Nearly 150,000 young people from all over the world have gathered in Sydney, Australia to meet, learn, share their faith…and to get an experience of the Pope up close and personal.
While there are plenty of scheduled events to attend, the most compelling aspect of World Youth Day is easily the opportunity to interact with so many different young adults from all over the globe. On the afternoon of the event’s opening I had the chance to interview some young women from Tonga—a group of islands in the southwest Pacific—about the challenges of integrating their faith and Tongan culture. (Hear the interview here.)
My companions from Chicago and I ran off to the Opening Ceremonies later in the day and heard a surprisingly religious welcome from Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. He began his address to the pilgrims by saying: “Some say that faith is irrelevant in the 21st Century…I say they are wrong. Some say that faith and reason cannot live together. I say again, they are wrong.”
The Prime Minister went on to praise the work that the Catholic Church has done in with the poor, specifically their work in schools, hospitals, and offering places of refuge to those in need.
The Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell set off a small firestorm of controversy this morning by starting off matters in this largely secular country with a staunch pro-life message. All the local papers characterized it as “populate or perish.” “No Western country is producing enough babies to keep the population stable” the Archbishop said. “Ruthless commercial forces are telling young people that this is the way forward, this is the modern way and they remain totally silent of the difficulties and damage this does to marriage and family life.”
While he challenged Catholics to turn away from a contraceptive mentality and to have more children, many pilgrims here in Sydney, who agree with the heart of the Cardinal’s message questioned if the timing of his words at the start of World Youth Day was necessary.
Regardless, they came out in full force at Barangaroo for mass with the Cardinal this afternoon:
Video 1 Arriving at Barangaroo
Video 2 Pilgrims singing on opening day
Check back every day for more reports concentrating on where young adults find God working in their lives and their challenges with faith in their home country…so stay tuned.