka
(Smithfield Antioch). There were 24
Australian Bishops and 115 priests
with inputs by Archbishop Wilson,
Cardinal Pell, and Bishops Prowse
and Hurley. The WYD Cross and
Icon were carried in before
commencing with prayer,
testimonies and song. Altogether it
was a very encouraging sign of the
solidarity and vitality that we hoped
to take home with us.
This focused our minds even more
strongly on a major challenge ahead of
us: our role as an ‘Animation Team’
for one of the English-speaking
Catechesis sites. The three days of
Catechesis are a major feature of
World Youth Days. Each lasts about
four hours. There is a warm-up
welcome period, then half an hour of
prayer, song and testimonies. Then a
bishop gives a motivational talk
(catechesis) on one aspect of the WYD
theme - ‘Planted and Built up in Jesus
Christ, Firm in the Faith’ (cf Col
2:7). This is followed by a Q&A
session and finally a concelebrated Mass.
We had known for some weeks that Antioch had the privilege of being one of three ‘Animation
Teams’ from Australia but contact details of our designated parish only came through a few days
before departure. And our parish contact spoke very little English!
Our parish was the inner city Franciscan Parish of San Antonio. We discovered that powerpoint
facilities were uncertain so the day before we hastily put together 1,000 song sheet booklets to
take with us and our chaplains provided copies of the English text for the Catechesis Masses
The Bishops allotted to San Antonio parish were: Bishop Anthony Fisher OP, of Parramatta, on
the first day, Cardinal Seán Moloney OFM Cap, of Boston, on the second day and, finally,
Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Canberra/Goulburn.
Our pilgrimage group came from eleven different parishes. It was clear that each person would
have a role to play. Under the musical leadership of Al Ryan and with the organizational skills
of Allie Court, we pulled together as one team. It is easy to forget how much week-by-week
leadership training takes place through Antioch weekends and Sunday night meetings. It was a
bit like an Antioch weekend and a ‘closing’ all in one.
The church was incredibly crowded. We managed to squeeze about 750 into pews but there were
many hundreds more in aisles, behind
pillars and over most of the altar area –
at least 1,300 altogether, maybe many
more. Pilgrims came from many parts of
the world, UK, USA, Africa, New
Zealand, the Philippines, the Caribbean,
to name a few, and some Australians,
mainly Darwin, Lismore and Parramatta.
Our ‘Animation Team’ was readily
recogniseed in our blue thematic T-shirts
designed by Kiara.
The welcoming team and ushers outside and in the back of the church set the tone with their
enthusiastic greetings and smiling faces. Patrice Guerrero, Jerome Rodrigo, Jamie Mutton,
Phillip ORance, Isabel Plust, Tim Birmingham, Annie Paseka, Theophil Soundriya and
Stash D’Cunha handed out songheets, asked people where they came from and passed the
information up to the front of the church.
The chaplains (from our group and from
other groups) were in high demand for
ongoing Reconciliation. Our adult
supports, Carol Wright, Lucyna
Juszczak, and Geraldine & John
Dayball, played an outstanding role in
support and care for a number of heataffected
pilgrims. Jessica McGuinness
had the crucial role of keeping the
powerpoint presentation abreast of the
programme. Our three guitarists (Al
Ryan, Sarah Black and Chris Farlow)
and our singers (Stephanie Cox, Nat
Tedesco, Claire Carniato, Emma
Vanolini, Amanda Morris, AJ Coronel
and Ania Markowski) were up front
leading the singing. The two MCs,
Sarah Black and Tom Juszczak led us
all with clarity and enthusiasm and even had the congregation on their feet doing the actions for
‘One for Others”.
Very moving
testimonies were given
by Chris Bailey
(Melbourne), Sarah
Beer (Randwick), Juan
Frech (Liverpool),
Stephanie Cox
(Canberra), Stuart
McGrath (an
indigenous pilgrim from
the NT Pilgrimage
Group), Kiara Pirola
(Kensington) and Chris
Farlow (Liverpool).
These helped to set the
scene each day for the
catechesis session that
The catecheses and the Q&A sessions were excellent and greatly appreciated.
At the concluding Masses each day there were up to 8 Bishops, including Bishops Putney,
Hurley, Saunders and Oudeman from Australia and 40 or more concelebrating priests. Readers at
the Masses included MaryClaire Bailey, Tom Jusczak, Stephanie Cox, Chris Bailey, AJ
Coronel, Annie Paseka, Sarah Beer and Chris Farlow.
For the ‘Antioch
Animating Team’, each
catechesis was over four
hours of hard, joyful
work on each of three
successive mornings. But
what a privilege! - to be
able to contribute, to
make things happen and
to be rewarded by the
response of the pilgrims
who could be jubilant and
reflective as appropriate.
After the final Catechesis
on Friday, the major
event was the Stations of the Cross. It was held in a relatively confined area of the city. For
those who could witness it and follow it, it was a very meaningful combination of traditional and
modern expressions of faith. Others just struggled with the crowd or followed it on TV.
Amazingly, in the midst of the crush, a few of our group managed to meet up briefly with
Antiochers from Hungary!
Crowd control was always going to be a challenge. On the day before the Stations of the Cross,
the Pope arrived and a crowd estimated at 3,000 used the occasion to demonstrate stridently
against him outside the largest train station. Initially peaceful, it soon turned violent. The hate
was palpable. It was a good reminder that we are always called to respond with love (and
prudence) but we can’t presume that it will be reciprocated. On the following day, at a
bottleneck, one of our pilgrims fell and was in danger of being trampled.
By now, the heat was taking its toll and we had to plan for the peak event: the Saturday night
Vigil with the Pope, overnight sleep-out and Sunday morning Mass with the Pope. These were
at Cuatro Vientos, a disused airport about 14km from our residence with a gravel surface lightly
covered with straw.
There was an excellent train service from our door but we knew the trains would not cope with
the crowds. We had our mobiles charged and ready but knew that mobile networks can fail when
used by huge crowds. It was getting even hotter. If we set out early (like in Cologne when an
advance party left at 5am), we had a better chance of securing our designated spot but that would
mean many more hours in the sun. It was not possible to carry all the water needed for such a
venture. We also had to leave by ‘plane for Barcelona on Sunday night.
Thirty-one of our 35 set out in high spirits about 10am, taking it in turns to carry the ‘Antioch
WYD Cross’. They took a train part of the way and then deliberately walked the rest to maintain
the spirit of pilgrimage. It took about six hours to cover several kilometers – walking mainly in
shade. They stopped on the side of a hill for a very beautiful Mass celebrated by Frs Peter and
When they arrived at Cuatro Vientos someone commented that it reminded him of pictures of a
refugee camp in Africa. It seemed like a dust bowl. It was
hot and initially water was hard to find. Our designated
area was full (obviously containing people who did not
have passes for that area). Some of our group started to
faint and needed a spell in emergency tents. Then water
arrived, fire trucks hosed the crowd and our group found a
space further back with Polish pilgrims.
The Pope arrived in the evening and led a very meaningful
prayerful service. In the middle of it, a freak storm struck
with powerful winds and short-lived heavy rain. It was
disruptive but our group said they were dancing in the rain
and it was a joyful scene with a great sense of togetherness.
A number of them returned that night, as planned. Eleven stalwarts remained. Apparently they
slept well.
The next morning it was announced that Holy Communion could not be distributed to the crowd
because of damage from the storm. Our group stayed for the Mass and then wisely left ahead of
the main crowd, getting back in good time. They were able to receive the Eucharist on their
return to the residence.
Overall, it was a challenging, uplifting and bonding experience, all done with commitment and a
sense of the presence of Jesus in his Body, the community of believers.
Why Barcelona?
That night we flew to Barcelona for a 3-night stay, deliberately built into the programme to
allow time to reflect and debrief. Barcelona is one of the most vibrant cities of Europe with a
strong cultural heritage. It has a special interest to us as Ron’s older brother was born there,
shortly before the Spanish Civil War. The university residence we stayed at was very up-market.
A number of us commented that ‘We’d like to
come here to study!’ It was (a little) cooler than
Madrid and our rooms were air-conditioned. We
adapted to luxury in a flash! Again we had time to
reflect and pray together, to do last-minute
shopping and to do some sight-seeing.
Our time included a visit to the Basilica of the
Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) which has been
under construction for about a century. Mass was
celebrated in the crypt of this extraordinary place
of worship. It is the outcome of the work of many
people who prayed and saved to build it.
However, it will always be linked with Antoni
Gaudi (sometimes nicknamed God’s architect).
He was a great model for us lay people. He was a
world-famous architect but when he designed a
house, it was not just a professional job, it was to
give glory to God. So he didn’t just design a
house, for him it was like a cathedral. Then he
was asked to really design a cathedral – and he
worked tirelessly for decades to come up with something stunningly different. In the Civil War,
his manuscripts were burnt but his work has been followed as closely as possible. He is being
considered for beatification.
On our final day, we walked part of the way in the footsteps of St Ignatius by visiting his cave at
Manresa and the sanctuary of Our Lady of Montserrat where he formally renounced his
previous life of luxury and war to live in poverty as a follower of Christ. In the crypt of this clifftop
church we had our final Mass and consecrated ourselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It
was a fitting end to a pilgrimage led spiritually by two Missionaries of the Sacred Heart.
Where to now?
And now it is all over and we
are back home! Each of us will
have to discern what we have
learned from this amazing
experience and how we can
build on that for our personal
lives and our parishes .
We have ringing in our ears,
the words of the Holy Father at
Cuatro Vientos. He pointed out
that our faith is not like a
subject to be learned. It
requires coming to know the
person of Jesus, to grow in
relationship with him and to
remember that it should never
be done alone. It is in
community that we grow in
authentic Christian spirituality.
As he said at the Vigil, ‘Dear young people, do not be satisfied with anything less than Truth and
Love, do not be content with anything less than Christ … .. The Lord has allowed you to live in
this moment of history so that, by your faith, his name will continue to resound throughout the
We give thanks to God for the experience of WYD. May we continue to be ‘planted and built up
in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith!’
With our love and blessings,
Ron and Mavis Pirola
The Antioch Animation Team !
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