Nine years ago World Youth Day was held in Toronto, Canada.  Speaking to the young people present, Pope John Paul II said something that caught my imagination of the world.  He said:

You are called to be the Sentinels of Tomorrow – playing your part in the renewal of the world – in the light of God’s plan – Sentinels of Tomorrow.

A Sentinel is another word for a Sentry – the one who stands guard at the gate, to be on the alert and to protect and to observe.  

So this evening I am very pleased to welcome here to this Mass those 132 Sentinels of Tomorrow of this diocese as, nine years later, you set out for another World Youth Day – this time in Madrid, Spain.

You are on your way to World Youth Day that has, as its theme, those words taken from St. Paul:  

You must be rooted in Christ and built on Christ and held firm by the faith you have been taught.
So you must be vigilant sentinels – alert to identify and avoid, like the plague, all that would harm your family.  but alert and attentive and ready to welcome all that will make you true disciples and Missionaries of Christ.  

I hope that as a result of this pilgrimage, the faith of each one of you will be greatly strengthened.  You will meet multitudes of other young people whose lives, like your lives, are already rooted on Christ.  You will meet there so many people who will regard it as something quite cool to be people of faith.  You are at that stage in life when you are in the process of discovering who you really are and, in the process, I hope you will discover the part Jesus Christ plays in your identity.  

You are on your pilgrim way from Ireland to Spain.  You are not the first Irish men and women to go on pilgrimage to Spain.  Down through the centuries there have been close links between Spain and Ireland.  There have been many pilgrims from Ireland to Spain.  One of the most famous pilgrim places is Santiago de Compostela.  It is a shrine in Northern Spain dedicated to St James.  Last year more than 250,000 people walked over 100 miles to make the pilgrimage to Compostela.  

Down through the centuries Irish people have made this difficult pilgrimage. Perhaps you have heard of St. James’ Gate in Dublin – site of the Arthur Guinness Brewery.  In the middle ages, St James’ Gate was the Western Entrance to the City of Dublin and so called because it was the point of departure for the pilgrims on their way to Compostela.  

At various stages on the pilgrimage to Santiago, pilgrims have their pilgrimage passport stamped.  We all need our passports to enter Spain but it is no longer stamped.  But my hope is that your lives will be stamped with joy as a result of your going to Barcelona and Madrid.  The joy of knowing, in a deeper and more powerful way, the love that God has for you – a love that was revealed in the life and death of Jesus Christ.  

Thanks to your mothers and fathers, your brothers and sisters, your teachers and priests, you go to Spain as disciples of Jesus Christ.  Please God you will come home, not only as disciples but as missionaries as well.  Missionaries sent out and sent back to play your part in the renewal of your particular patch of the world in the light of Jesus Christ.

I hope you all have a great experience and I am absolutely sure that you will live such an experience like the good Sentinels that you are – awake and alert and on the ball at all times.

I believe you represent an enormous talent and resource for the future of the body of Christ.  Remember, at all times, God is present within you.  Your body is indeed the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.

So, go forth Sentinels of Tomorrow.  The Lord has appointed you as prophets – not to the nations – but to your own families and to your own friends.  When you come back I hope you will not be afraid to speak of what you have seen and heard – that you will not be afraid to give priority to Mass and to keeping the Lord’s day holy – that you will not be afraid to confront those who would scoff or ridicule your religion which you, and your family, hold dear.

You are going to Spain – famous for holidays and football.  You are going to Barcelona, home of the European Champions and to Madrid home of the World Champions – Messi is one of the greatest footballers but Spain is home to another team of champions – a team of Christian saints. 


I welcome you all as we gather to send our young pilgrims on their pilgrim way.  We promise to accompany them with our prayers and look forward to their return.

The Journey of Life has often been compared to a pilgrimage.  Every pilgrimage is a journey to a holy place for some religious purpose.  Muslims go to Mecca; Jews go to Jerusalem. Christianity is the only one of the three great monotheistic religions that does not command pilgrimage as a sacred duty.  But Christians do go on pilgrimage – whether to Knock or Croagh Patrick, to Lourdes or Lough Derg; to Rome or Fatima.  Jesus himself went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem every year.

Pilgrimage has also meant the inner journey, the journey to the depths of our heart, to know oneself and to the sanctuary of one’s soul to meet God there in mystical union.  Today pilgrimages are much easier than they were in the Middle Ages when people had to leave home for months and travel on foot or mule-back through dangerous territory.  So it is important to keep alive the penitential aspect of every pilgrimage.

To leave home means little if it does not involve the intention of leaving behind our sins and pushing on to know God better.  So times of silent prayers will be part of this pilgrimage.
Pope Benedict will be there – he has included the pilgrim shell on his Papal Coat of Arms.  Despite his 80 years, he went all the way to Sydney, Australia.   I look forward to hearing him explain the theme of the Pilgrimage –Rooted in Christ and Built on Christ.    This could well be a defining moment in the lives of many of our young pilgrims – the moment when they see, in a new way, what it means to be routed in Christ and to build their lives on Christ.