By Carmen Elena Villa
ROME, APRIL 8, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Even in a secularized country like Australia, the World Youth Day in Sydney last year continues to bear fruit inside and outside the Church, says Cardinal George Pell.
The archbishop of Sydney affirmed this about the July event in his presentation during a gathering of World Youth Day organizers, held in Rome last Friday through Sunday.
In this congress, 150 leaders of various dioceses, episcopal conferences and ecclesial movements gathered in order to evaluate the last youth day and to prepare for the 2011 event in Madrid.
Cardinal Pell noted that after the youth day, in his country where only 28% of the population is Catholic, “Many people in Sydney saw the Catholic Church in a different light.”
Many Australians who had seen the Church as “traditional, conservative, somewhat closed, institutional and old-fashioned,” changed their opinions, he affirmed. After the youth day, they saw the Church “come alive in the public eye,” and they recognized it as “international, open and engaging with the young people in the streets.”
The cardinal described some important moments in the event, such as the Way of the Cross, in which many Australians “were pleasantly surprised to find the thousands of young so happy, living life well as believers, living in friendship and prayer.”
He added, “This made many of them think about Christ once again and in a new light.”
He affirmed that the police were also surprised at the good behavior of the young people in the streets of Sydney during those days.
The cardinal noted that before the event, youth groups in the Sydney parishes were scarce. In the years before the youth day, the archdiocese trained 600 university student leaders that worked with the pilgrims in 51 schools around the city, and now are engaged in the follow-up activities of the event.
He stated “Many parish ethnic youth groups and movement youth groups have already started planning and raising money to attend the World Youth Day in Madrid 2011.”
Cardinal Pell added, “The relationship between young people and their priests has been strengthened.”
Another result, he observed, is that many adults were strengthened in their faith thanks to the testimony of the youth. He reported that many families that welcomed pilgrims into their homes decided to become Catholic.
The cardinal stated that “in Catholic school communities, the teachers have shown a greater interest in school retreats.”
Even a year after this youth day, he said, “The Holy Father, as a successor of St. Peter, continues to play the priority human role of unity in the Church.”
He described the online social networking site, Xt3.com, that his archdiocese opened after the World Youth Day, noting that 48,000 members currently use it to share their experiences of Christian life after this event.
As well, the archdiocese of Sydney inaugurated a retreat center named after Benedict XVI, with the goal of gathering new leaders in the faith, youth as well as adults, affirmed Cardinal Pell.
After his presentation, the cardinal told ZENIT: “It was a privilege to host World Youth Day 2008. It cost a lot of money, a lot of effort, but it was a huge privilege and honor to do so.”