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WYD08: Sydney Renewal

July 20, 2008
pedrocollage.jpgWell... World Youth Day is over... the bags are packed, Randwick is being cleaned up, the Media Centre is almost empty, hotels are being emptied, Sydney is returning to its usual stage - but this city will not be the same after this last week.
Before coming, we heard about how the local Australian media was not supportive of the event. The headlines were all about the sex abuse scandals and whether the Pope-protesters would be allowed to protest.
But somehow, the magic of WYD has worked its way into this city. Perhaps I should not say magic, but.... Spirit? The cynicism and distrust of organized religion, maybe even specifically of the Catholic Church and the Pope, seem to have melted away.
Instead, the headlines last week have been: "Holy Night," "Days for the Whole City to Cherish," "Marchers Enjoy Spiritual High," "A Mass Embrace" and "How our Cynical City Got Swept Up by Spirit." These are but a few. I can say that I have not seen one negative article all week.
And that is what happens at WYD: conversion. I'm not talking about changing people's religions, or "evangelizing" them... well, I am talking about evangelizing, but not in the common sense of the word. Evangelizing is simply a witness - a witness of who you really are - a witness of the love we know and enjoy.
And I think, for me, that's what the week has been about: Conversion. I am not sure what mini conversion happened in my heart yet - I'll know that in the weeks to come - but at least in my head, I am taking away a new understanding of what it means to witness. We witness, the Lord converts. Rather, with the Spirit, we witness and then the Lord converts.
And that is what Sydney saw these last few days: They saw real, alive, healthy, young people - nothing weird about them - just being full of joy. No one got hurt, no one passed out, no one was arrested (actually one pilgrim did get arrested, but that is another story), no one got drunk - just good plain, healthy fun - a fun that is rooted in the One who Loves us more than we can imagine.
And when others see that joy, they can't but help to be affected by it. At the very least, they can't complain. They can't say that it's a bad thing or that it's not genuine. This was good for Toronto six years ago and it's good for Sydney today.
A lady staying at our hotel told us that this was the best thing that had happened to Sydney ever. She was not Catholic, she was Anglican, but she still thought this was great! And it's 'cause there is nothing "religious" about that joy. There is nothing "theological" about that joy. On second thought, maybe that's what theology is all about.
WYD08 may be over as an event, but it's not really over. As long as that joy exists, WYD will continue and in truth the Spirit will have renewed the face of the Great South Land of the Holy Spirit and of the whole earth.
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