“I will get off the couch.” – A World Youth Day Testimony by Ali Pickles

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Ali (front left) and the amazing pilgrims from St John of God.

Before attending the World Youth Day (WYD) pilgrimage I was reconnecting as a Catholic, I finished completing my sacraments at Easter 2016.  I was baptised a Catholic but was brought up in Baptist faith attending youth group and Sunday school. As a teenager, religion was uncool (in my eyes) and I completely stepped away from my faith.  Some years later I attended the Australian Catholic University in Ballarat, studying for my nursing degree and this re-engaged my curiosity about the Catholic faith.

My belief in myself and concern about what others thought of me prevented me following this curiosity through.  I have worked for St John of God Hospital for many years adhering to Catholic values, and when I had children I found myself sure I wanted them to be brought up as Catholics.  I baptised my three children into the Catholic faith and they attend school at St Thomas More primary school.  The more my children learnt about the Catholic faith the more my need to follow my Catholic journey strengthened and I finally took the step late last year to finish my sacraments.  This was the best decision as it has opened so many doors for me.

The opportunity to travel to WYD came about as one of my sponsors is the Director of Mission at work and she felt I would learn so much from the WYD experience.  I cannot comprehend how much I have learnt.  Before I left I didn’t even know how to pray the rosary!

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(L-R) Ali, Hoanh, Fr Brennan (Chaplain) and Mariusz

Many people talk about “God moments” on WYD.  Before hand I would have said “yeah right”! However there were a few “God moments” for me during the pilgrimage.  The opening mass was the first.  It was overcast and looked like it was about to rain.  As soon as mass began the clouds parted and the sun’s rays shone through onto the stage for the whole of mass.  It was such a beautiful moment.  Another moment came from the retreat in Lichen Stary, not only was this a beautiful place but also I felt so connected.  I prayed more than I ever have and was surrounded by like-minded people who helped me grow in myself as a Catholic.  I entered the retreat free of any angst I had previously carried before embarking on WYD.

Overall, the highlight of my WYD experience would have to be the time spent with the host families in Warsaw.  I knew it would be fun as I have participated in an exchange as a student however this was unbelievable.  My host family opened their doors to us and although they did not own much and were not wealthy, they treated us like royalty.  They welcomed us like members of their own family and despite our language and cultural barriers we were brought together by faith.  Without this experience we would not have experienced traditional Polish family life and culture.

The whole experience of WYD has changed me significantly.  I am connected to some awesome people and have become close friends with a couple of young priests from Western Australia.  We were some of the older ones in our group and we connected on many levels but most importantly spiritually. They have taught me so much and continue to answer my silly questions.  For that I am very thankful.  I now feel fully connected to my Catholic faith.  I understand Mass, the prayers and I feel now I can fully participate.

Post WYD, I want to get more involved with the Catholic community.  Specifically helping in the youth ministry in my Diocese.  I will “get off the couch” as Pope Francis suggested.  I want to lead young people to the Australian Youth Gathering in Sydney 2017 and I want to lead a youth group to the next WYD in Panama 2019.