Giant cross follows pope to Sydney

Pilgrims bore a giant wooden cross through the streets of Australia’s largest city on Monday as thousands of faithful crowded around the procession, some lunging for a chance to touch the symbol of the Roman Catholic Church’s youth festival.

At a secluded retreat on Sydney’s outskirts, Pope Benedict XVI worked on overcoming jet lag from the more than 20-hour flight from the Vatican by strolling through bushland, holding prayers and listening to a septet play Schubert, Schumann and Mozart.

The two events marked the final day before World Youth Day, a Catholic festival that draws hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. The event is expected to take over Sydney for six days—the biggest since the Olympics eight years ago.

The 3,8m cross and a copy of a painting portraying Mary and Jesus landed by ferry at Sydney’s busy Circular Quay, completing a year-long tour of more than 400 communities across Australia from the desert Outback to the tropical north.

It glided past the Sydney’s iconic opera house while pilgrims on board waved to those on shore.

Hundreds of faithful gathered on the wharf burst into applause and belted out Australia’s unofficial anthem, Waltzing Matilda, as the boat docked and the cross was carried off the ferry and into downtown Sydney. Some reached to touch the cross as it passed.

“It means everything to me—it’s the symbol of my faith,” said Linda Wilkins (55), a Sydney office worker who raced down from her high-rise and ducked under a tape meant to keep onlookers away to caress the cross.
“To touch it makes me feel I was an integral part of it.”

Apology for abuse
Benedict has raised expectations that he will apologise directly to victims of past clergy sexual abuse while he is in Australia, telling reporters he will do everything possible to achieve “healing and reconciliation with the victims”. Activists in Australia have demanded the pontiff make a formal apology.

Sydney Archbishop Cardinal George Pell said the church in Australia has apologised to clergy abuse victims a number of times, and is still struggling to help them heal. “That’s the most important thing. Counseling, help, justice,” he said.

Benedict also signalled he will discuss the need to face up to the “great challenge” of caring for the environment, noting that global warming is an issue worrying many young people.

There was a minor security scare at Benedict’s retreat late on Monday, when a police officer in a guard unit accidentally set off what authorities described as a “distraction device”, seriously burning his hands. Deputy Police Commissioner Dave Owens said the pope was never in any danger.

Pell briefly met Benedict at the retreat to discuss World Youth Day, which officially kicks off on Tuesday with a huge outdoor Mass led by the Australian cardinal. The pope starts a busy round of meetings on Thursday, when he will also take a cruise underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge and make a major address. The festival culminates with a papal Mass on Sunday.

Vatican spokesperson Reverend Federico Lombardi said the pope spent the day taking several walks, touching up his speeches for later in the week, and being treated to a concert by seven musicians who played Schumann, Mozart and Schubert.

Mass support
Airports at the biggest cities were jam-packed with pilgrims flying in, and buses and trains were bringing more overland to Sydney.

Thousands of young people were staying in churches and school houses or in volunteers’ homes. Groups of smiling, singing young Christians were everywhere in the city.

At Monday’s procession, groups of volunteers took turns carrying the 40kg cross and 15kg painting along one of Sydney’s main streets, which was closed to traffic. Pilgrims sang Amazing Grace and shouted out Australia’s rallying cry: “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, oi, oi!” Others echoed with, “Holy, holy, holy! Spirit, spirit, spirit!”

Thousands lined the sidewalks as the items were brought to a downtown park, where hundreds of pilgrims lined up to kneel before the cross, place their hands on it and pray.

Stephanie Luna, from Laredo, Texas, was one of many who burst into tears. “We’re homesick and we’re exhausted, but it’s a sacrifice,” said the 18-year-old, who helped carry the cross through Sydney. “It was so beautiful.”

Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, gave the cross to the youth of the world in 1984 to be carried across continents as a symbol of Christ’s love for humanity.—Sapa-AP

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