Under the Southern Cross

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In 2001, Pope John Paul II wrote about the Church in Oceania, saying, “The present generation of Christians is called and sent now to accomplish a new evangelization among the peoples of Oceania, a fresh proclamation of the enduring truth evoked by the symbol of the Southern Cross. This call to mission poses great challenges, but it also opens new horizons, full of hope and even a sense of adventure” (Ecclesia in Oceania, 13).

These words set the stage for the largest gathering of people in Australia’s history, when 400,000 attended the closing papal Mass of World Youth Day (WYD) 2008 at the Royal Randwick Racecourse and Centennial Park in Sydney July 20. A Knights of Columbus delegation, including more than 30 college Knights from councils throughout North America, was there.

The smallest of the 88 modern constellations, the Southern Cross was last observed in Jerusalem at the time of Christ and is visible today only from the Southern Hemisphere. It was seen as a sign of God’s grace and blessing when the peoples of Oceania first accepted Christianity, and it stood symbolically overhead when 110,000 international pilgrims, representing more than 170 nations, came to WYD 2008.


Before Sydney, the last major World Youth Day celebration took place in Cologne, Germany, in 2005. When several Sisters of Life from New York accompanied the college Knights to Cologne, they recognized the potential to share their charism to protect and promote the dignity of human life with young people. Mother Agnes, the community’s superior general, approached Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson with the idea of a WYD 2008 site focused on celebrating the Church’s teachings about human life and love. Four of the sisters traveled to Australia to meet with Cardinal George Pell and Auxiliary Bishop Anthony C. Fisher of Sydney, and preparations for the Love and Life Site began.

As the Sisters of Life were busy coordinating different aspects of the site, interested college Knights completed an application from the Supreme Council office that asked how they could contribute to and benefit from the Order’s presence at WYD.

Meanwhile, representatives from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family prepared talks related to love and the theology of the body to present to young people at the Love and Life Site. “It was a wonderful collaboration of three groups who are dedicated to the protection of human life, the dignity of the human person and the sacredness of human love,” said Mother Agnes. “What three groups could do it better?”


Over three days, approximately 12,000 pilgrims were welcomed to the Love and Life Site, located on the campus of Notre Dame University in downtown Sydney. In addition to being an official site for morning catechesis and Mass, it featured concerts by popular Catholic musicians, numerous talks and testimonies, and free information from various organizations focused on building a culture of life.

One evening featured a talk show hosted by Sister Mary Gabriel, vocations director for the Sisters of Life. It consisted of musical performances and interviews with the site’s speakers and hosts, including Supreme Knight Anderson. “The Church needs your witness,” he told the excited crowd. “Be who you are and strive to be what God is calling you to be. He is calling you to greatness.”

This call to greatness was at the heart of the Love and Life Site’s message and resonates with young people, explained Mother Agnes, who was also among the featured guests. “It’s an expression of the heart’s desire to live well and nobly,” she said.

In order to present pilgrims with faithful witnesses of heroic love, the Order printed thousands of copies of a booklet highlighting personal testimonies, as well as prayer cards featuring several of the WYD patrons. The Knights and sisters distributed the booklets and prayer cards — which were designed exclusively for WYD by one of the Sisters of Life — both at the catechetical sites and throughout the streets of Sydney. The Knights also helped to organize a screening of the film Bella and attended a screening of a new documentary titled Road of Hope: The Spiritual Journey of Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan, which was produced by Canada’s Salt and Light Television and funded by the Order.


When the college Knights arrived in Sydney, they got busy unloading boxes, hanging signs and assembling the stage and information booths at the Love and Life site. Amidst the excitement of the Youth Fest events each afternoon, they had responsibilities ranging from security to recording each of the talks. Many of the Knights noted the bonds of friendship that were built by working and praying together.

“It was great to grow in fraternity, to learn from each other, and to share our gifts and passions as Knights to promote love and life — to create a civilization of love,” said Tom Perretta, past grand knight of Quinnipiac University Council 14277 in Hamden, Conn.

Both as pilgrims and volunteers, the primary focus of the Knights and sisters was on prayer. They participated in each of the major WYD events, such as the opening Mass and Stations of the Cross. Knights also assisted as altar servers, ushers and lectors at Masses offered at St. Benedict’s Church, and at the Melkite Catholic Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel, a second catechetical site sponsored by the Order.

Sister Kathrine Marie, who coordinated the Love and Life Site from its earliest stages, said it was essential that visitors experienced beauty and reverence in the liturgy. “As we encounter the sacredness of God in the liturgy, people have an experience of the sacred, and then they’re able to recognize and receive the sacredness of the human person,” she said.

A eucharistic adoration chapel was open daily until 10 p.m., and the sacrament of reconciliation was available at any time. Additionally, Knights led an international rosary in five different languages. At the conclusion of the Love and Life Site’s events on Friday evening, July 18, Supreme Chaplain Bishop William E. Lori reflected on the Eucharist as the true “medicine of immortality” and then presided over an hour-long eucharistic healing procession.


On Saturday, July 19, following a special Mass celebrated by Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago for the 15,000 U.S. pilgrims, everyone gathered at the Royal Randwick Racecourse. That evening, Pope Benedict presided over a candlelight vigil, during which 235,000 faithful silently adored Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. After the vigil, pilgrims continued to celebrate and wave the flags of their homelands before falling asleep under the stars.

Despite their diversity, the pilgrims were “all speaking the common language of faith,” said Grover Green, past grand knight of Father Vincent J. Guinan Council 13940 at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. “It was the most magnificent display of the universality of our Church I have ever experienced in my life.”

The next morning when Pope Benedict celebrated Mass, he confirmed 24 pilgrims and reflected once again on the theme of WYD 2008: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).

“I pray that this great assembly, which unites young people ‘from every nation under heaven,’ will be a new Upper Room,” the pope said in his homily. “May the fire of God’s love descend to fill your hearts, unite you ever more fully to the Lord and his Church, and send you forth, a new generation of apostles, to bring the world to Christ!”

The Sisters of Life hosted a special dinner the next night to thank everyone who helped make the Love and Life Site a reality. By all accounts, the collaboration between the Knights and Sisters of Life at WYD 2008 was more successful than anyone could have anticipated. There have already been countless stories of grace and conversion, as the lives of young pilgrims were transformed by the truth and love they encountered.

“The Lord will not be outdone in generosity,” reflected Sister Kathrine Marie. “I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Lord is going to make this fruitful beyond anything that we can imagine.”