Pope gets ready to lead World Youth Day

Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday moved to Sydney’s main Catholic Cathedral as he prepared to take charge of World Youth Day, which is expected to bring half-a-million people on to the city’s streets.

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to line Sydney’s harbour and streets on Thursday for the pope’s formal arrival, ahead of a mass that 150 000 pilgrims from around the world are expected to attend, organisers say.

In scenes reminiscent of Australia’s bicentenary in 1988, a massive flotilla will line up to view the 81-year-old’s “boat-a-cade” on Sydney’s world-famous harbour.

The pope will then make his way from Sydney Opera House to a wharf at Barangaroo on the city’s Darling Harbour to address the anticipated 150 000 World Youth Day pilgrims from all over the globe.

“We expect up to half a million, including those in the venue for the pope’s arrival and those lining the streets,” said World Youth Day spokesperson Jim Hanna.

The pope will also hold meetings with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and with governor-general Michael Jeffery at the governor-general’s official residence of Kirribilli, near Sydney Harbour Bridge.

He will also visit the tomb of Mary MacKillop, a nun who Australian Catholics hope will one day become the country’s first saint.

Thousands of foreign Catholics representing all races, continents and cultures, have descended on Sydney this week for the world’s largest Christian festival.

Although a scandal over past sexual abuse by Catholic priests has cast a shadow over the event, the overwhelming atmosphere has been friendly and police say there have been few incidents.

Since his arrival on Sunday, the pope has been holidaying at a retreat run by Catholic organisation Opus Dei on the outskirts of Sydney. On Wednesday, he received a visit there, arranged by zoologists, from a koala and other native Australian wildlife.

Late on Wednesday, the pope moved to the city centre to prepare for the festival’s main events.

He is staying at a lodge next to St Mary’s Catholic cathedral in the company of Australia’s senior Catholic cleric, the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell. He will stay there until his departure on Monday.

The pope begins his day on Thursday with a private mass in the cathedral chapel at 7.30am local time.

He will also make a prayer visit to a chapel in North Sydney dedicated to MacKillop. Born in 1842, MacKillop founded the Sisters of St Joseph in 1866 and died in North Sydney in 1909, where she is buried.

She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in January 1995, after she was credited with curing a woman of leukaemia. She could become Australia’s first saint if another documented miracle can be ascribed to her.

World Youth Day continues over the weekend and culminates on Sunday with an open-air mass at Sydney’s Randwick horse-racing track. — AFP

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