Pope Benedict "Rock Star" of World Youth Day

By Michael Perry
International Herald Tribune

July 10, 200

SYDNEY: Pope Benedict arrives in Sydney on Sunday as the headline "rock star" act in the Catholic Church's World Youth Day -- its version of Woodstock, five days of peace, love and Christianity.

Already thousands of young Catholics, nuns and priests from around the world have converged on Sydney, which is treating the July 15-20 event as bigger than the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

"We are looking forward to see what God has in mind for us," said American Wayne Bolduc, as groups of pilgrims, some wearing backpacks with pictures of Jesus, explored Sydney on Thursday.

Organisers are expecting 500,000 pilgrims, but only half that have actually registered so far.

Police have been given extra anti-protest powers so they can arrest anyone annoying pilgrims, some 300 roads have been closed and workers have been told to take holidays or avoid the city

Elective surgery in some hospitals has been cancelled and extra doctors rostered on in preparation for injuries. Signs warn motorists that overseas pilgrims are not used to cars on the left-hand side of the road and may step in front of traffic.

The city's main horse-racing track, site of the closing gig where hundreds of thousands will gather for a papal mass, has been shut to racing for 10 weeks in preparation.

Organisers and local government authorities say World Youth Day will be a religious and financial windfall, with the event estimated to earn the city up to A$200 million (96 million pounds).

But not everyone is happy. The group "No Pope" is planning to hand out condoms in protest at church's doctrine and protest the extra police powers they say crush civil liberties.

Victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy plan to protest and call on the Pope to make apologies. There have been 107 convictions for sexual abuse in the Catholic church in Australia.

"I can't confirm or deny that he will talk about it (sexual abuse) but it would not surprise me," Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said in a papal briefing in Rome on Wednesday.


World Youth Day was the brainchild of the late Pope John Paul II who thought a festival which included not only masses and religious events like the stations of the cross, but also music and dance concerts would revitalise the world's Catholic youth.

More than 165 outdoor concerts are planned, from religious music to heavy metal, acid jazz, and rap, say organisers who tag the Pope the "rock star" attraction of World Youth Day.

There will even be an underground mass and the remains of a dead Italian saint have been flown out for pilgrims to inspect.

For the first three days of his visit the Pope, like most rock stars, will resting before his gigs. The Vatican's Lombardi said the Pope will retreat to "recover his vital rhythms".

Inside the Catholic retreat on the outskirts of Sydney, the Pope will rest, pray and play a little piano, said an official from Opus Dei which runs the centre.

"He'll probably play the piano more than do sport. I think it's very much a time of rest and preparation," said Opus Dei communications director Richard Vella.

The Pope's first gig on Thursday July 17 will see him meet the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and travel by boat across Sydney Harbour to greet thousands of young pilgrims, before heading off in the Popemobile through Sydney's CBD.

The church believes that despite Pope Benedict, 81, being the oldest pope elected, he can still engage with young people.

"The goals of World Youth Day are to strengthen the faith and goodness of the young people that are coming," said the head of the Catholic church in Australia, Cardinal George Pell.

"How the Pope will do that is by his presence and teachings, by his praying with us. He is a very fine teacher," said Pell.

Mainstream churches like the Catholic and Anglican struggle to attract worshippers in Australia, unlike small evangelical churches and Buddhism, the fastest growth faith in Australia.

Some 5 million Australians describe themselves as Catholic, but less than one million attend Sunday mass, and the number may have dropped to about 100,000 in the past 5 years.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.