By Catherine Smibert
SYDNEY, Australia, JULY 21, 2008 (Zenit.org).- As Benedict XVI left Sydney on Monday morning, newspapers, radio and television reports were filled with comments about the World Youth Day success and the mark the Pope was leaving on Australia.
ZENIT got a few perspectives from a variety of Australians involved in the event.
After saying good-bye to the Bishop of Rome, Cardinal George Pell held a press conference at the World Youth Day International Media Center in Darling Harbor.
He suggested that the event gave the Church a new standing in the public sphere. Regarding life issues, for instance, the cardinal contended that the public will be more ready to realize “that we Catholics have something to say on those subjects and will potentially give us a respectful hearing.”
The archbishop of Sydney added, “This World Youth Day has demonstrated that the great majority of Australians are quite open to what we have to say.”
“They might disagree with us,” he acknowledged, “but they recognize us as being in the mainstream of Australian life; that religious considerations are important; people need meaning and purpose; and that overwhelmingly, people recognize the necessity of being open to the transcendent.”
The prelate added, “In the past, we Catholics might have been too interested just in ourselves. Now we are saying very clearly we have something to offer to the rest of the Australian population.”
Auxiliary Bishop Julian Porteous of Sydney reflected on the reverence the young people showed during the week. He suggested one of the highlights of World Youth Day was something that received relatively little attention: the morning catechesis sessions. These sessions, which ran Tuesday through Saturday, brought prelates and youth together for teaching, questions-and-answers and Mass.
“All the bishops noted how responsive the young people were in the catechesis situations and also the times like adoration and the final Stations of the Cross,” Bishop Porteous said. “The young people were deeply engrossed and reverent.
“We feel that there’s a new depth of Church experience for young people that’s already springing out, which gives us great hope for the fruitfulness.”
He added that the Sydney event once again proved that World Youth Days “really have a capacity to effectively engage at a pastoral and spiritual level with young people.”
Benedict XVI announced Sunday that the next World Youth Day will be hosted by Madrid, Spain, in 2011.
The real story
Bishop Porteous, who is the director of Sydney’s Good Shepherd Seminary, pointed out that not all press reports have been positive, but he suggested that certain journalistic spins were simply inaccurate. For example, the prelate noted, some international agencies presented the quiet at the final Mass as a certain coldness.
But, he said, 400,000 people in silence was simply reverence. After Communion at the closing Mass, an announcement was made that there would be a few moments of silence since the faithful had just received the Lord.
The bishop told ZENIT the story of a youth who approached him to say the Holy Father’s homily had had a deep impact on him.
“I noticed some criticism from the secular reports about the Pope’s homily being ‘too theological,’ [saying that it] risked being lost on the youth,” Bishop Porteous said. “But this young person was adamant that perhaps the journalists weren’t in tune as much with what the Pope had to say because they were listening to it with different ears.
“He said, ‘We are the audience and therefore we received and welcomed the Holy Father’s words.'”
On his way to the airport, Monsignor Francis Kohn director of the youth section at the Pontifical Council for the Laity, told ZENIT that he was genuinely thankful to the host nation.
“It’s clear that the youth are happy and content,” he said. “The events were stimulating and faith-filled. I believe that we’ve seen a new Pentecost during this time, and that the youth seem prepared to respond to the call of this Pope to be witnesses. So we are enthused and excited about the effect the events had on them and the fruits that are yet to come.”
Once a month
The youth didn’t impress Catholic leaders alone. Their influence crossed religious and social boundaries.
New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said that statistically, Sydney’s crime rate this week was the lowest it’s been in a long time. He attributed that to the presence of the pilgrims and a general “sense of spirituality” in the air. He told Sky News that extra police forces on hand seemed almost unnecessary, since the pilgrims were well-mannered and well-behaved.
Alex Dorcas, who owns a restaurant on Macquarie Street, where the popemobile passed, told ZENIT that the youth event inspires unity, a comment the Pope would have been glad to hear. The Holy Father met with Christian leaders at an ecumenical meeting on Friday.
“Though I’m Orthodox,” Dorcas said, “I have seen from the gentility and spark of these young people who came into my restaurant over these days, that the faith is alive and well, and that this sort of event breeds new opportunities for unity — I wish we could have one a month!”
Before leaving Australia, Benedict XVI had a special word of thanks for those Sydneysiders who hosted pilgrims in their homes. Elizabeth Wheeler was one of them, hosting two pilgrims.
She told ZENIT during the Holy Father’s “thank you” event that it was “an honor to have been able to partake in the celebrations through the gift of Christian hospitality.”
“It’s equally humbling for the Pope to be here in the Domain thanking us, as what all of us did just feels like a natural extension of what we should be doing anyway,” Wheeler added.
Carmen Alberto worked as a volunteer behind the scenes at World Youth Day, helping with the database for event accreditation. She said that despite the intensity of the week, she wouldn’t have declined the opportunity to be a part of the experience: “It represented the little I could do to ensure the well-being of pilgrims and the correct functionality of something that has the capacity to change the face of the world.”