By Sylvia Defendi
Remember all the bad press in the lead-up to World Youth Day?
Randwick was going to close its gates to pilgrims, the government had wasted too many taxpayer dollars, pilgrims were going to annoy and most importantly, road-closures were going to be too much to handle. Every major media outlet had a bone to pick.
I went to Sydney filled with pre-WYD media slogans and in all the confusion, pilgrims and events to attend failed to realise that the city had back-flipped overnight.
Suddenly I saw the Pope’s smiling face plastered across every NSW newspaper with slogans declaring that Sydney welcomed the Pope to its shores and even ‘loved’ him.
Channel 7 declared itself the station for a comprehensive report on WYD, with Channel 9 doing the same – to name a few.
Television news reporters spoke of a thriving Sydney alive with youthful exuberance. Australian media had suddenly decided WYD was an event worth talking about and that it wasn’t as bad as they had previously declared.
But it wasn’t just a media façade – Sydney welcomed pilgrims with open arms.
At the Opening Mass interested onlookers lined the barricades to watch the event and did not budge throughout the entire two hours. As hordes of pilgrims walked across busy intersections locals smiled and tooted their horns.
By mid-week unregistered people were even turning up to participate in the multicultural public festivals held across the city.
Suddenly Sydney residents had decided that pilgrims were not as annoying as they previously assumed. In fact far from being annoyed by pilgrims, some Sydney residents couldn’t get enough.
Shop fronts sported an array of ‘WYD specials’ and an SBS news report spoke of pilgrims ‘buying-up big.’
Sydney had suddenly decided that it was a good decision to inject government funds into the international event.
Looking back I can’t say I expected such a turn-around in public perception, but seasoned WYD pilgrims assure me it is not the first time a country has been pleasantly surprised.
Perhaps these ‘subtle’ changes are a small proportion of the many to come as secular Australia sees a side to the faith it had never before witnessed.