La Salle Academy youth minister Emily Bennett has just returned on home soil after embarking on the trip of a lifetime to Los Angeles.
The 20 year-old travelled in a group of 35 from the Bathurst Diocese Youth to celebrate World Youth Day (WYD), an international gathering of young Catholic’s in Panama City from January 13 to February 3.
Ms Bennett said she spent one week in Los Angeles, 10 days in Panama and two days in Orange County where she learnt new things about her faith and was able to bring it to use in her role at La Salle.
“In my role at the school I work with kids and help them encounter Jesus outside the classroom, so this tied in with my trip to the universal church,” she said.
During her time overseas Ms Bennett said she met a lot of new people along the way.
“I’ve been involved with the youth ministry for nearly 10 years so I knew a lot of people going on the trip, but I met new people a long the way from all over the world,” she said.
She also said while in Los Angeles the group stayed within the Granada Hills Saint Euphrasia Parish where they completed home-stays.
“We got to see what initiatives and what kind of events they have and how they network with their community and then compare it to back home,” she said.
Ms Bennett said Granada Hills had a very vibrant parish and an active community.
“The home-stay gave me different ideas and new ways to approach my ministry,” she said.
Some challenges Ms Bennett said she faced over in Panama was the heat and business of the city.
“It was humid, uncomfortable getting to and from events, we walked for kilometres at times and transport was always crowded, but it was worth it,” she said.
Despite the small discomforts she said there were plenty of highlights along the way.
“A huge highlight for me was one afternoon we had been out all day and the Pope was expected to arrive at the airport ,we were waiting for a bus to get back into the city and jumped on and got off at a subway station.
“We got out of the subway and there was lots of people crowding so we wandered over and the Pope went past,” she said.
“We were like 15 metres away from the fence, it was amazing.”
Ms Bennett said the energy once the Pope arrived in Panama was indescribable.
“People were chanting, the atmosphere was joyful, I’ve never experienced something so incredible,” she said.
During the official World Youth Day week there were masses, festivals, the Pope arrived mid-week, and a carrying of the cross.
“People from all different countries were representing their passion of Christ in a creative way,” Ms Bennett said.
She also said she encountered a WYD tradition of swaps where a pilgrim takes a gift from their own country and swaps it with that of another.
“I’ve now got this knick-knack collection of things from Panama, Columbia and Mexico,” she said.
Another highlight for Ms Bennett was the pilgrimage to the vigil.
“We had to pack up everything and walk 10 to 15 kilometres to the final mass site in Panama City.
“We prayed and the Pope arrived and then we slept out among hundreds and thousands of other catholics, it was an eye-opening experience,” she said.
The next World Youth Day will be in Portugal 2022 and Ms Bennett said she has already started saving her pennies.
“I would one hundred per cent recommend it to anyone, the experience of a young, joyful and universal church has changed my faith and I can’t wait to experience it again,” she said.
She also said it was affirmative for her being able to see the Catholic church and knowing it had a future of young people.
”It’s so bizarre being in a foreign country and seeing so many other countries being represented in the one place, it’s next level.
“It’s such a unique experience, a huge gathering of people being united by one thing… the faith and love of Christ,” she said.
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