By Paul Gray
American journalist John R Allen calls it the Olympic Games of world religion. Allen calls it “one part worship and one part Woodstock,” and says it’s designed to offer “a rocking rebuttal to impressions that Catholicism is sliding towards oblivion.”
The detailed plans for the World Youth Day 08 festival, released by organizers last week, confirm that Sydney will indeed be transformed into a pulsating mass of youth during the week of Pope Benedict’s visit in July.
In fact, on paper at least, it looks like a Catholic youth takeover of some of the oldest and most famous parts of the year 2000 Olympic city.
Organizers have revealed that the area around Centennial Park and Royal Randwick Racecourse, to the south of Sydney’s historic Central Railway station, will be renamed as “Southern Cross Precinct” for the entire duration of the World Youth Day festival.
Hundreds of thousands of praying Catholics from around Australia and the rest of the world are expected to camp out there with sleeping bags, music and the highest of spirits on Saturday night, July 19.
And the Pope will join them, for a time at least, during the Saturday night vigil.
Earlier that day, the even more iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge will become the scene of the largest ever mass walk of pilgrims in Australian history.
From before 5.30am, youth will begin arriving in North Sydney – itself one of Australia’s busiest central business districts – for the walk south across the Bridge.
They will walk across the water of Sydney Harbour, through the heart to Sydney and finally come to Southern Cross for their once-in-a-lifetime gathering with the Pope.
A papal motorcade will commence at 9am Sunday within Centennial Park, leading to Pope’s arrival at the altar within Randwick Racecourse for Mass beginning at 10am.
When the Mass concludes, the host city for the next World Youth Day will be announced.
The six-day festival will commence on Tuesday July 15 with Mass celebrated in the late afternoon by Cardinal George Pell at Barangaroo, a newly named precinct within the popular tourist location of Darling Harbour.
Pope Benedict himself will arrive at Barangaroo via a “boat-a-cade” from Sydney Harbour on Thursday July 16 at 2.45pm.
Next day, Friday July 18, the Stations of the Cross will be held at three locations across the city, St Mary’s Cathedral, Darling Harbour and the Sydney Opera House forecourt, from the traditional time of 3pm.
Other youth festival events will be held around Sydney until 10pm each day from Tuesday to Friday, except during the Cardinal’s Mass and the events involving the Pope.
Catechesis sessions will be held at more than 250 locations around the city from Wednesday to Friday.