What draws young people in such large numbers to World Youth Day celebrations, and what is the long-term impact on their lives? Anthony Cleary is researching a PhD to find out, reports the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.
Cleary, Director of Religious Education and Evangelisation for the Archdiocese of Sydney's Catholic Education Office has conducted interviews with more than 200 Australian pilgrims who attended WYD in Madrid and surveyed more than 1000.
The first WYD was held in 1986 but in the almost 30 years since there has been almost no research on the reasons pilgrims attend, their experiences during the six day youth festivals of faith and later, after they return home.
Research on WYD and the impact on Australia's young pilgrims is the focus of Anthony Cleary's doctoral thesis, which promises to break new ground and open up discussions on faith, young people and the Church.
Although he has been working on the project for the past three years, he is quick to point out, there are many interviews, surveys and research to complete. Now in the wake of this year's WYD, he is particularly eager to speak with pilgrims who were in Rio de Janeiro and the impact this has had on their faith and their lives.
He will investigate what motivated Australia's young people to attend an international WYD and whether participation influenced their perception of faith, spirituality, religious practice, community and themselves.
'There is no doubt WYD in Sydney in 2008 was a watershed,' Anthony says pointing out that with Australia being so far from Europe and the rest of the world, unless actively engaged with the Church, until WYD in Sydney most young Australians had been unaware of World Youth Day.