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

Friday, July 18, 2008

"You are a priest forever..."

Fr Michael blogs for the first time in his life!! (Don’t get any ideas)

“You are a Priest forever”

July 13th is a very special day for me. Not only is it the feast of St Henry – my Dad’s name – but also the anniversary of my priestly ordination. Last Sunday a long way from home at WYD in Australia I celebrated 23 years as a priest. It was a day of great reflection and thanksgiving to God for his many graces and blessings over the years. Nobody here knew it was my “special” day so God and I celebrated the gift of priesthood together.

The day concluded with Mass at the Youth Arise Festival in Brisbane, before we left VERY early the next morning for Sydney. Being away from family and friends it was the first time I’ve never celebrated with them. So I felt very alone and yet so connected to the life and ministry to which God has called me. Throughout the day young people just kept asking – Father, do you have time for Confession? God knows even when nobody else does.

The Masses I have celebrated this week and hearing many confessions have continued to remind me that this is truly what I am called to be and do. Mass was celebrated on Tuesday by Cardinal Pell, Archbishop of Sydney to open WYD. I was sitting next to Fr Alberto Borruel from Brenham, and Fr Paul McGinley a priest with whom I worked on the National Conference of Priests of England & Wales a long time ago. It’s a small world! The Masses during our 3 days of Catechesis were presided over by the Archbishop of Guam on Wednesday, the Archbishop of Brisbane yesterday and the Bishop of Manila, Philippines today. Each Mass was concelebrated by priests from many different countries. All that remains now is the highlight of our trip – the Papal Mass with Pope Benedict on Sunday morning. I will be concelebrating with over 4,000 other priests from every corner of the globe.

All these celebrations of the Eucharist have reminded me of the powerful and wonderful calling that I am a priest ministering in a universal Church. Who would have thought on the 13th July 1985 in Northern England that 23 years later I would be celebrating my anniversary in the midst of the world with a great group of teens and helpers from the amazing parish of St Thomas Aquinas in College Station, Texas where I am so privileged to serve.

I really do have a wonderful life and in the words of Scripture – “it’s all thine O Priest of Jesus Christ.” I give thanks to God for my priesthood and to my parents, brothers, family and friends for their continued love and support. Thank you St Thomas Aquinas parish for allowing me to be your priest. I miss you and I remember you in my prayers and Mass every day. Thank you teens and Tom & Alicia for sharing this pilgrimage with me. Thank you parents for entrusting your teens to us for this amazing experience. They’re the best.

Here’s to another great year in the service of the Lord. I wonder where God has planned for me to celebrate my 24th anniversary?

Is Texas a State or Country?

This is probably one of the most common questions I have heard today. Ever since we got our Texas flag flying high, we have a steady stream of visitors who inquire as to where we are from. We explain to them that we are from Texas. Most of them instantly recognize the place and then ask all the stereotypical questions. Others could not understand why we were flying our state's flag and not our country's flag. Let's just say the guys from Colorado understood completely. They know how we Texans are.

Anyway, I do not have much time today. We just arrived home at 10:30 PM from a long day. We probably walked about 4-6 miles. To answer Angie's questions from the comments section: no we are not eating properly, no we are not sleeping enough, and no we are not drinking enough water :) We are doing our best and everyone is holding up fine so far. However, tomorrow is the toughest day of the trip. We will leave the hotel at 7AM for a 6 Km walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to the Domain. At the Domain (a large park by the cathedral) we will celebrate Mass with Cardinal George from Chicago and the other pilgrims from the U.S. (only about 15,000 which is an intimate gathering of friends by WYD standards). After Mass we will walk the remaining 5-6 Km to Randwick Racepark where we will claim our spots for the night out under the stars. We will have an evening vigil with the Holy Father Saturday night and then morning prayer and Mass on Sunday morning. Once the crowd clears on Sunday, we will work our way back to the hotel where we have a relaxing night of pizza delivery planned. We will then sight see on Monday before heading home on Tuesday.

I have posted a couple of blogs from some of the teens. I apologize that I do not have the time or energy to post them all quite yet. Hopefully I will have some time on Sunday. We are in the final leg of this pilgrimage and I will say that we have had some pilgrim moments. The kids are handling everything pretty well and the adults are surviving as well. We are all really humbled by this experience. All of us miss our loved ones back home and are looking forward to our return.

Again, we will be off the air for a few days but please keep the comments coming. We will be praying for all of you in the meantime.

In Christ,

A note from Kevin Kapchinski

How ya goin?

I got blessed by the Pope yesterday. It was so cool. I was ten yards away from him and he looked me right in the eye and waved to me. Everything was so surreal yesterday. I started the day with Reconciliation, then adoration, then Mass, then I saw the Pope, then I went to adoration again, and finished with a Matt Maher concert. The day was jam packed with Holiness. I want to let everyone know that all is well. Christ is alive and the Holy Spirit is flowing through the world and setting hearts ablaze. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Thank y'all for all your support and prayers. We're praying for you every day. God bless and take care and Good on ya mates from Aussieland. James 1:2-4

K Kap

A note from Jodi Simmons

July 18, 2008

God has truly blessed us with this amazing opportunity to enter into a deeper relationship with Him by bringing us to WYD. I can see Christ's love alive and flowing within each of us as this pilgrimage progresses. He has chosen the 17 of us to share in this experience together and has impacted us all in unique ways.

Each of us seems completely different, but through God's will, we have grown closer to one another through the one thing we all have in common: the Eucharist, God's living presence in each and every one of us . I feel that this pilgrimage will change my life and heart forever so that I may evangelize as God calls us to do. I think everyone has felt a change of heart to "receive the power of the Holy Spirit and be a light unto the world." We met the pope at Sydney Harbor yesterday, and as he prayed over us and blessed us, I felt truly humbled. All the stress and worries in our human lives seemed not to matter anymore because there is something bigger than us!

As witnesses, we go forth from this life changing event to transform the lives of others. I thank and praise God everyday for bringing me here and feel so blessed that he granted me the chance to share the experience with these 17 amazing children of God. Family and friends, I love you all and will continue to keep you in my prayers. Be a light to others when they find themselves in darkness.

In Christ and Mary,

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Viva Il Papa!

That was the chant from the crowd as the Papal boat-a-cade arrived at Barangaroo. The atmosphere was absolutely electric! More about that in a minute.

We found a quicker bus route to our catechesis site this morning. Owen, the night clerk at our hotel, should be declared a Servant of God and perhaps Blessed by then end of the week. He gave us the inside tip on a different bus route and it was much easier on the legs. We arrived at the catechetical sight and were delighted to learn that our Bishop for the day was none other than Archbishop Bathersby from Brisbane. We were fortunate enough to celebrate Mass with him at the Youth Arise Festival last week. After that Mass we were able to take a group picture with him. I hope to post that later on. Bishop Bathersby gave excellent catechesis and also shared with us some of his archidiocese's own problems. the archdiocese has a Catholic population of 650,000 and only about ten percent of that number actually go to Mass on Sundays. Suffice to say, evangelization is a very important topic to him. After the catechesis session we had a time of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. After adoration we moved into Mass. Once Mass was over we collected our lunch (Tuna or Baked Bean sandwiches, a bag of chips, and a drink) and then hopped on the bus for the trip into town.
The bus dropped us off at the Queen Victoria building which is a different stop than what we were used to. As providence would have it, there was a hardware store directly in front of the bus stop. We stopped in and bought a nine foot pole for our Texas flag (I just might try and bring it back as a carry-on for giggles...yeah right). For the past week we have watched as everyone else flew their colors proudly while the most we were able to do was drape it on our backs or a fence. Once we got the flag rigged up we got stopped by everyone. No one had seen this flag before and wanted to know what it was. Quite a few people thought we were from Chile as they have almost an identical flag. At one point I had the flag rolled up so that just the red, white, and blue were showing. Upon hearing a man across the street yell, "Viva la France!" I quickly unwound the flag (almost in an offended manner) and informed him that we were from the great state of Texas. It did not strike me until we got here that it may have been more appropriate to bring a U.S.A. flag instead of our state flag, but we have reason to be proud don't we? And besides, it really helps our group stay together and it looks good flying high alongside Sydney Harbour don't you think?

Once we finally made it to our assigned section at Barangaroo, we realized that we were about fifty yards from where the Holy Father's boat was going to dock. We all let out a little yell when we saw the Pope-mobile park just a few yards away. Suffice to say, Pope Benedict crossed anywhere from 10 to 50 yards from us. While I was not able to get the best pictures, some of the kids did and I will get them up later. In the meantime, here are a few of mine. Mind you, the Dutch were pushing in the back and almost through the fence. I now have a better appreciation for how world wars can start.
You can see the Holy Father on the second deck of the boat dressed in white and red:

Here is the Holy Father exiting the boat:

After the Papal arrival and liturgy (yes, we received a blessing from the Pope!), we collected our dinner. Much to our delight (sarcasm) we had another round of beef stew and bread. The soup was warm though so we couldn't complain. The weather here seems to have gotten a little colder today so the soup was good. After dinner we made the trek up (or down who knows) to Darling Harbour to the Sydney Entertainment Centre for the Life Teen event. We had more praise and worship by Matt Maher and then adoration of the Blessed Sacrament with the Bishop from Lexington, KY. After the event we walked to the train alongside a group from Indiana and Canada. After the dueling "O, Canada" and "America the Beautiful" we conceded that Canada was actually its own country and not just "America Light!" We then sang more songs together as we made our way to the train.

We arrived back at the hotel around 11pm. It was a long day but, seriously, how many days can you say you have had that included: adoration, Mass, being within 50 yards of the Holy Father, warm WYD soup (sarcasm) and then more adoration? We are truly blessed to be here. I will ask for your increased prayers though as our schedule becomes a bit more pilgrim-like (translation = difficult) for the next few days. Until then, here are a few pics. I am not sure how frequent posting will be the next few days so please bear with us.

By the way, I have a new appreciation for how parents feel when they say, "I'll take out the trash/do my homework/clean my room in a minute." And the parent responds, "yeah right...I'm not going to hold my breath!" Well, they tell me the blogs are coming....


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Call me Zaccheus...

It is 7:45AM on Thursday morning here in Sydney, Australia. We are all very excited today as today we get to watch the Pope arrive by boat into Sydney Harbour. We just have a few minutes before we leave for our Catechesis site so I will try to quickly recap yesterday for you and then edit the post when we get home late tonight.

Yesterday morning we headed out from the hotel at about 8:20 AM to make the long trek to St. Thomas (irony anyone?) Catholic Church in Willoughby. It was a much longer trek than any of us leaders thought as we have not yet mastered the bus system. The train system is another story as we have that down pretty well. We walked about 20-30 minutes. That doesn't sound too bad when you are talking about walking in Texas. Sydney's terrain is more like that of San Fransisco and there are quite a few hills. Combine that with the 5-10 miles that we walk everyday and let's just say that it was not the most pleasant start to our day. We finally found our bus and then arrived at the catechesis site a few minutes late.

Our catechesis site is for English speaking pilgrims only. Now we all have enjoyed the international flavor of our week, but it is nice to have everything done in your native language. At least for me, it eliminates a few distractions and allows me to open myself up to God's work in me. There were several Fransiscan Friars of the Renewal leading prayer ministry and praise and worship. Our primary catechist was Archbishop Anthony (last name unknown) from Guam. The Archbishop was a very humble man and asked that we all call him "Father," as he is first and foremost a pastor. He was an excellent speaker and really traced the workings of the Holy Spirit throughout the Old and New Testament. We then celebrated Mass with the Archbishop. After Mass we had lunch which consisted of a Snags (sausage) and onions sandwich and a Lammington ( a tasty chocolate cake-like treat native to Australia). We then boarded buses that took us to downtown Sydney. The Australians have done an amazing job coordinating transportation here.

After arriving in the heart of Sydney, we made our way back to the Sydney Opera House. We were to attend a concert at 3PM but we had about an hour or two to spare before then. We allowed the teens to walk along the harbor and visit the various shops near the Opera House. The weather was spectacular. A few of us took a moment just to sit at a sidewalk cafe and bask in the sun.
Here is a picture of Jordan Burdick entertaining the crowd with one of the living statues:

The concert at the Opera House was not all that impressive (it just wasn't our style of music). The second act was a boys High School choir from Junipero Serra Catholic H.S. in California. They were pretty good but they were difficult to hear. The teens were really exhausted at this point. At one point I looked over and our entire row was asleep. I will post the pic later. As we left the usher jokingly said, "We didn't wake you mates did we?"

I promise you this is not a posed pic!

The teens got together and made the group decision to go back to the hotel for the remainder of the evening and get a good night's rest. This meant that we were not going to Bondi Beach for the concert. Some of you know how disappointing that is to a few of us, but it was a unanimous decision and I think we all needed the rest to prepare for these next few days. Dinner consisted of another bag of hot meat and potato soup. Alicia is a master at acquiring food and usually is able to get us a few extras with her Southern charm. We were able to procure a vegetarian meal which is hard to come by.

When we arrived at the hotel we prayed our Novena and then sang/prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. I then shared all of the comments with the kids. They loved hearing from you guys. I really want to encourage you to leave comments. Even if you think we do not know you, we would love to hear from you. After prayer the kids changed clothes and then informed the leadership that they wanted to have a group discussion. We said, "sure," and then quickly realized by the uncomfortable silence that they wanted to do it without us. I was proud of them and glad that they took that initiative.

Well, I am out of time for now. We are off to catechesis, then go to Barangaroo to wait for the Holy Father to arrive. We finish our day with a Life Teen concert including none other than Matt Maher. We are hoping for a time of adoration as well.

On a side note, and to answer a question, the guys made an agreement not to shave on the trip. It is driving me nuts. Thankfully I am blessed with little to no facial hair but the kids certainly have me beat. We will see how much longer the arrangement lasts.

Until next time, call us Zaccheus as we will be climbing trees, sitting on shoulders, or doing whatever we have to in order to catch a glimpse of the Vicar of Christ!

So thi picture was actually taken at the Papal arrival but I had to place it in this blog. I am no prophet but we sure did climb whatever we could to see the Holy Father. You can also see our Texas Flag. The stories about that will make up a blog of their own at a later date.

Pax Tecum,

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Note from Katie Smith

Monday, July 14, 2008

I’m not quite sure where to begin considering I’m almost speechless about my experience this past week in Australia. After surviving that fourteen hour plane ride, we arrived in Brisbane and headed to the Youth Arise Festival at Nudgee College. Although we slept on hard classroom floors and showered in gross cold showers, the Youth Arise Festival and our time in Brisbane was awesome!

The week included seeing many unique and beautiful animals at the Steve Irwin zoo, singing praise & worship lead by Matt Maher two feet away from me and praising our Lord from all over the world. The highlight of my time in Brisbane was probably personally meeting Matt Maher and celebrating Mass with youth from so many different cultures. I have met teens from Ireland, India, the Philippines, Italy and France. The girls also had the opportunity to get to know our Australian roommates and really learn about their culture.

We arrived in Sydney this morning and I don’t believe any of us have ever been so thankful for a hot shower and a warm bed! I am anxious for the Pope’s arrival here and I am extremely excited to discover what God has in store for all of us during the next week and a half.

To all friends and family, we love and miss you and will continue to keep all of you in our prayers!

With peace and love in Him,
Katie Smith

Welcome to Sydney!

It's ten minutes after midnight on Wednesday morning here in beautiful Sydney, Australia. I am dead tired and my feet are really barking at me, but we finally have internet access back and I wanted to get everything caught up. The last two days have been a whirlwind of activity so hold on tight, grab a beverage, and get comfy...the adventures continue.

The last time I was able to write, Alicia and I were doing laundry for the kids while they were finishing up the last of their workshops at the Youth Arise Festival. We discovered some washers and dryers that did not charge so we figured we would take advantage of it. Five hours later we spent some time convincing ourselves that it was still a good idea.

The closing Mass in Brisbane was wonderful. The music was done by Matt Maher and his band. Communion was intense! There really is no other word to describe it. It really moved everyone in the room. After Mass we had our last dinner together in Brisbane and then went to pack our things. The guys were packed in about fifteen minutes. I cannot say the same for the ladies.

We then went to the final event which was a concert composed of three different bands. One of our new favorite bands is a band from India called Rex Band. I referred to them in a previous post. The night concluded with Matt Maher. We have and will see a lot of him this week. The kids got to meet him again and take some more picutres. The festival wrapped up around ten o'clock at night.

Our bus for the airport was due to leave precisely at 3am. Most of the teens decided to stay up instead of take a quick nap on the floor. Somehow I managed to lie face down on a concrete floor and get a 45 minute nap in. We boarded the bus and headed to the airport. The airlines asked us to be there three hours before our 5:55am flight. We arrived at the airport with 100 or so other pilgrims from Arizona only to find the airport virtually deserted. Most of us claimed a piece of floor and went to sleep until we were awakened at 4:30 to begin check-in.

The flight to Sydney was on time and smooth. I had a window seat on the left side of the plane and was able to watch the sun rise over the ocean on the horizon. It was one of the most spectacular sunrises I have ever seen. Every color was visible in the sky. The teens who were seated on the opposite side of the plane got a nice view of the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour (Aussie spelling) Bridge as we made our final approach into the airport. Once at the airport we waited for about an hour for our bus to arrive to take us to the McLaren Hotel in North Sydney.

The hotel we are staying at is really "cute" according to the ladies. Sean and Thomas were most impressed by their shower in their room having shower heads at both ends of the shower. It was quite the carnival for them. The hotel is an old mansion that now has about thirty rooms. Each room is different. Some have a fireplace, some have a terrace, and others have the much talked about shower with two shower heads. Somehow K Kap and I managed to get the smallest room in the joint. Oh well.....the first shall be's what I try to tell myself anyway. The hotel keeper told me that the average price of a home in this neighborhood is 1.3 million. Suffice to say the scenery is older, but nice.

After a shower, we walked down to a row of shops and grabbed a bite to eat. Food is pretty expensive here so when your kids tell you how much they spent don't be too alarmed. After lunch, most of us had a chance to take a much needed nap. Can you call four to five hours of sleep a nap? We woke up around 6PM on Monday night and gathered together for prayer. Our group was one short as Fr. Michael had to go to downtown Sydney in order to register as a priest so that he could concelebrate at the Masses and hear confessions. He stood in line for 4.5 hours. The first shall be last....

We made our way towards the Sydney Opera House. Food was scarce because shops close around here at 5 or 6 PM. As we were walking along the harbor I saw a guy closing up his deli. I was able to make a deal to buy all of his leftover food for $60 bucks. That's right...we fed your fourteen teenagers on $60 bucks. It was truly a miracle from God. After eating, we met Fr. Michael at the steps of the Sydney Opera House. That's right your hearts out. We attended a magnificent choral concert at The Sydeney Opera House. Somebody pinch me! Here are a few picks. Anita, we ordered an organ for you like this for the may take a while though:

After the concert we hopped on the train and went back to the hotel. All of us crashed and were very grateful for our beds. Wake-up call was set for 7AM as we had a busy day.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

After a nice breakfast in our hotel, we made our way to Wynyard Station in the CBD (central business district) of Sydney. As we alighted (I am really picking up this Aussie talk) the train and walked up the stairs to the street, we were greeted by thousands of fellow pilgrims. There are flags from every country flying high. Everyone is saying "hello" and we respond with an over emphasized Texas twang, "Where ya'll from?" The city of Sydney was electric this morning with excitement. It was awesome. I apologize that I cannot recreate it for you here.

We walked through an area called Martin's place as we headed to St. Mary's Cathedral. We took pictures with several other groups but one of our better pictures was this group picture in front of the fountain. Notice the rainbow!

The cathedral was phenomenal! I will post pics instead of talking. Just note the relics of Blessed Pierre Giorgio. We were able to pray in front of them and a Icon of Our Lady of the Southern Cross as well.

After the cathedral we walked to visit some cathedrals that some in our group worship:

We then walked towards the Opera House only to find that we had to go to Barangaroo across town to get our lunch. Barangaroo was the site of the opening Mass so we headed across town to that. It was quite the walk with the streets shut down and hundreds of pilgrims walking in the streets singing and dancing. Despite the many miles we have walked, the kids remain cheerful and excited about our pilgrimage.

The venue for the opening Mass was pretty nice. The Aussies have done an amazing job organizing it all and everyone is very friendly. We claimed our site for Mass and then got our boxed lunches. The lunch consisted of a meat pie (Jordan's new nickname due to his affinity for them) tangerines, and some cake-like desert. It wasn't much but we were happy to have it provided. Mass was really good including the music. Yes, Anita, I am bringing the worship aid home!

Here are some pics from the Mass. I hope the kids will blog more about their experiences. We had some funny little things happen today that will be fun to share later. We were sitting behind a group from Ireland during Mass and in front of a group from Austria. It was quite the scene! After the Mass we hung around for the welcome concert while we waited for the crowds to clear. Eventually we made our way home and arrived back at the hotel around 10:30PM. Here are some pics from Barangaroo:

Thanks for all the comments. To be honest, we have not yet relayed them all to the teens yet. They are fighting off some homesickness and Fr., Alicia, and I are discussing when would be the best time to share. The kids also were fighting off some cold symptoms that now seem to be related to the sleeping conditions in Brisbane (i.e. lots of people from lots of different places in a small room). They all seem healthy now and are in good spirits. Just know that we love your kids very much and are honored to be here with them. We will bring them home to you soon. Until then, know that you are in all of our prayers and oh yeah....our prayers count more than yours because we are in Sydney! Just's almost 1:45AM. Goodnight!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Quo Vadis?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Quo Vadis? It is latin for "Where are you going?" The phrase is inscribed on a red wristband that Fr. Michael procured for all of our group here at the YAI Festival. We were each asked to pray and ask God where is it that He wants to take us. The short-term and simple answer to this question is, "We are going to Sydney."

Here is a quick look at the Praise and Worship session from Friday night. The band, Rex Band, is from India...and yes folks that is one sweet "key-tar."

After Mass yesterday we boarded a bus and headed into downtown Brisbane. From Adelaide St. we then took the #375 bus over to Paddington for a visit with the Busch family. John and Kristen (son and daughter-in-law of parishioners Paul and Ann Busch) moved to Brisbane about four months ago from St. Louis for John's job. They and their two sons, Patrick and Thomas, welcomed us into their home with open arms. They served us an amazing meal of hamburgers, sausages (called Snags over here), salad, chips (what we call chips not fries), cookies, and soda. We all certainly ate our fill and enjoyed the time of camraderie.
We all enjoyed playing with Patrick:

The food took its toll on the teens. They found a quiet place to sleep though:

Here is a group shot with John, Kristen, Patrick, and Thomas:

After leaving the Busch's we headed back to the Queen St. Mall in downtown Brisbane. We heard that Target had a good selection of official WYD clothing for cheap. We were quite disappointed when we got there and they did not have a very good selection. We bought a few necessities at the grocery store and then hit the souvenir store again. There was plenty of time for bonding and joking around with each other when we were waiting for everyone to finish their shopping.

The Days in the Diocese Festival had let out and there were literally thousands of people walking the mall. There were different folk dances, dancing circles, singing groups, and a parade of flags. I decided to drap the Texas flag around my shoulders to see what kind of people I could meet. It was not long before we were greeted by a group of Aggies from San Antonio. WHOOP! We decided that what Brisbane was lacking was the experience of a good old fashioned Aggie yell practice. With me doing a poor impression of a yell leader, we held yell practice on the corner of Central St. and Queen St. Kevin Day entertained the crowd with some dancing and a back flip.

Once all the shopping was done we began our walk back to the bus to take us to Nudgee. While walking we sang the Aggie War Hym and Back Street Boys. It was probably the only time the two songs have ever been sung in close proximity to one another. We had an hour wait for the last bus of the day to arrive. We then started beat boxing and singing different songs.
Thomas could not find a pole to swing on, so K Day filled in:

When the bus arrived we were on it with a group from the Phillipines. We started singing praise and worship songs and to our surprise the Phillipinos joined in with us. It was awesome and a lot of fun. When we arrived back at the college we attended the night session and then concluded for the night, but not before we played the cup game (yes Jason, we did it for you....)

Today being Sunday, we are concluding our festival here. Alicia and I are trying to get some of the kids laundry done while they are in workshops so we can have a fresh start in Sydney. We leave the college this morning at 3Am to catch our flight. Please pray that the travel goes well as I have already heard that Qantas has canceled some of our flights. We are on QF 501 leaving at 555AM if you want to play along. So far, our flight is on schedule.

I will try to get some pictures up between laundry loads.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Jesus is in Our Midst

Friday, July 11th

It is 2:24 PM here in beautiful, sunny, but chilly Brisbane. We just finished up lunch which consisted of a hot dog on an abnormally large bun and some sort of sugary pastry. They eat a lot of bread here. We are about to start our afternoon workshops but I wanted to take a few minutes to catch up on here.

As you can see, I posted two notes below from some of our teens. As I write I can hear them walking by outside as K Kap is playing the backpacker guitar that Chris Bartlett lent him. It has a distinct sound. I was going to post some other pics yesterday but the internet went down again so I will try here in a bit. I also decided that the blog was becoming a distraction and was taking time away from being with the teens which is more important in my opinion. I will try to find a balance so as to keep ya'll informed.

I wish there was some way that you could see, hear, and touch what is going on here. The first couple of days were somewhat like a vacation but the trip has turned a corner. After lunch yesterday the festival began with some praise and worship and a few talks followed by dinner. The set-up is pretty nice. It is similar to Steubenville but on a bit smaller scale here.

By the time the night session rolled around, most of our teens were pretty tired. I think the Adrenaline finally wore off and we are all feeling the effects of jet lag. I know that you parents will not believe me, but all of the boys are up and showered and eating breakfast before 7AM. A few of us get up around 5 or 5:30 and have Morning Prayer and a rosary before or after breakfast. The ladies wake up a bit later. More than likely they wake up at the same time but it just takes longer to get ready. We all eat breakfast together which is nice.

After the first talk, the house band (Emmanuel Worship) began to play. They do a pretty good job but they are not the teens favorite. Some of the teens were so exhausted that they asked to be excused to go to bed. Those of us who remained were in for a treat. Before the next session began, we were able to go into the auditorium and a few of us met Matt Maher and shook his hand while he was doing a sound check. Here is a picture of K Kap, Claire, Katie Smith, and I meeting Matt Maher:

Matt Maher led us in an amazing praise and worship session! By the way, Anita, I have some ideas for music in Mass! Hah! We lost a few more people as the night went on but those of us who stayed had an amazing experience of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. I am trying to find the right words to describe it but am not sure they do it justice. Some things you just have to experience.

This morning (Friday) we started off the day with a talk from Fr. Chris Ryan on God's Mercy and reconcilliation. We then moved into adoration with procession of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction. It was a great experience for us all. Jesus was truly in our midst as we gathered together. We had Mass with an Auxiliary Bishop from Brisbane. Our homilist was Fr. Tom who is an older (and wiser) priest from New York. He was very lively and gave a powerful message.

It was a neat experience for me as I was sitting next to a gentleman from Rome who spoke to us the night before in Italian. He sits on the Pontifical Council for the Laity and is the head of a committee that represents all of the Charismatic movements in the church. To his left was the head of Youth Arise International who is also Italian but lives elsewhere I think. Also sitting near me is the head of NET Ministries for Australia and his two daughters. We ate lunch with them yesterday and they usually sit by us at the other events. It is neat to be kneeling down in adoration with people of such distinguished positions in the church. I admit I was a little star struck but more than anything moved that we all were praising God together.

I apologize if my thoughts are not flowing well but I just stopped to help Fr. Joseph Manchan from India attempt to check his email. This is just one of many experiences we have had with people from other countries. We have met people from Canada, Phillipines, Gibraltar, Italia, Malaysia, India, Ghana, the Congo, Australia, and many more. We have even met a few Aggies and one girl from Houston who is working with NET ministries in Australia. She told me that she told her Aussie friends that you will know the Texans when you see them because they will be draped in Texas flags. They did not believe her. We did not disappoint her:

At lunch today we presented one of our teens, Jordan Burdick, with a birthday card. He turns seventeen today. I actually sang to him when he woke up at 6:00AM in the room which should have been punishment enough. Alicia got the entire meal tent (quite the international crowd) to sing Happy Birthday to Jordan in English. A group from Malaysia then sang in their native language followed by a group from Gibraltar. It was really cool! Jordan seemed to really appreciate it.

Tonight we have another talk and praise and worship session but this time with a band from India called Rex Band. Tomorrow we will have Mass in the morning and then head to Paddington where we will be hosted by Paul and Ann Busch's (parishioners) son and daughter-in-law who live in Brisbane. We are looking forward to their hospitality.

Until next time, here are a few more pics. The teens are doing great and appreciate all of the prayers. The Holy Spirit is really working on them and it is great to be a witness to that!

Pax Tecum,


Where do you see God?

During one of our group discussions the question was asked, “Where have you seen God in the past few days?” Here is a response from Sara Phillips:

Well I saw/felt God when our group was riding the ferry in downtown Brisbane. Amanda had just come inside the boat from taking pictures outside and I grabbed her camera and started to look through the pictures and delete the ones that meant nothing so that I could clear up some space for her on her camera. Welp, I cleared up some room alright. I had accidentally deleted every single picture from her camera. The pictures from the Houston airport to the pictures from the ferry ride. I felt so bad for what I had done, but it really hit me that God was truly present especially when the look on my sister’s face was a look of forgiveness. I thought that she would be so upset with me, but she wasn’t. By the grace of God she and I both accepted what had happened and realized that yes, maybe there were a couple of pictures that may not be replaceable but everyone has great pictures to share! We have designated photographers on this trip for a reason. Sometimes we just have to take what we do have and move on. Just because Amanda and I became pitureless does not mean that it is the end of the world. We just have to keep the memories in our hearts and take pictures of what is to come. Pictures may get lost but memories last forever.

God Bless,
Sara Phillips

PS. Sara wanted me to pass along that she really misses and loves her family and misses John more than ever.

Along that note, I think all of the kids are starting to miss home and miss family.

A Note from Amanda

As is a note from one of our teens. They are starting to turn in the blogs. Here is one from Amanda Phillips

The other night we had a group discussion on where we have seen God thus far in the trip, though we haven’t done anything so called “spiritual.” Tom stressed the importance of writing at lease something in the group journal every night to bring back and share with the parish. He also said he was a tad stressed in that they hadn’t been able to get this blog up and running and parents would rather hear from us kids than from him.

During this discussion, I took so many notes on how what was read related back to my life and what I wanted to journal later on, that Sara and Alicia decided I should record the opening blog for the group and relieve the stress from Tom. After thinking it over, I felt called to just that, so here it is. I have enough trouble logging experiences for myself, but God doesn’t call the prepared, he prepares the called. So He will give me the words I write here. It may not include much insight on my thoughts, but at least family and friends back home will know what we’ve been up to.

So you all know we had a send off Mass Saturday night where Father Michael gave what I feel to be the perfect sermon to jumpstart this adventure, about putting everything aside to just take in the moment God has given you. We then had a potluck dinner, then went home to get some sleep before meeting at the church to head for the Houston airport. This was my very first plane ride ever and everything went so much smoother than I expected. Hardly anything went wrong. We had a four hour layover, the boarded the 14 hour flight to Brisbane at 11:20PM. I personally slept most of the way here. We took a bus trip to a catholic boarding school where we are sleeping in classrooms for the first week. After settling in, we had the rest of the day to do whatever. We trudged through the drizzling rain looking for a place to eat lunch until we ended up back at the college eating ham sandwiches. When the rain let up, we took a city bus down town to look at the shops and scenery. We even took a ferry ride across town. When we got back we said a group prayer and went straight to bed. We were so tired. The next day, we met up with other groups staying at the college to go to the Australia Zoo, Home of the Crocodile Hunter. We got to take pictures with a statue of the Irwin family and even got to see them in person through the concert “Trouble in the Jungle” by Bindi and the Croc Men and the “Wildlife Warriors” show by Terri. I think most everyone had a lot of fun there. When we got back, we ate dinner, registered for our Youth Arise Workshops, had our group prayer/discussion (the one I already spoke of) and went to bed. Thus far today, we’ve pretty much just been chillin’…

Sisters Amanda and Sara Phillips

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Blogging in Brrrisbane....

G'Day Folks....sorry, had to do it!

My apologies for the delay in blogging. It has been somewhat of an ordeal trying to get internet access. We finally found the Internet Tech Support people here at the college. Why do all IT guys live in dark caves that no one can find? They were most helpful and now we are back online. I do have a few things to discuss with the AT&T guy about our GSM card when we get home, but I digress.

It is 8:50 AM here on Thursday morning in Brisbane. This will be a lengthy post but I want to give ya'll (man that feels good to say that to people who understand what I'm saying) an idea of what we have been up to. I will start where I left off and will bring you up to date.

Our flight from LA was pleasant. There was a bit of turbulence but nothing too bad. We switched terminals at LAX (not the most modern airport) and made it to our gate with plenty of time before our flight. I wish you all could have seen the faces of the gate crew and flight crew when they saw the 300-400 very excited teens waiting to board the plane. It would have been a great time for them to renegotiate their contract. It was priceless!

The group finds a way to entertain themselves in the airport:

Fr. Michael sporting K Day's Sunglasses..."Yes...Father...we are laughing with you not at you....right..."

We boarded our flight to Brisbane just after 11PM on Sunday night. Our group got to sit near each other for the most part but a few of us were spread out across the plane. The flight was smooth but long! Most of us slept a good deal of the way and others did not sleep at all. We walked around and visited with one another and people from other groups. The flight attendants were awesome. I was sitting in a bulkhead seat with two attendants in front of me, but facing me. One lady had a quick wit and I loved it. As we were landing a young man sitting next to me asked the flight attendant what was obstructing his view outside the window. He asked if it was trees or clouds or something else. Without missing a beat the attendant said, "Sir, we call that "night time" here. It was a humorous end to a great flight.

We landed in a complete downpour shortly after 6AM on Tuesday the 8th (local time). The weather was pretty chilly as well. We sailed through customs and then had a bit of a wait for our buses to take us to our accomodations. St. Joseph's Nudgee College is nice place about fifteen minutes from the airport. The guys are staying in a carpeted (albeit thin) classroom on the first floor and the ladies are in a classroom (also carpeted) on the second floor directly above us. The classrooms do not have heat/AC and the windows are generally open. It is not too bad during the day but a bit chilly at night.

After getting settled in we went in search of something to eat/do. We took a ten minute walk to a coffee shop / convenience store and then headed back in the opposite direction for about a 3Km walk to a train station. Halfway to the train station the rain really let loose. The adults realised (look! I can spell in Australian!) quickly that we were not dressed appropriately for the weather and did not want to get sick on the first day so we headed back to the college. We were tired, wet, cold, and a tad frustrated but everyone handled it well.

As you can see, K Day was well prepared for the elements. Too bad by the time he put it on it had stopped raining...

At the college we got our lunch which consisted of a ham sandwhich and some fruit. It wasn't much but we were greatful to have it all the same. One of our teens is a vegetarian and the lady in the kitchen picked up on it when our teen avoided the sandwhich. The lady from the kitchen kindly offered to go prepare something else for our teen. The people are really nice here. I know that in Texas we like to brag about our hospitality but they have us matched here (so far!).

After lunch the rain stopped and the sky started to clear. We did some recon worked and learned that the bus stop right outside the college would take us to downtown Brisbane. We all bought day passes for the bus ($7.50 Aus) and headed downtown. The bus drivers drive pretty crazy as times and we discovered a new game called bus surfing. The game was for those of us who stood up (all guys because your Southern gentlemen that you raised made sure the ladies had seats) and tried to keep our balance with the crazy driving.

The bus dropped us off at Queen St. Mall. This area is a pedestrian mall in the heart of downtown that consists of all kinds of shops, stores, etc. It was similar to what you might see in Manhattan. The architecture was impressive with a combination of older styled buildings nestled in with modern skyscrapers. We walked around a few WWII memorials, Eagle St. Pier (where much to K Day's enjoyment, we found a McDonalds), St. Stephen's Cathedral, and the Archdiocese of Brisbane's Chancery offices.

We then boarded a city ferry and headed upriver and to the opposite side. We walked past a maritime museum and then walked across a pedestrian bridge to the original side of the river. By this time the weather was absolutely gorgeous. We walked past the Old Parliament House and then through the city's Botanical Gardens. We then walked up about ten blocks to King George's Square and City Hall. The City Hall was very impressive much to our surprise. I was pleasantly surprised at how much we were able to see with no plans, a map of the city, and a bus/ferry pass.

A Group Picture on the Pedestrian Bridge in Brisbane (Tom is behind the camera):

As I said, the rain died down, but the wind sure picked up!

We then got a bite to eat in a food court. Everything here in Australia is really expensive compared to the U.S. We also learned that beef is hard to come by so you get it when you can. By the time we finished our dinner, we were ready to go back to the College. Upon arriving back at the college we got to the rooms and tried to go to sleep. Some of the other groups were pretty loud and it was a bit difficult to fall asleep. When I noticed that everyone was totally quiet, I looked at my watch and realized that it was only 11PM. That never happens on these trips/retreats!

Wednesday, July 9th

We woke up this morning to chilly (I would guess low 40's) weather but a beautiful sunrise. Most of us were waking up around 4 to 5AM local time. After showering a few of us headed over to Mass in the chapel. As a disclaimer here, we found out about Mass at the last minute so not everyone knew to go.

We ate breakfast together here at the college and then boarded the bus for the one hour trip to the much anticipated Australia Zoo, Home of Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin. As we were driving to the zoo, our bus driver was giving us fun little facts and pointing out different sites. A small two bedroom house in suburban Brisbane goes for 300-400K! Crikey! We also saw the glass house mountains that were formed by volcanoes many years ago. Apparently the U.S. Navy thought it would be fun to use them as target practice from the Gold Coast (we are about 6km from the coast). A chant of "U-S-A" almost broke out from the Americans on the bus. We passed many fruit fields including strawberries, passion fruit, and pineapple. I will admit that I and a few others learned for the first time that pineapple does not grow on trees!

We arrived at the zoo and had a wonderful time. We split up into two groups and spent the day taking in the sites. I am not that big a fan of zoos but I had a really good time. This place is really impressive. We did watch a few shoes and now most of your sons want to be "Croc Men." You will have to ask them what that is.

About 3:30PM we boarded the bus and headed back to the college. Upon arriving at the college we registered for our festival that begins on the 10th and then got dinner (Beef Stroganoff). After dinner we had a really good group discussion. We then headed off to bed and most of us were asleep by 9PM.

It has been a wonderful experience to be with your kids on this trip. Like Father Michael said on the phone, you guys already know how wonderful they are. I will not share what we discuss but will just say that they never stop impressing me.

I will read all of your comments to them tonight at our group discussion. The next four days of this festival should be an awesome spiritual experience. This is about to become less of a vacation and more of a retreat/pilgrimage. I look forward to the work that God is going to do in all of us.

Thank you for your prayers and thank you for keeping up with us. We feel the prayers and your presence is with us in our hearts. We continue to pray the novena for the special intention and remember all of our prayer intentions each day. I will edit this post and add some pictures in a bit as I am running out of battery power as it is.


So I have been sitting here with Fr. Michael for about the last 2.5 hours trying to resize photos, upload, etc. Whilst (told you Fr. was here didn't I?) we were sitting here we met two people from Singapore, one of the speakers who is from Houma, Louisiana, a man from Ghana, and a very cold (temperature not mood) nun from Thailand where it is apparently always warm.

Some of the kids also have a new wardrobe as they have found the Nudgee gift shop. After more recon though we learned that there is a Target near by that has official merchandise for a lot cheaper. A t-shirt from the festival here is going for $30 Austrailian. Remember, when I changed my money the rate was 1:1.

Still working on the blog....lunch is in thirty minutes and then no more posting for today! The Festival starts after lunch and then we have Mass with the Archbishop of Brisbane followed by a few talks and a concert by Matt Maher tonight.

Pax Tecum,