SYDNEY, Australia, SEPT. 1, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Although a week in Sydney could be attractive for many reasons, those who travelled Down Under for World Youth Day were looking for a spiritual experience and a glimpse of Benedict XVI, reveals a study.
This was revealed in “Pilgrim’s Progress 2008,” a study of the Australian Catholic University and the organizers of World Youth Day 2008 that compiled the experiences of youth day pilgrims before, during and after the event.
Benedict XVI presided at the July 15-20 event, which attracted the largest international crowd of any event in Australia’s history. Some 400,000 attended the closing Mass at Randwick Racecourse.
Relying on 12,275 responses from English-speaking pilgrims from 164 countries who took part in Web surveys, and interviews during and after event week, the researchers seek to build an understanding of the spirituality of the pilgrims.
Another Internet survey of registrants is planned for later in the year.
The survey results found that 85% of those attending the event in Sydney were participating their first World Youth Day.
Researcher Michael Mason said the report revealed that what the pilgrims most wanted from the week of activities and pilgrimage was “a spiritual experience and in that context, to see and listen to the Holy Father.”
“They said they wanted a closer relationship with God and Jesus, they wanted to really live what they believe, and to have a stronger sense of what it means to be Catholic,” he added.
Mason reported that pilgrims over 20 showed some marked differences from pilgrims 19 and under.
“The older group was very focused on spiritual values,” he said. “They were making sacrifices to take a week out to come to World Youth Day 2008, so they were not messing around. Their spirituality was very full-on and so was their approach to [the event]; they saw it as sacred time.
“The younger group were unabashedly attracted to all the aspects of World Youth Day 2008 which naturally appeal to younger people; they loved the adventure of it, the excitement of being part of a huge youth crowd, travelling to a spectacular city, making new friends, celebrating. It might be a religious occasion, but it had lots of other appeal as well.”
“The pilgrims were not just a random collection of younger Catholics; they were special; they took some trouble to get to this gathering; they wanted to be there,” he said.
Mason said the biggest motivating factors to attend were: friends who were going, encouragement from others, such as parents and teachers, and personal contact with somebody who had been to a previous youth day.
He also said he was surprised to see such a “strong measure of spirituality among teenagers in this group.”
Mason explained that previous research geve the impression that this age group wasn’t as involved with their local Church.
“However,” he said, “that only seems to be the case with only about a quarter of the younger group.
“Nearly half of [the teenagers polled] are regular churchgoers, have a strong faith and a firm sense of Catholic identity.”