|Katie Fullilove and Pope Benedict XVI have a personal conversation as the boat rides into Sydney Harbour.|
Sydney, Australia. October 2, 2009. When Sydney’s Challenge Club
President Katie Fullilove went to World Youth Day, she never
expected to have a personal chat with the Holy Father.
That opportunity was waiting for her when, as a representative
of the Australian youth, she boarded the boat on which
Pope Benedict made his entrance into the Syndey Harbour.
the following interview, she tells the story of how she
was chosen to stand next to the Pope, what those
moments of personal conversation were like, and what kind of
impact the Pope’s visit has had on Australia since then.
You had the grace of meeting the Holy Father on
the boat in Sydney Harbour at WYD and representing Australia’s
youth. How were you chosen for this?
Katie: I was
asked by the organizers of WYD Australia to represent the
members of the first fleet to Australia.
For those who
do not know, initially there were aborigines living in Australia
but England needed to send out convicts as their prisons
were overflowing. They hauled off about 11 boats and people
spent months in horrible conditions to reach Australia.
was one of the petty criminals— accused but never proven
guilty, we like to say! But due to the first
fleet’s settling the land, we have a European settlement. They
were not given permission to have priests or the faith
here in Australia. So as you can see, it was
a great irony to have the Vicar of Christ come
to the land where once no faith was permitted to
be practiced. That is why on the boat with the
Holy Father there were four youth representing the first Australians:
the aborigines, the first fleet, and the migrants.
|Katie stands at Pope Benedict's side as the boat arrives to Sydney Harbour.|
of WYD found me because both of my brothers were
working for WYD and one day in the elevator one
of the organizers said, “We need to find a first
fleeter to meet the Holy Father. How am I going
to do that?” My brother thought he would get the
opportunity to meet the Holy Father so he said, “I
am!” They said, “We’re not looking for a boy. We’re
actually looking for a girl.” So then he had to
refer to me!
Q: Katie, what was your personal experience
of meeting the Holy Father?
Katie: I was standing back
waiting for my queue to meet the Holy Father, but
saw that with the crowd I would probably not get
to meet him, as I was told. I realized the
gift it was just to be on the boat with
him, so I was content.
Just then, the Pope’s personal
secretary saw me in the back of the crowd and
placed me right next to the Vicar of Christ at
the bow of the boat. I could see what a
great and holy person he is. I could see that
holiness comes in such normal packages. It was pretty cold
out there, so the Holy Father took my hand and
|Katie with Rosemary Streckfuss, an Australian consecrated woman who lives and works in Australia.|
rubbed it to warm me up and listened attentively about
my story of the first fleet arriving in Australia, as
I was asked to share that with him. I am
not sure if he understood everything I told him, but
he was more concerned about me than my story.
then I have often thought, there could be saints around
me and I don’t even know it! After that, the
cameras were gone, or so I thought, I was able
to stand there with the Pope as he entered into
Sydney Harbour and wave with him at my country and
the youth of the world.
That’s my mission now, to
keep standing with the Pope, even though he is physically
not in the Harbour.
Q: Now, a little over a year
later, how do you think that Sydney has been touched
by the Pope’s visit?
Katie: One thing is that people
were talking about how humble the Pope is after he
left. But on a larger scale, I have seen that
Catholic youth have come out of the woodwork and joined
together into larger communities. Here in Australia the culture looks
down upon religion, so now after WYD, culturally the Catholic
Church has gained a more positive image. This ripples down
to the young professionals who have a hard time being
a contradiction to culture. It makes it easier to take
a step out there and live what you believe in
a more committed way.