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Days 13 & 14: We travel and retreat

So on Monday we enjoyed a sleep in before our final Mass together in Panama. We achieved a first for Archbishop Peter as he celebrated Mass on a pool deck. With the glistening water beside us, we celebrated Mass before boarding the coach bound for the airport. After some bus karaoke (Aerosmith anyone?)we arrived at the airport bound for Houston, Texas! We farewelled our guide Louis and caught a very full plane with some from the Parramatta Diocese. On arrival in Houston we were tired and a little peckish. We boarded a coach to head to our retreat centre. 
On advice of our new tour guide Andrew, we made a pit stop at Bucees. Bucees is an American truck stop - Texas-sized. With everything you could need - food, drinks, candy, clothes, toys, fishing rods... Pilgrims were amazing and confused as we stopped to grab a few extra snacks on the way through. After our stop, we finally arrived at the Christian Renewal Centre. A beautiful retreat centre in the Oblate tradition. After supper and a quick orientation, we headed to bed. On this pilgrimage, we have been lucky enough to have twin accommodation the whole journey so each pilgrim has a roomie that they've kept the entire trip. Sounds like it could be dangerous but this group has been amazing and everyone gets on truly well.
Tuesday has been our chance to really retreat and unpack the experience of World Youth Day and our Mexican pilgrimage. We have had talks from Archbishop Peter and Sister Mel Edwards MGL as well as time to reflect, pray and relax. By taking the time to explore what the trip has meant to us before returning home, it means we can focus fully on what it means. Our retreat is short, we will be back to Houston Airport tomorrow afternoon to start the pilgrimage home, first to Los Angeles and then to Melbourne. The time we have spent together was a unique opportunity - a cohesive group with like-minded ideals and understanding for others. We have relished the chance to get to know Archbishop Peter, Fr Dishan and Sister Mel as our chaplains as well as each and every pilgrim. It's been a real privilege and delight.

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Days 11 and 12: WYD Vigil and Final Mass

What a huge 48 hours for the Melbourne Pilgrimage as we set off early Saturday morning after a little court yard Mass. The Brisbane, Rocky, Townsville group tacked on as we managed to train past of the way. We then walked through the suburban streets of Panama to the supermarket where we picked up our pilgrim meal bags for the two days. After stocking up we stood in a queue for about two hours before they let the pilgrims in.
We set up camp in our section and settled in. Our little site was quite elaborate as we setup tarps and tents for shade which was at a premium. The weather here in Panama has been a very consistent 32 degrees most days with fairly high humidity in the morning and afternoon. To pass the time there were a few card games and naps.
At 5.30pm or so, Pope Francis did a drive by of the field and most of us caught a peek! We then had prayer and Adoration. The monstrance was one of the most beautiful I've ever seen. The Blessed Sacrament sat in a monstrance made from bullet casings as a tribute to peace and then, it was placed in statue of Mary. What a sight! As Adoration began, the whole field fell silent in prayer. It's always a truly magical moment at World Youth Day. At the conclusion of Adoration, there was some music before we tucked into our sleeping bags under the stars and tarps. There was group though not too far away who tried to party through the night, not us though!
A selected group of pilgrims has to get up at 2am as they were ticket holders for Zone 0 for the Mass. Zone 0 is the area right in front where there is no screens to watch, just the Holy Father! Our crew made their way there and had a beautiful time watching. The Pope spoke a great deal about the influence of Mary as well as young people and their lives in the present (not the future).
After Mass we began pilgrimaging back in small groups. Making our way back to our hotel any way we could so we could shower off the dust and grime from the sleep out. We depart Panama tomorrow, Houston-bound for a short retreat before we head back to Melbourne. 

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Day 11: Stations of the Cross

Today was the last catechesis session - a few hiccups with the Bishop arriving but part of the adventure is often to go with the flow! Today's main event was in the evening, however I did manage to catch a little bit of French Mass - in the local shopping Mall. In a small country like Panama, a lot of the sites have been a little improvised!
We all headed down to the Stations of the Cross in the afternoon. Our hotel is really well located and it's an easy couple of kilometres to walk. Four lucky pilgrims were randomly selected to enter Zone 0. Zone 0 is much closer to the stage and only has special access. These pilgrims can see the stage and don't watch the giant screens! The rest of us settled onto the comfortable grass in the shade near a big screen and hung out for a few hours before it started. We also were quite close to some Broken Bay pilgrims so Archbishop Peter chatted to some old friends. The Stations of the Cross each focused on a different intention. These intentions were brought before different Marian representations from different countries in Central America and the Caribbean. 
After the stations, we all headed back. Tomorrow we have a BIG day ahead of us as we pilgrimage to the Final Mass site. It is about 15kms from our hotel so we are aiming to try and train part of the way to avoid the warm weather whilst walking. We are not likely to be able to blog tomorrow so stay tuned.
Special mention today needs to go to Fr Dishan. He is the priest chaplain with us and didn't make it to the Stations of the Cross as he listened to confessions for around six and a half hours in Forgiveness Park (which is pretty warm and sunny). He is quite amazing!

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Day 10: continues

Just a quick update to Day 10 - we went to the welcoming of the Pope. We decided to sit a little further back as the allocated areas don't seem to be working vey well and we decided that space was more important! After a few false starts and misinformation, Pope Francis did indeed drive a lap around the area on the Cinta Costera. Most of our pilgrims managed to get pretty close and see Pope Francis as he whizzed past in the Popemobile! 

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Day 10: the last 24 hours

Well, it's the middle of day 10 here in Panama City and we've had a really busy 24 hours! Yesterday evening, we headed to Figali - about 20 minutes drive from where we are in Panama and it was there that most of the group came together at the American Bishop's Fiat Congress. Fiat is not known for its cars in the United States, rather the Latin for "Let it be done".
The Congress was a combination of talks, prayer and music. Some of the speakers included Sr Bethany Madonna a Sister of Life, Archbishop Robert Barron, Sarah Kroger and Steve Angrisano among others. Some others managed to hand back a little and see Pope Francis' arrival in the streets of Panama. Locals began lining the streets from lunchtime in anticipation of a quick glimpse!
Today we kicked off with Catechesis and Mass again, this time we listened to Bishop Alan Williams, the 7th Bishop of Brentwood. He gave a beautiful teaching and Q&A followed by Mass which Archbishop Comensoli and Fr Dishan concelebrated.
In the afternoon, some groups went past Omar Park - where many youth festival events are held and caught a bit of Fr Rob Galea's concert on the stage.
Tonight we are headed to the official welcoming of Pope Francis to World Youth Day! More to come so stay tuned. 

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Day nine (part a): Catechesis

Today we are posting a little earlier than usual. The day in Panama is only half way through. This morning we had Catechesis first up. Bishop Edward Burns, the Bishop of Dallas, Texas focused on Here I am Lord. At the conclusion of the Catechesis there is Q&A time, followed by Mass. Our Catechesis site is for English speaking pilgrims so there were other Australians, English, Canadians, Americans, South Africans and some pilgrims from Trinidad and Tobago near us. After Mass some groups made their way to Omar Park where many of the youth events happen - there is a stage for music, a place to talk to different religious orders and an opportunity for the sacrament of confession.
The Pope is due to land in Panama this afternoon and possibly drive by and large crowds are forming along the main street but our group is aiming to head to a bog concert tonight. More on that in tomorrow's blog. 

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Day Eight: World Youth Day Begins

What a day! The Melbourne pilgrims got a true taste of the madness and magic that IS WORLD YOUTH DAY! Today we kicked off with a 3.5km trek across the city to join our fellow Australian pilgrims to celebrate being Australian and the young heart of the church! Our very own Justine Cumbo was the MC and shared her beautiful testimony with all the pilgrims! From there we had little rest as we crossed back to the other side of the city to pilgrimage to the Opening Mass site.
Along the stunning Cinta Costera are all the events except the Vigil and Final Mass. We trained and trekked there nice and early to claim our Melbourne base! After setting up camp next to the Columbians, we met lots of different countries and played a game of guess that flag or two! The area filled up in no time and was packed by the time Mass kicked off at 5.30pm. The local Archbishop says the Opening Mass as the Pope does not arrive until tomorrow. The joy of hearing all the other languages and the colour and excitement of the event is exciting and the size of number of all the young Catholics gathering is certainly daunting!
We have several days of the flag waving and chanting to come - what a beautiful witness it is! 

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Day Seven: PANAMA!

After yesterday's long day of transit and travel, we were so excited to touch down in Panama. We were lucky to have a needed sleep in this morning before a quick bus trip from the new Panama to the old town. An historic setting with the magnificent Our Lady of Mercy Church. Archbishop Peter and Fr Dishan led us through a beautiful Mass followed by a quick Q&A Catechesis on the Mass. Throughout our whole pilgrimage. Archbishop Peter has taken time to answer all our pilgrim questions no matter how challenging or seemingly trivial.
After Mass, we received our pilgrim packs - our WYD back packs with our passes, tshirts, hats, bandanas, booklets and more! Now we are officially part of the World Youth Day experience as it kicks off tomorrow with our Aussie gathering and the opening Mass.
After a quick bite in small groups, we descended upon the city of Panama, exploring the shops and streets. Many took the opportunity to watch the amazing Panama Canal in full flight 

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Day five: Our Lady of Guadalupe

Today in Mexico, kicked off the day at the Cathedral in central Meixco. It's a huge building in the middle of an enormous square. It was a lovely start but today was the 44 Melbourne pilgrims finally reached a real pinnacle in our pilgrimage; the reason we came to Mexico, to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Shrine is visited by thousands of people each day with enormous crowds. Our pilgrimage started with a 3km walk to the Shrine. We joined with the Sydney Archdiocese schools group and the Diocese of Parramatta including Bishop Long. The walk was full of song, prayer and flag waving as we enjoyed the beautiful pilgrimage to such a wondrous site.

We arrived at the Shrine and joined the crowds to escalate past (there are like airport travellators to keep the lines moving!) the original tilma that Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared on to Juan Diego. It is in the most amazing condition and it takes your breath away.

After a tour of the area, we joined the other dioceses again to celebrate Mass at the old Basilica which, like most of Mexico City is sinking! They have reinforced the beautiful church but it has quite the obvious lean! We filled the church as Archbishop Peter with Bishop Long and all the other priests celebrated Mass together. After Mass, two of our pilgrims, Thandi and Cameron were selected by the group to accompany the Archbishop to have a special viewing of the tilma. They were overcome with emotion by its power and beauty.

After more time at the Shrine, we have come back to the hotel. It is our last night in Mexico before travelling onto Panama tomorrow where World Youth Day awaits!

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Day four: Cholula

Today we started the day with a beautiful Mass at the Church of Santo Domingo. The stunning chapel is a pretty nice site for Mass... it was an eighth wonder of the world! The Mass really resonated with so many pilgrims and was a beautiful way to start a busy day. From Puebla, we boarded the bus bound for Cholula. Our pilgrimage bus trips have been a great opportunity to have some Q & A time with Archbishop Peter. Our first stop upon arrival was the ruins of the world's largest (not tallest Pyramid) and then an exploration of the beautiful historic city area. It's a quaint area with hundreds of churches! One of the most beautiful being the Church of the Lady of Remedies which is perched very high up on the pyramid. It's a stunning church with amazing views all across the city.

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Day three: Puebla

We packed up from Mexico City and boarded our comfy coach bound for our next stop, Tlaxcala, approx. 2 hours drive from Mexico City. There we stopped at the Our Lady of Ocotlan Basilica where there was a magnificent church with a miraculous story. As it turns out, today was a special day where priests and seminarians from all over had come to join a procession of a beautiful statue of Our Lady. It was a magnificent sight! From there we travelled a short distance to the Church of San Francisco. In a much more colonial style it was perched up on a hill and an early site for Catholicism in the area. There was also a bull fighting ring at the base of the hill. No bulls though.
From there we were bound for Puebla. What a beautiful colonial city with beautiful buildings and bright colours. We had lunch followed by an exploration of the city and the Church of Santo Dominco in a truly ornate Baroque style. We spent the late afternoon exploring the city and buying a few souvenirs along the way before stopping in at the extraordinary Cathedral! After dropping off our bags we headed out for dinner. Another big day tomorrow as we are headed back to Mexico City! 
Special photo credit to Sophie and her Huawei for the photos of Ben and Luke 

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Day two: Mexico City

Day two: What a day!
We kicked off the morning with Mass in a beautiful local city church. The Church was the Infant of Peace and will filled the church with local Mexicans for 8am Mass. From there we headed straight for Teotihuacan. An ancient city that predates the Aztec arrival, it survived from 200 BC til 700AD before its collapse. What the city does have is giant Pyramids - one dedicated to the Moon and the other to the Sun. You could say it was a day of many ups and downs as we climbed to the moon and back, and then to the sun and back. Hard work was paid off with a sense of accomplishment and a great view. Archbishop Peter even got approached by some Korean pilgrims for a quick selfie. 
After a filling buffet lunch, we visited another ancient temple at the Citadel before heading back to visit Tulpetlac Church  - the site of the fifth apparition and the miraculous healing of Juan Bernardino. It was at the site where we prayed and spent some time admiring the church. After returning to our hotel at 6pm, small groups headed out for dinner before our next big day - tomorrow we are bound for Puebla. 

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Off we go!

At 8am sharp on January 15 at Tullamarine airport, 44 excited pilgrims, leaders and chaplains gathered to meet before departing for World Youth Day Panama via Mexico. After a quick blessing from our head Chaplain, Archbishop Peter, we boarded our 14 hour flight bound for Los Angeles. After a lot of movies and not a lot of sleep, we had completed the first leg of our journey and landed at LA airport. We walked almost the length of LA airport in order to check in for the next leg of our flights, bound for Houston. After a few more hours in the air we made it to Houston. This is an airport the pilgrims will get used to as we transfer through here quite a bit! After a few card games and a wander, we finally at 7.30pm we took off for our third leg on the journey and landed in Mexico City just before 10pm. Excited and exhausted after travelling for around 34 hours over one day (that international date line is confusing!) we arrived at our cosy and comfortable hotel to collapse before a big start the following morning!

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Commissioned for World Youth Day

In the past few months, Archdiocesan Office for Youth have been working towards bringing 44 young people to World Youth Day Panama in January 2019. The Melbourne pilgrims, who will be led by Archbishop Peter A. Comensoli, have been preparing for their pilgrimage through a series of formation sessions and retreat. The last of these sessions being the Commissioning Mass on Sunday 16 December.
As the pilgrims were making their way into Mass, excitement could be seen on their faces as they realised their preparation for World Youth Day is now a reality. It has been beautiful to witness the pilgrims come together as strangers at the beginning of this preparation process and witnessing the transformation as they pilgrimage towards Panama. As the pilgrims walked out of Mass together, there was plenty of smiles, laughter and jokes.
It seems most fitting during this Advent season, the pilgrims are not just physically preparing themselves for a tough journey ahead in January, but also to internally prepare their hearts for Jesus as they embark on this wonderful journey with Pope Francis at World Youth Day. It is with great confidence that these pilgrims are ready to meet Jesus in the heart of Panama, bringing with them the joy of Aussie spirit and sharing their faith with hundreds and thousands of other young Catholics around the World. We invite you to keep them in your prayers as they depart on 15 January.
Images courtesy of Casamento Photography

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Panama Bound

Sometimes in life we have to be prepared to jump at opportunities and change with the times. When Archbishop Peter became the head of the church in Melbourne, we had to be prepared for change. The announcement that we were headed to World Youth Day in Panama came to the office as a surprise, but we welcomed the opportunity to have this experience with the young people of the Archdiocese.
It’s with great excitement and joy that we are able to offer a limited number of places for young people to come to World Youth Day in Panama via Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. The pilgrimage will be on an application basis and has a really short turnaround with applications open now via the Panama Pilgrimage tab and closing on 12 September. The pilgrimage has been subsidized by the Archdiocese and successful pilgrims will be required to contribute $3500 (which includes travel insurance).
So we invite you to read all the details via the website and to take the chance and join Archbishop Peter as we pilgrimage with thousands of other young Catholics to celebrate our faith and our youth.

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