By Anthony Barich
SYDNEY, Australia, JULY 19, 2008 (Zenit.org).- A sea of candles covered Randwick Racecourse as over 235,000 World Youth Day pilgrims listened to Benedict XVI’s message on the importance of unity and reconciliation.
Pilgrims began arriving before noon to Randwick on Saturday in Sydney, which has capacity for 300,000 people. After only a few hours, barely a blade of grass could be seen as pilgrims stood, knelt, sat and lay on their sleeping bags, blankets and pillows.
As the pilgrims waited for the Pope’s scheduled 7 p.m. arrival they contemplated his daily World Youth Day text message: “Dear friend, u must be holy & u must be missionary: never separate holiness from mission – BXVI.”
The Holy Father arrived to the venue a little ahead of the appointed hour, despite making a late addition to his schedule to visit St. Joseph’s Home in Randwick, run by the Little Sisters of the Poor.
The Pope met with Cardinal Edward Bede Clancy, the retired archbishop of Sydney, and 92-year-old Rosemarie Goldie, the Sydney-born former undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.
The prayer vigil began with the racecourse in darkness, gradually illuminated by torches borne by dancers on the podium, representing the opening to the Holy Spirit.
The World Youth Day cross and flag were positioned on the stage in anticipation of Benedict XVI’s arrival, who entered accompanied by 12 pilgrims while the assembly sang the hymn “Our Lady of the Southern Cross.”
An indigenous woman lit the candles carried by the 12 pilgrims, who in their turn lit those of the assembly and of the bishops. Seven young people then invoked the Holy Spirit through the intercession of the patrons of World Youth Day.
Pilgrims too far from the stage viewed proceedings on the 35 video screens around the Southern Cross Precinct that includes Randwick Racecourse and Centennial Park. The latter was not used for the vigil, but will be filled for Sunday’s closing Mass.
Benedict XVI spoke to the youth on how to become witnesses, and spoke of the importance of such a task as “you are already well aware that our Christian witness is offered to a world which in many ways is fragile.”
Unity, the Pope said, is the key to changing the world.
“Unity and reconciliation cannot be achieved through our efforts alone. God has made us for one another and only in God and his Church can we find the unity we seek,” he said.
The Pontiff, who has previously warned about the “dictatorship of relativism,” warned the pilgrims that it will hinder their capacity for good, achieved through unity.
“By its nature, relativism fails to see the whole picture. It ignores the very principles which enable us to live and flourish in unity, order and harmony,” he said. “Unity is the essence of the Church; it is a gift we must recognize and cherish.”
Benedict XVI encouraged the young people to nurture unity and “resist any temptation to walk away, for it is precisely the comprehensiveness, the vast vision of our faith — solid yet open, consistent yet dynamic, true yet constantly growing in insight – that we can offer our world.”
He asked, “Is it not because of your faith that friends in difficulty or seeking meaning in their lives have turned to you?”
Having concluded his remarks, 24 catechumens were presented to the Holy Father, who will receive the sacrament of confirmation from the Pope at the closing Mass on Sunday.
Once the Pope departed, the pilgrims recited an international rosary.
Adoration tents were constantly full all night as the youth continued to keep the vigil for the closing Mass with the Holy Father. Four tents were set up around Randwick, run by the Missionaries of Charity, the Emmanuel Community, the Schonstatt movement and the apostolic movement Youth 2000.
Under the stars
Those not praying or receiving the sacrament of reconciliation huddled in their blankets and foldout tents before sleeping out in anticipation of the final youth day event.
Despite temperatures dipping to 51 degrees Fahrenheit, the pilgrims weren’t complaining.
Rellie Irung, 20, from Papua New Guinea, told ZENIT she was so eager to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit that the cold didn’t bother her.
“We don’t mind being cold, because we’re happy to receive the Holy Spirit,” Irung said. “It’s very special for us to come together with so many from around the world to share our faith; but most importantly, we are here to meet the Pope and receive his message, so we can be witnesses when we go back home to our own country.”
23-year-old Sydneysiders Audrey Echevarria, Ellen McFarlane and Daniel Little said they took spent their time listening to stories of struggle from young Catholics from around the globe.
“The fact that so many people have sacrificed so much and traveled so far has really amazed us,” McFarlane said. “It’s important for young Australians that we have a sense of unity in your faith.”
“We’ve been taught it all our lives, but now we have a clearer idea of what the universal nature of the Catholic faith is, and now it has solidified our own faith,” said Little.
“There is a fair amount of hostility to Christianity in Australia, especially in Sydney, but knowing that not everyone dislikes Catholicism gives us courage to be able to speak about our faith in public,” Echevarria said.
“Being a Catholic takes a lot of courage,” she added, “it means you need to make a choice yourself about how you want to live your life, and this event helps us do that.”