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Aussie Pilgrims Prepare Physically as Well as Spiritually for WYD13 in Rio

Last edited 20th June 2013

Aussie Pilgrims Prepare Physically as Well as Spiritually for WYD13 in Rio

Sydney's 400-plus World Youth Day pilgrims are not only preparing spiritually for Rio 2013 which begins in just over five weeks but are in training to make sure they are physically fit for the five days they'll be volunteer builders laying concrete pathways and staircases in the shanty hillside towns of Lima, Peru.

"In the past WYD pilgrims joined local parishes as part of the Days in the Diocese experience. But this year pilgrims are able to participate in the mission work of Catholic congregations such as the Christian Life Movement," says Selina Hasham, Chair of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference's National World Youth Day Committee.

For Sydney's young people along with the many hundreds of pilgrims from across Australia who have volunteered to take part in an immersion experience in different South American cities and communities in Brazil in the lead up to this year's WYD in Rio, the five days and nights spent on site helping the poorest of the poor will be immensely rewarding.

"The mission work will also be very confronting," Selina warns, explaining that most Australians will not have experienced the extreme poverty of the shanty towns in South America's teeming cities. Covering steep hillsides on the periphery of Lima and other major cities, shanty towns stretch as far as the eye can see. Homes are built out of whatever materials can be found and are makeshift and unstable.

For these people there is no running water, no electricity and no sewers to remove waste. There is no safe or clean place for children to play amid the dust and dirt and rubble.

"The Andes foothills are prone to earthquakes and it is on these slopes that the poor of Lima build their shanty towns, Selina says.

Located between the deep offshore Peru-Chile trench and the rugged Andes Mountains, the Andes are it is part of the Circum Pacific Seismic belt which includes the famous San Andreas fault line of California.

Shacks built of whatever materials can be salvaged are no match for even a small quake. Build on steep hillsides on land that was deforested long ago, Lima's slum towns are also subject to devastating mud slides.

"We've been told by the Christian Life Movement who are preparing for the visit by Australia's WYD pilgrims that the Peruvian government only regards areas as viable for important infrastructure such as sewers, water mains and electricity, if they have proper concrete paths and walkways. So this is what many of the Australians will be doing as part of their mission in Lima," Selina explains.

Concrete paths and stairways will also be far safer for the inhabitants of these Shantytowns.

"With low rainfall and rubble everywhere the steep hillside can be perilous, particularly for the elderly or for children who must navigate their way through the rocks and dirt to school each day," she says.

For those participating in the 19-day pilgrimage to WYD 2013Rio led by the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, five nights will be spent in Lima where the group plan to build a series of concrete stairways and paths in one of the shanty towns.

For participants on the WYD 2013 Rio pilgrimage led by Bishop Peter Comensoli, Auxiliary Bishop for the Sydney Archdiocese, their immersion experience will also include building concrete paths and proper stairways in another section of the city's sprawling hillside shanty towns.

In addition, 70 staff and 260 Year 10 and 11 students from Sydney's 147 Catholic schools, will be rolling up their sleeves to help out. Half of this group from the Archdiocese's Catholic Education Office (CEO) are heading for Santiago in Chile for mission work there while the rest of the team will undertake a five day immersion experience in Lima before joining the rest of the Australia contingent in Rio for WYD 2013.

"Our prime goal in Lima is to construct solid well-built dining halls in the city's shanty towns so people can meet and eat together," says David Cloran, Archdiocesan Youth Ministry Coordinator with the CEO. "Another project we have planned is to take a large group of shanty town children, aged between 5 and 10 on an all-day excursion into the city," he says.

With poverty so overwhelming in the shanty towns on the outskirts of Lima, few of the children have ever been into the city proper or even more than a kilometre or so from the hillside hovels where they were born.

"The morning of the excursion will be devoted to classes where we will help teach them about dental hygiene, the importance of clean water and health generally. For the afternoon we have a program of sports lined up where for once the children will have a chance to play on grassed sports grounds rather than the rubble and rocks of the shanty towns," David says.

To make the day even more memorable for the children, the CEO and students have organised small gifts for each child.

For the past several months the priests, religious and laity of the Christian Life Movement who are based in Peru have been closely liaising with Selina and the Archdiocese of Sydney's WYD 2013 Rio team to ensure pilgrims who undertake the five day immersion experience are able to make a real difference to people's lives.

"We hope the presence and volunteer work of all the Australian pilgrims will of benefit to those living in Lima's shanty towns and in other poverty-stricken communities of South America," David says but insists the benefits to all the WYD pilgrims taking part in these immersion missions prior to WYD in Rio will be even greater.

"The experience will bring home to many just how lucky we are to live in a country like Australia," he says adding that even more important for the Sydney pilgrims will be the opportunity to be amongst people who live in extreme poverty.

"These are people who have absolutely nothing but but who as a result of their unswerving faith in Christ and devotion to God, consider themselves rich," he says adding the pilgrims' time in Lima will be a "powerful, life changing experience."

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