Students from a number of Good Samaritan Colleges in New South Wales and Victoria recently returned from a three-week pilgrimage to Spain which included World Youth Day activities (August 16-21) and the International Benedictine Youth Congress (August 11-15).
Despite the scepticism of some about the merits of large-scale events like World Youth Day, the overwhelming consensus among the 26 Good Samaritan students was that international faith experiences such as these are invaluable.
According to Morgan Simon from Mount St Benedict College, Pennant Hills, participating in gatherings like this can “open [student’s] eyes to the world out there and what other youth think, practice and do”.
Bridget Backhouse from Mater Christi College, Belgrave, said engaging with her peers from all over the world was “incredible”. “I loved hearing about their country, their own faith stories and journeys and how different or similar their lives are from mine.”
For Vanessa De Silva also of Mater Christi College, being exposed to an international group changed her perspective on life. “The amount you learn from these people and the way in which they express their spirituality is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Interestingly, a number of students commented on the significance of experiencing the universal Church which is mostly known only in abstract terms.
“World Youth Day and the International Benedictine Youth Congress are opportunities to share and be immersed in our faith… it gave us an opportunity to see the bigger picture of the Church by connecting with different levels of it, and comparing our practice with that of people from all over the world,” said Rosie Outred from Stella Maris Manly.
Reading the students’ pilgrimage blog, it’s obvious the highlight of the journey was the four-day Benedictine Youth Congress at the Montserrat Monastery, a Benedictine community of monks in the scenic mountains of Catalonia.
“Without a doubt the most incredible experience was Montserrat,” said Rachel Hennessy from St Mary Star of the Sea College, Wollongong. “Spending four days with 300 awesome teenagers who are on fire for God from all around the world was the best experience of my life.”
For Laila Riakos from St Scholastica’s College, Glebe, the vigil in the basilica at Montserrat was unforgettable. “Praying where St Ignatius prayed to the black Madonna was mind-blowing. Not many people can say they were able to spend a night praying on the altar of the basilica with the monks of Montserrat Abbey and then were able to wander around the basilica reflecting and exploring.”
Monica Dutton, Good Samaritan Mission Team Program Co-ordinator and one of the seven adults accompanying the students, said the Benedictine Congress, which is always linked to World Youth Day, was “a wonderful experience for everyone involved”.
“It is really for students in Benedictine schools throughout the world to come together to share their history, culture, stories, spirituality and unique experience of the Benedictine tradition,” she explained.
“They also come to some understanding of pilgrimage and its importance in the Benedictine tradition.”