How time does fly! Last month marked 10 years since World Youth Day 2008 with Pope Benedict XVI in Sydney, an event attended by some 4000 young Kiwi pilgrims and
by hundreds of thousands of young people from around the world. Many New Zealand parishes were involved in the build-up, including the Days in the Diocese, in which thousands of young people from different countries were hosted before crossing the Tasman. For one Kiwi, WYD 2008 was extra special. Clare Bell (nee Dooley) of Christchurch was one of a handful of young people who had lunch with Pope Benedict in Sydney. Ten years later, NZ Catholic caught up with Clare and asked her about her memories of WYD 2008. 

NZC: Do you remember your lunch with Pope Benedict XVI well? Does anything he said or did at the lunch still stand out for you 10 years later? 

CB: Of course, It is a once in a life time experience that not many people get to experience. I do remember he was very interested in the young people from places like Papua New Guinea. He also talked about arriving on the boat and the great love he felt for each individual who was present at World Youth Day. For him it wasn’t a large group of young people but many individuals who were treasured by God.

NZC: Do you still have the pearl rosary beads and the papal medal he gave you?

CB: Yes. The medal is safe with other treasured items and the rosary beads get an outing every now and then.

Clare Bell and her family today — husband Phillip Bell with (from left) Catherine (now 2), Monica (now 6) and Max (now 8).

NZC: Did World Youth Day 2008 change your life in any way? 

CB: For me World Youth Day was about organising the 500 young people from our diocese. Many of the events are a blur. It was through the World Youth Day preparation I met my husband so my life has changed in lots of ways.

NZC: At the time of WYD 2008, you were the director of Christchurch’s Catholic Youth Team. What has happened in your life since?

CB: I continued to work with the youth team for 18 months. I then got married and went back teaching for six months before we had our first child. I spent two years at Villa Maria College as a chaplain. Then we had baby number two. We owned a café but I needed something else. I managed the John Paul II Centre for Life in Christchurch for four years. I left that job to have baby number three. Now I work at St Francis of Assisi parish working with families, young people and building connections between the school and parish.

NZC: Looking back 10 years, what would you tell your younger self about to head off to WYD in Sydney? 

CB: This was my third World Youth Day so I was pretty focused on our pilgrims having an amazing experience. But looking back at my first World Youth Day, I would tell my younger self to take part in everything.

NZC: Ten years on, apart from lunch with Pope Benedict, which memory stands out most for you from WYD 2008? 

CB: Reflecting upon the World Youth Day experience now I would say the memory that stands out for me now was more about the journey getting to Sydney. The preparation, the ways parishes focused on young people, they built relationships and community. We had
an awesome pilgrimage to Temuka to where St Mary MacKillop had visited. This local pilgrimage is still talked about today. The outdoor Mass, travelling on buses for two hours, and adoration in a packed church. I also have amazing memories of Bishop Barry. Attending World Youth Day wouldn’t have been on his priority list before he was bishop but he was wonderful. He loved the young people. He got behind all the preparationsand follow up. He travelled the diocese to be with and speak to the young people.

NZC: How significant do you think WYD 2008 was for the Church in New Zealand?

CB: At the time it gave so much energy to the Church of New Zealand. Young people have so much joy and energy that brings life to the Church. You never fully know how young people were impacted by World Youth Day until years later when their hearts are restless and they think back to World Youth Day and how the Holy Spirit captured them. Even if you can’t see fruits there are always fruits. It has made pilgrimages and World Youth Day very popular with young adults. I know of vocations that came from World Youth Day, young people heading on mission, and young Catholic families planted around parishes in New Zealand.