Message from the Number One pilgrimage group in Sydney - 18 July 2008

 It's official. MAGiS'08 is the number one pilgrimage group at World Youth Days here in Sydney. We are the biggest of the groups and pilgrimages, comprising over 1,400 young adults together with animators, group leaders as well as many generous local volunteers, many of whom are CLC-ers. The whole of MAGiS will begin a journey tomorrow (Saturday) after Eucharist at our parish in North Sydney; a journey that sees as walk across the Harbour Bridge together and on down to Randwick racetrack for the vigil with the Holy Father.

Pope Benedict XVI arrived on that harbour yesterday after what must surely be the most spectacular entrance possible on the planet. It was a glorious Sydney day as he sailed into the harbour, past the Opera House and Circular Quay, then under the Bridge and round the corner into Darling Harbour. The journey of around 40 minutes was seen by tens of thousands, on big screens provided both at the arrival berth and around the city. Quite clearly enjoying himself hugely, as he chatted and joked with the young people selected to join him on his sail, the pictures suggested that the Pontiff was becoming just as excited and overjoyed as the young people.

On landing at Barangaroo, a simple liturgy of welcome was celebrated. The Pope spoke of the gruelling flight he had undertaken, turning into a meditation on, as he suggested, the Genesis story of creation. He pointed out that something had gone badly wrong when the God's beautiful creation had become hostile to us humans; a subtle but clear reference to those who had in recent days questioned his radical stance on climate-change issues. Above all he encouraged the young people to look to Christ as the answer to the questions they had about living, encouraging them to recognise the dangers of a relativism which could never provide those answers even as it claimed to do so. Struggling with a slight cold, the Pontiff concluded with greetings in several different languages, to which, of course, the young people responded wildly.

It may be that these extraordinary scenes have seen off the cynicism and negativity that's been in the air in Sydney this week. Some media outlets have seen fit to stir things up, highlighting traffic and transport chaos (it is, in fact, remarkably smooth) in a sustained "whinge", to use the Aussie term, against World Youth Days. An elderly smiling Pontiff, with a loving message of determined hope, might just have silenced the critics.

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