The "Pilgrims’ Progress 2008" is a research project being conducted at Australian Catholic University, with the support of World Youth Day administration, focusing on the pilgrims who attended World Youth Day in Sydney in July, an ACBC statement says.
The project is studying the experiences of pilgrims before, during and after World Youth Day, to provide feedback to those who organised the event, and to build an understanding of the spirituality of the pilgrims as a foundation for improved ministry.
The research team included Dr Michael Mason and Professor Ruth Webber from Australian Catholic University and Dr Andrew Singleton from Monash University, previously worked together over the period 2003-2007 on a study of the spirituality of Generation Y, published as The Spirit of Generation Y (Melbourne: Garratt) in mid-2007.
In Stage I of the World Youth Day research project (covering the period leading up to WYD), interviews and a large scale survey were conducted to discover what pilgrims hoped for from WYD08, how they prepared for it, and many other aspects of their spirituality and background.
There were 12,275 responses to the internet survey. Dr Mason commented that this was a very high response rate, and showed the great goodwill and cooperativeness of the pilgrims.
The survey strongly confirmed the impression that the team had derived from the lengthy interviews conducted earlier: the pilgrims were not just a random collection of younger Catholics; they were special; they took some trouble to get to this gathering; they wanted to be there, the researchers found.
"The majority of pilgrims expressed a strong faith. And, of those who were not yet at that point, many seemed to be seekers, like the centurion in the Gospel who went looking for Jesus. When asked if he believed in Him, he replied: ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief’," the reseachers said.
"The survey revealed what pilgrims most wanted at WYD was a spiritual experience, and in that context, to see and listen to the Holy Father. For the vast majority of pilgrims, celebrating faith in Eucharist and prayer, learning about faith, sharing faith with other young people, were the experiences they looked forward to, well ahead of the social opportunities the occasion also offered.
"Their hopes for what they would gain from WYD were in the same vein: most of all, they said they wanted a closer relationship with God and Jesus, they wanted to really live what they believe, and to have a stronger sense of what it means to be Catholic.
"The most surprising finding from the survey so far," said Dr Mason, "was the strength of the younger group’s spirituality. We’d got the impression from previous research, and from some interviews, that quite a few pilgrims, especially the younger ones, were not much involved with their local church. However that seemed to be the case with only about a quarter of the younger group. Nearly half of them were regular church attenders, had a strong faith and a firm sense of Catholic identity. They were a lot more involved in the life of faith than was typical for Catholics their age. What the survey told us was that underneath the youthful exuberance, most of them had a core of solid commitment."
Survey of World Youth Day pilgrims finds out who went and why (ACBC, Media Release, 14/8/08)