Monday, August 22, 2011

World Youth Day

During the past week, we've joined with millions of other young people to celebrate World Youth Day week in Madrid. Some of the events have included daily Mass, catechesis, and presentations from international speakers such as Jason Evert, Christopher West, Cardinal Pell and (of course) Pope Benedict XVI!

Yesterday afternoon (about 2pm) we trekked the 13km walk from our accommodation to Cautro Vientos, a military airport which had been setup for the final pilgrim gathering. The crowds were so huge that we actually had trouble getting in the gate - I waited outside for about 3 hours before a thunderstorm hit & the gates were opened at last. By the time we got to our allocated section, it was about 11pm. Just in time to unpack the sleeping bags, and get rained on again.

Well, as we're so often reminded, we are pilgrims, not tourists! The whole experience of sleeping out for the Prayer Vigil with the Holy Father is something I missed in Sydney. It was great to meet all the other international pilgrims - and I even managed to swap my Aussie flag for a Spanish one!

The final mass was very moving, with some music which I'll be putting on my MP3 player if I can find it anywhere. We picked the musical styles of Hans Zimmer, John Williams, and other soundtrack composers which was interesting. None of those composers had any part in the writing - just sounded like them.

The Holy Father's address was inspiring. You wouldn't think it's easy to silence a group of 2 million+ young people, but when the Pope started speaking, everyone stopped to listen - even when he was speaking in a foreign language!

As you can probably imagine, it took a lot of time to get out of the venue after the final mass. We waited around for a couple of hours, and then the trip home involved a lot of walking (in the hot sun) and traveling on packed metro trains. It wasn't as bad as it could have been, though - and remember, we're pilgrims not tourists!

There are so many stories to share from the Holy Land, and World Youth Day itself. The schedule has been so packed I haven't been able to blog as regularly as I had hoped.  Later this week though, I'll try to get my thoughts together, and chronicle some of the stuff we've been up to during these days. But for now - Adios, and Good Night. Viva el Papa!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pyramids at Giza

A quick snap from Egypt, where we visited the Pyramids and Sphinx yesterday. Today we fly out of Cairo headed for Madrid. Hope to post more when we get internet again! I'm posting this from the free WiFi at the airport. Apart from today, we haven't had internet for the whole time in Egypt.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Notre Dame

Our accommodation at Jerusalem. There is a fantastic view from the roof - we got a guided tour of the old city from the rooftop last night.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Mount Carmel

Yesterday we traveled from the Sea of Galilee to Mount Carmel (right next to the Mediterranean Sea) and then on southwards to Jerusalem.

The view from Mount Carmel is amazing - you can see nearly a full 360 degree view from the rooftop, with the valleys & fields below. It's really hard to capture this on camera - this photo shows part of the Western rooftop view. Also a picture of the church itself.

We had Mass outdoors in a little grotto in front of the church.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

St. Peter's Fish Lunch

Yes, I had to tear the skin off this fish with my bare hands. And a fork. It tasted great though.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Israel - The land of milk & honey (and free ice cream)

This was our first full day in Israel. Yesterday we drove through the Jordan, where Moses stood at the top of Mount Nebo, and saw the promised land. Then we drove North to Lake Galilee, where we are staying for a few nights.

Today we visited some significant Galilean sites - the mount of beatitudes, site of the multiplication of the loaves & fishes, and the church of the primacy of St. Peter. Most of the places we visited today have volcanic geography, so the landscape actually looks pretty similar to what I'm familiar with in Australia. The gum trees add to that effect as well.

Attached are some pictures of the landscape, ancient ruins of a Jewish town, and the church of the primacy of St. Peter.

It's even hotter here than in Jordan - 38 degrees celsius, and very high humidity. This isn't so bad once you get used to it. But in Australia, this kind of weather would mean a certain storm in the afternoon. In Israel, not a cloud in sight.

To make things worse, the air conditioning wasn't working on the bus for the first half of the day. Imagine 50 people in a hot bus with no windows to open, driving for half an hour in the Sun. It was actually  hotter on the bus than outside!

Heat issues aside, the food here has been amazing. Breakfast this morning had your choice of omelets, toast (with cheese), sweet bread rolls, chocolate croissants, various dips & spreads, a rice-based slice of some sort, yogurt, custard, and a choice of cereals. I'm sure there were half a dozen other things I didn't see. Then Lunch was eaten at a restaurant near the lake. For US$18 we got a salad entree, then rice & chicken on a huge plate, with dates & arabic coffee to finish up. The picture below shows my plate - after I've finished eating!

This afternoon we got back to the hotel early, so there was a chance to swim in the lake. This was perfect after a hot day, and the (fresh) water was still quite warm. We had a little incident where a tractor nearly ran over our clothes, but otherwise it went without mishap. There are heaps of mussels on the bottom of the lake, and a kind of muddy sand on the shore.

After the swim, we had tea which was equally impressive. Plus, there was a trolley with serve-your-own ice cream (complete with cones). I guess you can take that part of the Bible pretty literally when it says the land will be "flowing with milk & honey".

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Brisbane Airport

I thought you might be interested to see what we encountered just outside the Brisbane airport. For the whole time driving across town, we saw this plume of smoke getting bigger and bigger.  The fire was actually just outside the airport (a couple of empty blocks away), and we drove through some pretty thick smoke to get there.

It didn't impact the flight in any way, but a bushfire at the airport isn't exactly the most pleasant farewell from Australia either.....

The Jordan

This has been a very long couple of days. Since Wednesday morning we haven't had a proper sleep, and we're still waiting to reach our accommodation for tonight. After spending the day in the Jordan, we finally managed to pass the border into Israel where we'll spend the next few days.

I learned four things about the Jordan today:
* It's hot
* The landscape looks very middle-eastern (except for the parts that look very Australian).
* The Jordan Valley is the lowest point on earth, at 400m below sea level.
* Apparently crocodiles are not a problem in the Jordan River - even though it looks like North Queensland.

We had a great tour guide (who unfortunately had to leave us at the Israel border). He took us around on a coach (actually 2 coaches for the while group) and explained the significance of all the places. We prayed Mass at the site of Jesus' baptism, and visited a number of nearby archeological sites. Some of these places have only been rediscovered in the past 10 to 15 years, due to military conflict in the area.

Here's a few photos from today.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Journey Continues

When I last updated this blog, we had just returned from World Youth Day in Sydney 2008, and were remembering the fantastic experience shared with pilgrims from all over the world.

As I write this post now, 3 years later, I'm sitting on the aeroplane about an hour away from Dubai. (Note for Nathan: B777-300, ground speed: 600mph, altitude 32,000ft).

I'll be joining a group of over 50 other Queenslanders on the pilgrimage to World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid. This year about 4000 people from Australia will be traveling to WYD in total - more than ever before. During the week of WYD itself, we'll be participating in catechesis sessions, youth festival events, as well as the final Mass with Pope Benedict

During the next few days our group will be visiting the Holy Land (Israel, Egypt, Jordan), before flying in to Spain for the start of WYD. Keep an eye on this blog, as I'll be updating whenever there's internet access available (and I'm not busy riding a camel or something!)

For now, God Bless and
Hasta Luego!