SYDNEY, Australia — When registration for next year’s World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, opened up last month, some 16,000 pilgrims signed up in the first 10 days.

The event, which will be Pope Benedict XVI’s first visit to Australia, is less than 500 days away. But organizers expect more than half a million people at Pope Benedict’s final Mass, and they’re busy making preparations.

And, for many Americans hoping to go to the event, it’s not too early to start fundraising. The countdown has begun in dioceses from Juneau, to Arlington.

On March 2, World Youth Day organizers began accepting online registrations from pilgrims for the July 15-20, 2008 event. Approximately half were from Australia. The rest were from 41 other nations.

“This is a fabulous response, given that World Youth Day 2008 is still well over a year away,” said Jim Hanna, director of communications for World Youth Day.

Organizers opened registration earlier than is normal for World Youth Day because of the distance pilgrims must travel and the extra planning required.

“It’s a long way to Australia from other parts of the world; you can’t just get on a bus in Warsaw and drive here,” said Cardinal George Pell of Sydney. “Our wish is to avoid a situation as occurred when Rome hosted World Youth Day 2000 and three quarters of a million pilgrims decided to come in the last three weeks.”

In order to allow visitors to explore more of the country, the government is granting all World Youth Day participants free three-month visas.

“A three-month visa will allow those visitors to explore more of Australia while they’re here, and allows other parts of the country to share in the hosting of World Youth Day,” said Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile when he announced the government’s decision.

Organizers expect at least 150,000 international visitors, with more than 500,000 participants for Pope Benedict XVI’s final Mass. They estimate that 2,000 clergy will be present.

World Youth Day has been held since 1986, when the first was held in Rome. It is celebrated at the diocesan level in Rome annually. The major international celebration is held every 2-3 years in a different host city. Sydney marks the 23rd celebration of World Youth Day, and the 10th international celebration.

This will be the second time the event has been held in the Pacific region. World Youth Day was held in Manila in 1995. It will be Pope Benedict’s first visit to Australia and the first papal visit to the country in 13 years. The event’s theme is taken from Acts 1:3: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses.”


Pope Benedict is expected to arrive on Thursday, July 17. Mirroring his arrival by boat in Cologne, Germany, during World Youth Day 2005, it is expected that Pope Benedict will make his formal World Youth Day arrival by boat in Sydney Harbor.

Aside from the final Papal Mass, another highlight of World Youth Day is Friday evening’s Way of the Cross — an elaborate re-enactment of the passion and death of Jesus Christ. In 2002, the World Youth Day Way of the Cross was held in downtown Toronto, attracting viewers from apartment, office and hospital windows all along the city’s main thoroughfare.

WYD 2008 has appointed Father Franco Cavarra as the creative director for the Stations of the Cross. Prior to his ordination in 1998, Father Cavarra was a freelance stage director of opera and drama.

“He brings to the World Youth Day his experience as a priest and his extensive training and skill in events and the arts,” said Bishop Anthony Fisher, coordinator of WYD08. “This combination will ensure the Stations of the Cross will be a truly memorable occasion for the youth of the world.” Father Cavarra said that he planned to hold open auditions for the roles in Sydney this spring.

“I believe that the Way of the Cross undertaken by Jesus can be an enduring and inspiring parable for the journey of life for many of us,” said Father Cavarra.

While most of the event’s venues have not yet been finalized, the overnight vigil on Saturday and the final Mass on Sunday morning will take place at Randwick Racecourse located just six miles from Sydney’s central business district. Randwick can accommodate 400,000 people, while another 200,000 can be part of the final Mass at nearby Centennial Park via video link.

A key consideration in the selection of the site was available transportation.

“The proximity of city railway stations…means that people can move to Randwick Racecourse at the rate of 70,000 per hour,” said Cardinal Pell. “While there may be larger sites in Sydney, none could transport people at anything like that rate.”


Preparations in Australia are well under way. This July, the World Youth Day Cross and the Icon of Our Lady will arrive in Australia, making its way around the country, visiting each of Australia’s dioceses before arriving in Sydney, along with hundreds of thousands of young adults, in July 2008.

Canberra Archbishop Mark Coleridge has launched a six-member live-in World Youth Day community at Corpus Christi parish in South Tuggeranong in preparation for the event.

The six-member team is living in separate male and female houses, assisting the priests with evangelization and putting into place programs to help the parish reap the benefits of World Youth Day.

Bishop Fisher has also called on youth to volunteer for an intensive three-month formation program to prepare for World Youth Day. Currently being held in suburban Sydney, the Youth Leaders Formation Course is designed to train youth leaders from ages 18 to 30 who want to serve local and national preparations in leading others prior to and at World Youth Day 2008.

“It’s our intention that this course will further Christian growth and leadership, not only among course participants but also in the communities to which they return,” said Bishop Fisher. “Australian Bishops, theologians, philosophers, priests, youth ministers, artists, reporters and politicians — all passionate about guiding youth leaders on the path to WYD08 — will take part in the course.”

This summer, the Archdiocese of Sydney is bringing in teachers from the Maryland-based Association of Catechumenal Ministry (ACM) to help train parishes in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

“Cardinal Pell sent someone to observe our seminars in England,” explained Bill Keimig, director of ACM. “There are typically many converts following World Youth Day. Cardinal Pell said, ‘We need our parishes ready to receive them, and many are not.”

Youth elsewhere are finding innovative ways to finance their trips.

In Malta, the Maltese Catholic Youth Commission has established a special World Youth Day bank account in partnership with a local bank to provide an incentive for young people to save enough money to attend the event.

Youth — more than 28 at last count — at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Fairfax, Va. are selling cookbooks, doing a ride-a-thon, and assisting parishioners with home and yard care in order to raise the $2,400 per pilgrim necessary for the trip.

“We want to make sure that the teens understand that this isn’t a vacation,” Kevin Bohli, director of the Office of Youth Ministry for the Diocese of Arlington, Va., told the Arlington Catholic Herald. “It’s a spiritual journey. We’re not just going to see the Pope. We’re going to the foot of the cross.”

Tim Drake writes from

St. Joseph, Minnesota.