WYD takes its host city “hostage”- or at least that is how WYD is most often first received by the residents of the host city. Transportation is monopolized, the streets are closed, the public spaces are filled to capacity. Pilgrims are everywhere! Citizens of the city take second place, their routines are upset, their schedules are interrupted.
On the cab ride from the airport, our driver was uncertain as to the exact nature of WYD. What he knew was that “Pope XVI” (as he called him) was in town, some 200 000 young people were expected and that the road closures were a major inconvenience. At the beginning of our week here in Sydney the merchants and vendors were polite, but not inquisitive. Passersby smiled, but were not overtly welcoming. However, as the week progressed the mood changed. Pilgrims are now greeted with an affectionate “G’day mate.” This morning, for instance, as I was winding my way through the city (looking rather lost I’m sure) an elderly woman volunteered directions and sent me off with a blessing. The Aussies are no longer trying to get around the large groups of pilgrims as they are trying to get a closer look to see what the pilgrims are up to. This was most notable Friday afternoon when the residents of Sydney came out with their families and small children and joined themselves to the pilgrims who were praying the Stations of the Cross.
WYD doesn’t only change the lives of pilgrims, it effects change in its host city. To what do we owe this conversion? I think there are two main sources. The first is the pilgrims themselves who move through the city laughing, singing, and praying. Their youthful joyfulness is contagious. The second source is the Holy Spirit, who is present in a special way during WYD, but who continues to move the hearts of the city’s residents long after the pilgrims have returned home.