World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, Australia, will feature the biggest one-day event in the country’s history, even surpassing any single element of the Sydney 2000 Olympics, according to Cardinal George Pell of Sydney.

Speaking to the Register April 7, the Archbishop of Sydney said organizers are expecting 400,000-500,000 pilgrims at the final Mass.

“That will be bigger than any single event at the Olympics, which were such a huge success in Australia and so well-received by the public,” said Cardinal Pell. And he predicts World Youth Day 2008 will be just as well received by Aussies.

Amanda Vanstone, Australia’s ambassador to Italy, told a press conference in Rome that “an infectious wave of enthusiasm has engulfed not only Catholic parishes and organizations, but also swept up federal, state, and local government authorities, media agencies, local businesses and ordinary people.”

Final preparations are under way for the event, which runs July 15-20. The event’s organizers made one of their last trips to Rome earlier this month to coordinate with officials at the Pontifical Council for the Laity. Danny Casey, chief operating officer of WYD 2008, said preparations were “going very well.”

Said Casey, “We recently signed off on all our final event plans, we’ve developed a final work schedule for the last 100 days, and we’re tracking very, very well towards that.”

The main part of World Youth Day begins after four days of cultural exchange in local dioceses. Cardinal Pell will open the event July 15 with a large open-air Mass.

Also beginning around this time will be catechesis sessions every morning, and Youth Festival events in the afternoon that will continue throughout the event.

On July 17th, Pope Benedict XVI will arrive in a spectacular fashion: the organizers have arranged that he enter Sydney Harbor on a “Boat-a-Cade,” along with a flotilla of 13 vessels, and come ashore at Barangaroo for an official welcoming ceremony.

A form of welcome reserved for Australia’s most distinguished visitors, the Barangaroo also will allow offer a vantage point for thousands of people to see the Pope.

The following evening, youth are invited to participate in the Stations of the Cross, and on July 19, participants will make a pilgrimage to an evening vigil with the Holy Father at the Randwick Racecourse in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. It’s expected many will spend the night sleeping under the stars.

The following morning, Benedict will celebrate the closing Mass of World Youth Day 2008.

The organizers expect large numbers of pilgrims from all over the world. So far 168,000 non-Australians have registered on the event website (wyd2008.org).

The Australian government has made it easy for pilgrims to obtain visas: Normal administrative charges have been waived and, for some nationalities, pilgrims can apply for visas online. The government is advising all those wishing to attend the event to register as soon as possible on the WYD website.

A large contingent is expected from Italy, including at least 40 of the country’s bishops. “We expect that number to grow,” said Father Nicolo Anselmi, World Youth Day representative for the Italian bishops’ conference. “World Youth Day is very important for the Italian Church and there are young people coming from every region in Italy.”

Italians practically outnumbered their fellow German pilgrims at the last World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, in 2005. And this year, they will have the bonus of a warm welcome from Australia’s large Italian immigrant community that numbers almost one million.

“After every World Youth Day, all the churches are renewed, so that with the help of the Holy Spirit, we will be able to continue running towards Jesus,” said Father Anselmi.

The Australian government is eager to point out that welcoming foreign visitors is part of its national character.

“If we take pilgrim in its Latin sense of ‘foreigner’ or someone who passes a frontier, you will also find yourself among a society of some 20 million pilgrims,” said Ambassador Vanstone. “As Australians, we never forget that we are an immigrant country.”

Ambassador Vanstone said the government is doing everything possible “to make sure those who make the decision to come to Australia are received with the warmth and friendliness Australians are famous for.”

Cardinal Pell has a simple wish for the event.

“I hope it will make young Australians even better, and that for young Catholics, it will strengthen their faith,” he said. “It’s a Catholic celebration but every young Australian will be welcome and I hope with the other young Australians it will strengthen their goodness, give them something to think about, and show them what Christian teaching has to offer.”


Edward Pentin writes

from Rome.