Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Reunion Set

Join us on Monday, August 11th at 7PM in the Parish Activity Center at St. Thomas Aquinas for our WYD 08 Reunion. The teens and the adult leaders will share testimonies, pictures, and a special gift with the parish. It is our way of thanking the many people in the parish that made this trip possible. Also check out the STA website at for pictures from the trip.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

We're Home!!!

We are finally home! That is about all the energy I have. I will fill you all in more later. Stay tuned. We will have a few more posts to wrap things up over the next few days. We are still planning a reunion that will be open to all to come see our pictures and here our talks.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Joys of a Pilgrimage....

What a fun day it has been! We found out shortly after waking up this morning that our flight had been delayed until around 4PM. The bus picked us up an hour late and took us to the airport so that we would have extra time checking in. It was a beautiful morning here in Sydney weather wise but the delays did not come as much of a surprise to us after seeing the size of the crowds this week.

At the airport we were in for a bit of a surprise. The check-in process went extremely well...almost too smooth. In fact, three of us who had previously registered for Qantas frequent flyer miles (Father, me, and K Day) were given a free upgrade to business class. Those of you who travel internationally know what a gift from God that truly is. Qantas gaves us all $15 meal vouchers for our original delay. One of our teens was given an entire sheet of them (about 15). Qantas is certainly a model for customer service.

We boarded our plane at about 3:30 PM. Three of us were like little kids in a candy store playing with all of the buttons on our seats and realizing how far they could go back. I wish I could have seen the look on my face when I stepped on the plane and the flight attendant said, "yeah...right mate. Just down the first aisle to your right and up the stairs." Up the what? I knew there was an upstairs but certainly did not think that they put the likes of me up there. It must be because I shaved off my beard and no longer look homeless. I was pleased to find that I had a front row (bulkhead) seat just outside the flight deck.

A priest sat down in the seat next to me (I later learned that they tried to upgrade all of the priests first) and I learned that he was the vocations director from Cheyenne, Wyoming. We had a good conversation and he knows some of the priests in our Diocese including Fr. David Konderla and Fr. Brian McMaster. We were well into our conversation when I realized that we had been talking entirely too long without moving. When I saw the maintenance man walk into the flight deck, I knew it wasn't good.

The captain came over the intercom and told us that there was a problem with a fuel gauge that caused them to overfill one of the tanks and spill fuel on the tarmac. He told us not to be alarmed by the fire truck that would appear on our right side. They fixed the gauge after about 45 minutes but then had to manually check the fuel levels in the tanks to make sure we had enough fuel to get home.

Once they determined we had enough fuel, they realized that we had another "minor" problem. There was a panel on the right wing that was loose and some of the nuts and bolts were missing. Glad they discovered that in a timely manner! We were told that the repair would take two hours and were asked to de-plane. We are now scheduled for a 9PM departure which puts us into LAX after 7PM. That means we will miss the last flight to Houston on Continental. We are anticipating an overnight stay in LA. We will call parents when we get there to give an update.

We are aware of Tropical Storm (Hurricane?) Dolly possibly landing on Wednesday or Thursday so we are eager to get in ahead of that. Please continue to keep us in your prayers. The good news is that the kids are in great spirits and are taking this in stride...for now. In the meantime, K Day and I are like little kids in the business class lounge with all of the amazing accomodations including the lavatory facilities.

We hope to see you all soon, but I must admit, this is a tad bit fun and we are all good humored about it.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Bonding at Bondi

Today was a relaxing last day in Sydney to say the least. We started off the morning with a trip to the Blessed Mary MacKillop Shrine which is right down the street from our hotel. We were able to pray at her tomb which was quite remarkable. Pope Benedict XVI was there last week and listed it as one of his most memorable moments of his visit.

We then went to the WYD Merchandise store in Hyde Park to do some last minute shopping. We then had lunch in the food court beneath Sydney Tower. After lunch we headed out to Bondi Beach. As you can tell from the pictures we had a great time laughing and playing in the water (probably not the smartest thing for those of us with colds but what are you gonna do?). The teens made a cross in the sand that drew quite a bit of attention from some other toursists as they stopped to take pictures. We also wrote a few notes in the sand including "Quo Vadis" and "Dad and Mom...Thanks." Here are the pics:

One of the few times I wasn't behind the camera. Alicia and I taking a break in the surf...

That picture is probably the best way to wrap up the trip. I think you will discover the rest as you speak to your kids when they return home.

We are leaving the hotel at 9AM local time which is 5PM on Monday back home. We should be into Houston around 6 or 7PM on Tuesday night. Pray that all of our flights are smooth and on time. We will be home soon. Stay tuned in for a couple of days after we return as we will blog a few more stories that have been left out due to time and exhaustion. Also, we are already planning a night where we share our experience with the parish. More details on that will follow. Having said that, we are coming HOME!

Pax Tecum,

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Home Sweet Home...well...sorta

I want to answer just a few questions in the comments sections before I tell you all about the last two days. The A&M flag at the Papal arrival was not us. It was the roommate of Katie Smith's brother from College Station. We met up with him a couple of different times in one of the many examples of how small this world can actually be. To the gentleman from Sydney who posted a comment and is reading this blog...Thank you for sharing your wonderful city with us. We try to make a special effort to say G'day and thank the Sydney Siders as it must seem that you are being invaded. Sydney as a whole has been one of the most friendly places I have ever been. This is my first World Youth Day but I cannot imagine another being as organized and as efficient as the Aussie way. I hope that we have not interrupted your life too much and pray that you saw the joy of Christ in our eyes.

Now...for the last two days. We left the hotel on Saturday morning at 7:30AM. We walked across the Sydney Harbour bridge to cross over to the CBD. I was impressed that the city of Sydney shut down this major artery in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world so that some 150K - 200K people could have the experience of walking across it. The weather was absolutely gorgeous albeit a bit chilly.

Once across the bridge we continued our walk South past Barangaroo and alongside Darling Harbour. Once we arrived at Central Station (about 4 Km at this point), we boarded a train and went to Wynyard Station. From Wynyard we walked up Martin's place to a large park area called The Domain.

We arrived at The Domain right as the processional for the Mass for U.S. Pilgrims was beginning. Francis Cardinal George was the main celebrant and many of our U.S. bishops were in attendance. The Mass, as I said before, was an intimate gathering of a few thousand people. We quickly realized that Steve Angrisano, our MC from Steubenville South this year, was doing the music along with none other than Matt Maher. As a side note, I understand that Matt Maher is an artist and sells his work, but the man is truly a faithful Catholic and pitches in with liturgies whenever he can.

After the Mass we met up with the group from Brenham and Fr. Alberto. It was nice to gather with some folks from our own diocese. We were wishing that we could have met up with the other groups from the Diocese of Austin but had a good time all the same. The kids did want Bishop Aymond to know that we love him and wished that he was here with us. It was fun to hear the MC call out the name of each bishop and ask the groups to come "claim their Bishop."

After Mass we walked up through Hyde Park and rejoined the Pilgrim Walk at Central Station. From this point, we walked another 4 Km to Randwick race park. The walk was difficult as it was uphill in several portions. However, the various groups that were singing and playing guitars made the trip seem a little shorter. There is a chant they do here in Australia as well that makes it fun. It starts out, "Aussie...Aussie...Aussie...." You would have to hear it to appreciate it. Most countries picked up on it.

When we finally made it to Randwick Racecourse we went looking for out "allocated spot." Of course when we got there all of the "padded" sites were taken. We ended up camping out on a slight incline in a grassy area. It ended up being a really nice spot. We finally arrived in our spot and set up camp around 3:30PM. We then sat around and waited until the evening liturgy started.

The crowd was one of the largest I have ever seen. We had a spot that was pretty close to the main altar. We could see the Pope fairly well with the screens and could see his outline without it. The evening liturgy was pretty impressive. It got pretty cold as the sun went down and we started to bundle up. For me, the best part of the night was having Eucharistic Adoration with the Holy Father. They played some music in the beginning, but towards the end, we all enjoyed sacred silence. It was amazing to be around 250,000 people on their knees adoring the Blessed Sacrament in silence. It was quite profound!

After the Holy Father left for the night, most of us took advantage of the opportunity to crawl in our bags and try to get some sleep. I fell asleep for the first time by 9:30 PM. I am still getting over a pretty good cold and have quite the cough so I was happy for what sleep I got. It got really cold during the night and we woke up several times. It is hard for 250K people to stay quiet all night.

I woke up around 6AM to find our kids still wrapped up like mummies in their bags.

There was a group from Africa not too far away that was singing as the sun came up. I loved it! They were so awake and so joyful! I then walked over to the adoration tent for my morning offering and was shocked to see that it was full. The Missionaries of Charity Sisters (the order Mother Theresa started) were there in full force and were singing like Angels. I could not believe that I had just woken up in a field in Sydney, Australia and was now adoring our Lord with people from all corners of the earth. This was one of the most powerful moments in the trip for me.

I then walked over to our group and packed my things while waiting for the teens to wake up. We had morning prayer at 8AM and then waited for the Pope's arrival. At about 9AM the Holy Father flew over the racecourse in a helicopter. At about 9:30AM he drove around the racetrack in his Pope-mobile. The teens got really close to him (about 15 feet) and got a good view as he drove by. We then celebrated Mass and watched as a member of our own diocese was confirmed by the Pope. The Pope's Homily was awesome and I encourage you to read it when you have time.

After the Holy Father left the racetrack we waited around for about an hour or so before making an attempt to leave. I will edit this post with pictures and more information on our walk home but am going to take a quick break for now.

Ok, back from a quick pizza break with the guys. Apparently the first round we ordered did not quite cut it and the guys ordered a second round. We were discussing how this is the first time we have been full since we left the Busch's in Brisbane.

Anyway, back to the walk. I have a picture that pretty much sums up the trip and hopefully will be able to post it soon. One of the girls in our group, Sarah Phillips, developed some really painful blisters on her feet from the walk before and was unable to walk today without a great deal of pain. We were somewhat worried as we had another 4 Km walk back to the train station. The solution to the problem? K Kap gave her a piggy back ride for most of the 4 Km. Alicia pitched in here and there but for the most part K Kap carried her.

That pretty much somes up all of the teens attitude for the past two days. We had finally reached a level of unity that we had not previously seen. Everyone shared food, helped carry packs, and literally carried one another. They just did what had to be done. It was heartwarming to see. The conditions the past two days were the toughest of the trip and there was not one negative word or complaint. I dropped toward the back of the pack and just enjoyed watching our group march along.

All of a sudden along the walk a large group was stopped in the middle of the road. Pictures do not do justice to the number of people in the streets. It was like a running of the bulls. So when we came across a group stopped in the street many of us started to get irritated and were about to let them know when we realized what they were doing. It was a large group from Italy that stopped to sing to some people sitting on the front porch of their building. When I looked at the building I saw three of the cutest elderly ladies sitting in their wheelchairs on the porch of a retirement home waving and smiling as big as I have ever seen. They were loving every moment of it. When the Italians moved on we took our spot in front of the ladies to say hello and wave at them. The whole scene really lifted our spirits for the remainder of the way home.

We arrived at the hotel around 4:30 PM and took much needed showers. We then gathered together for some pizza and then turned in early for the night. The girls told me that they saw me on the news. Apparently there was shot of me praying during Mass. I did not see any cameras during the Mass but I am sure they must have been doing a story, based upon how I looked, about the homeless coming to the Mass as well. I think Therese took a pic of me looking less than stellar and will put it up when we get home. Tomorrow we will spend a day of sightseeing and then will make our way to the airport on Tuesday. It has been a long trip, but parents, I think you will be happy with the results.

Peace be with you all,

A note from Marta Swanner

July 18th

Jesus has showed me something amazing today. So yesterday, I started to lose my voice. Actually at night I sounded like a forty year old man. Everyone laughed...myself included. But I woke up this morning and the "man" was gone. Every sound had left. I have no voice. I suppose my loss of speech arose from me singing my heart out at the Matt Maher concert last night. I felt so close to God; I couldn't help but speak out.

Anyway, this morning I woke up and had no voice. I was worried that I was going to have a boring day. I was so wrong. My group has taken my loss and made it in an interest. I'm excited to try to communicate through my hands and smiles...the smiling especially. This morning at the bus stop, I felt oddly happy, so I began to wave at people passing by. Father thought I was crazy. I didn't care with each person I saw the child of God. And with each person passing by I became happier. By the time the bus arrived I was loopy with smiles. I love how Catholics ar ecalled to love like Jesus. That's got to be my favorite part of being Catholic. Well, that and seeing Jesus face to face; that's pretty awesome too. But when I was on the bus, my loopiness changed to contemplation.

I realized that why I was so happy was because deep down I knew that even if the person didn't smile back or wave or even acknowledge me, that I would be in their day...hopefully a bright spot in their day. It's amazing what one act of kindness can do. I I just remembered! The bishop yesterday at the catechetical session was talking about random acts of kindness. Anyway, during this entire trip, I've been thinking about my vocation. Well, I think I'm called to show my love of God's people to the world. I don't know how and I don't know where or when. But that's what I feel God is calling me to do.

So today will be a silent day for my voice, but today will be an overjoyed day where I speak and praise God through my actions and body.

"Praise God always, use words when necessary (sic)" -St. Francis of Assisi

Marta Swanner

A note from Therese Martinez

Some of the teens finally gave me the journal that they have been writing in. I will post a few entries and will then get you caught up on the last two days. The short version is we made it! It was an amazing experience! We are feasting on pizza and soda at the hotel on a rainy Sunday night!

From Therese Martinez

July 17th

All in all, today was a pretty good day it was the second day of our catechetical session and just like the first day, it was amazing. Every session had Mass at the end of the talks, testimonies, and skits which made the session so much better. After the session we made our way to Barangaroo to see the Papal arrival. We had a great view of the Pope-mobile.

At the end of his talk (which was very hard to understand by the way) he blessed us and it was so amazing to see the look on everyone's face when the Pope himself blessed us. After that the Pope went to ride around the streets in Sydney and thats when it got crazy. We didn't follow the Pope around town like some other people, so instead we sat and ate dinner and waited for the crowd to die down.

We came to a conclusion that we were going to go to the Matt Maher concert. Half the group got separated on the way over but we found each other and got back on track. When we got to the concert we're surprised to hear there would be adoration. It was wonderful to see that many people worship Jesus in my opinion. It was one of the most powerful adorations I've ever been to. After all that we were all exhausted and ready to sleep.

This day went by really fast, but it's kind of sad. Before we know it it'll be over, but we'll never lose our memories or our knowledge. Only four more days til we leave and I know in those four days we'll all put in as much as we want to get out.

This trip is a life changing experience and I can see that through every person in our group. Like on of the priests said (sorry forgot his name), "When you look at the person beside you, you're looking into the eyes of Jesus."

Therese Martinez