‘The World Is Coming!’

It’s almost a year away, but preparations are well underway for World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, Register senior writer Tim Drake reports from Down Under.

(photo: World Youth Day (Tim Drake))

SYDNEY — Behind the scenes here in Australia’s largest city, planning and preparations are at a fever pitch for an event 300 days away.

World Youth Day July 15-20, 2008, is already a presence here, and it’s on the minds of everyone you meet in Catholic circles.

At Men’s Shed, a social service program for retirees at the Mary MacKillop Outreach Center run by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a group of volunteers gathers several days each week to make and stamp the hundreds of thousands of handmade wooden crosses that will be distributed to pilgrims.

The wooden sections of the cross are cut, drilled, and individually stamped with an adapted World Youth Day logo before being boxed up into cartons of 14,000. The volunteers have been working on them since January. A thermometer on the wall logs their progress — 226,200 have been made to date.

The volunteers speak of their devotion to the cross that called them to become involved in the project. James Robert first became involved after hearing Gary Greinke, Men’s Shed coordinator, ask for help from the pulpit following an evening Mass at St. Vincent’s Catholic Church in Ashbury last March.

“As a child, I was very committed to the Holy Cross. On Fridays I would pray before the cross,” said Robert, a fitter machinist who is drilling holes into the top of each cross to accommodate a string. “It’s only because of the crosses that I am doing this.”

Philomena Sequeire, formerly from southern India, sat stamping each tiny cross individually.

“I love to do this,” said Sequeire. She said that before she started coming she was experiencing pain in her arms. Since she began volunteering on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, she said that the pain has disappeared. “I feel like coming here. When I do, I feel happiness.”

Preparations big and small have been underway for the past two years, and organizers admit that they are surprised by the response they have already received.

“I’ve been quite surprised by the response. There are more South Americans and North Americans coming than we thought,” said Geoff Morris, director of pilgrim services for World Youth Day 2008, at a briefing for international print journalists Sept. 17. “The response from Oceania and Australia has also been higher than expected. This is probably the only chance that people in Oceania will ever get to go to World Youth Day.”

To date, 204,000 pilgrims from 150 countries have registered for what will be the 10th International World Youth Day. Of the total, 140,000 are coming from outside Australia. So far, the countries with the highest number of registered pilgrims include Australia with 63,000, the U.S. with 37,000, Italy with 19,000, Germany with 9,500 and New Zealand with 8,000.

Originally, organizers expected that U.S. registrations would be somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000. Morris is encouraging pilgrims to think early about how to get to Australia. The numbers will place an increased demand on the major airline serving Australia, Qantas.

Book Early

“The key will be to book early, book early, book early,” said Morris.

The reward for pilgrims who register will be their admittance into Randwick for Saturday evening’s vigil with Pope Benedict XVI and Sunday morning’s Mass.

Organizers expect that the racecourse will be able to hold approximately 400,000 people. Overflow will be directed into nearby Centennial Park, where visitors will be able to participate in the Mass via multiple large screen televisions.

Organizers are hopeful the event will have a lasting impact on the Church regionally.

“In Australia, there are only 7,000 young people who have been to World Youth Day,” said Steve Lawrence, director of evangelization and catechesis for WYD. “Now they’re hosting.”

“We’re trying to renew the Church in our area,” added Danny Casey, WYD chief operating officer. “In 50 years’ time, people will be able to look back and see how lucky they were to be a part of this.”

The energy and excitement in Sydney are palpable.

“At first we wondered. We’re a long way away. Will the young people come?” said Bishop Peter Ingham. The diocese he heads, Wollongong, some 60 miles south of Sydney, is expecting to host approximately 10,000 international visitors during the four days leading up to WYD (known as Days in the Dioceses).

Said Bishop Ingham: “This will be the largest number of visitors at any one time in the history of our region.”

Tim Drake filed this story on

location in Sydney.