Tens of thousands of Catholic pilgrims from around the world crammed onto the waterfront of Sydney's famous harbor yesterday, waving flags of their home countries and singing as they awaited a Mass opening the World Youth Day festival.
Pope Benedict XVI arrived on Sunday, and was resting at a secluded retreat on the outskirts of Sydney until tomorrow, when he starts a busy round of meetings, takes a cruise on Sydney Harbor and addresses the pilgrims. The festival culminates with a papal Mass on Sunday.
Aboriginal Australians in traditional clothing and white body paint danced and chanted to the unique strains of a didgeridoo in a welcoming ceremony at Barangaroo, along the harbor.
"Some say there is no place for faith in the 21st century. I say they are wrong," Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said to cheers from the pilgrims, most dressed in World Youth Day's bright yellow and red colors.
"You are welcome guests in our land. May each of you be enriched by your time here among us in Australia, just as you enrich Australia by your time here with us," he said.
Rudd welcomed the legions in various languages, including Korean, Tagalog and Bahasa Indonesian.
Nearly 250,000 people have registered for World Youth Day, more than half of them from overseas. Thousands of young people were staying in churches and school houses or in volunteers' homes, and were visible throughout the city, hoisting their official yellow, red and orange backpacks.
The six-day celebration began at midnight, when a giant countdown clock ticked over to read "G'Day Pilgrims" - Good Day, Pilgrims - drawing wild cheers from the people who gathered at St. Mary's Cathedral.
Registered pilgrims received the first of daily inspirational text messages from the pope: "Young friend, God and his people expect much from u because u have within you the Fathers supreme gift: the Spirit of Jesus - BXVI."
Every evening during the event, a light show of 20 images of the pope and the Australian outback will be projected on a pylon of Sydney's Harbor Bridge.
(China Daily via agencies July 16, 2008)