A Mass will be held this Saturday in Christchurch to farewell a group of young Catholics on their pilgrimage to attend World Youth Day, the world's largest youth gathering.
They will be part of a 200-strong contingent of young Catholics from around New Zealand and an expected two million young Catholics worldwide heading to the 26th World Youth Day in Madrid during August 16-21.
Six Christchurch pilgrims have been allocated front row seats for the vigil with the Pope on Saturday 20 August. Three are from Villa Maria College, which is sending a pilgrimage group of 24.
Altogether there are 70 pilgrims attending from Christchurch, which is the largest New Zealand group. This is despite the Christchurch pilgrims having had their efforts to attend the event disrupted by the February earthquake.
"It has been a particularly challenging time for the Christchurch group to make it this far so they have a lot to celebrate at Saturday's Mass," said Director of Christchurch's Catholic Youth Team, Chris Lysaght.
"Some of them were still raising money for their trips when Christchurch was devastated by the February earthquake. Others have had to rearrange their preparations for World Youth Day as they catch-up on studies or work.
Most of them put aside their own needs to help with other fundraising efforts for the earthquake but have remarkably managed to get there in the end," said Mr Lysaght.
The 6pm Mass on Saturday, 23 July, at St Gregory's Parish in Bishopdale, will be concelebrated by Christchurch's Bishop Barry Jones. During the Mass, Bishop Jones will bless and pray for the pilgrims and their journey ahead.
The New Zealand pilgrims are due to starting leaving for Spain from late July.
Although described as a ‘day’, World Youth Day is in fact a week-long event.
As part of this year's celebrations, the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference Office for Young People has organised a 'Kiwi' Mass, featuring New Zealand songs and prayers. The Mass will be held on August 17 at 3pm at Madrid's most popular park, Parque del Buen Retiro. After the Mass there will be a chance for New Zealand pilgrims to socialise.
The Office's National Project Co-ordinator, Sr Helen O'Sullivan RNDM, said the Mass will be a highlight for New Zealand pilgrims.
"There are around 200 travelling from New Zealand, but there are also New Zealanders living in other parts of the world who have registered for World Youth Day. The New Zealand Mass will be an opportunity to celebrate being together in Madrid for such a special event and to do this in a uniquely Kiwi way".
The latest World Youth Day continues a tradition started by Pope John Paul II in 1985, which has become the biggest celebration of young people on earth.
In a letter inviting the young New Zealanders to World Youth Day 2011, Pope Benedict XVI said that he often thinks back on the last World Youth Day, held in Sydney in 2008.
"There we had an experience of a great festival of faith in which the Spirit of God was actively at work," he wrote. "Now we are looking forward to the next World Youth Day... I encourage you to take part in this event, which is so important for the Church in Europe and for the universal Church...Your presence renews, rejuvenates and gives new energy to the Church. That is why World Youth Days are a grace, not only for you, but for the entire People of God".
While World Youth Day is a Catholic event, the Pope invites any young person who wishes to join the experience, which consists of catechesis (teaching), fellowship, worship and renewal. Key events include the Opening Mass (Tuesday 16 August); the Papal Welcome Ceremony (Thursday 18 August); the Stations of the Cross (Friday 19 August); outdoor Vigil with the Pope (Saturday 20 August) and the Final Mass (Sunday 21 August).