SYDNEY -- "G'day Mate" has been the frequent greeting for the past 10 days since I arrived in Australia for meetings with the leaders of the Australian Catholic Church and government authorities "down under" in preparation for the next World Youth Day celebrations, set for July 15-20, 2008.
Spending these days with them gave me an opportunity to relive many of the significant moments we knew in Canada in 2000-2002 as we prepared to host World Youth Day in Toronto.
Sydney can be described as the capital of the Oceania region. It is truly a beautiful city, built on a stunning harbour with its signature bridge; an area with a temperate climate and excellent facilities which were showcased at the 2000 Olympics.
My hosts apologized several times for the "cool" weather, as it is the middle of the Australian winter. But if this is winter, I will take it any day! The temperature during the day is between 25-28C, with pleasant cool breezes at night.
Never before has a World Youth Day been held in Oceania, and only once has it been held in the southern hemisphere (Argentina in 1987). For the past week I have had the privilege of meeting the entire WYD 2008 staff -- a very fine, competent team with infectious enthusiasm and tremendous goodwill, who have studied the Toronto 2002 WYD in great detail.
Among the highlights of Sydney's WYD will be Pope Benedict XVI's ceremonial arrival on a boat, surrounded by a flotilla of small boats carrying the young people of Oceania and the rest of the world. As well, there will be a majestic Stations of the Cross through the core of the city, modeled after the great event on University Avenue in Toronto on July 26, 2002. In Sydney's version, the harbour, the famous Opera House and the magnificent Gothic Revival sandstone cathedral of St. Mary will be the backdrop.
Earlier this past week I addressed a meeting here of heads of governmental departments of the state of New South Wales, where most of the WYD events will take place. It was an impressive gathering of political and bureaucratic officials who will play key roles in making the event happen. I told them about the extraordinary co-operation we received in Canada from officials at all three levels of government.
In addition to the events in Sydney, young Catholics will be able to experience the pre-World Youth Day activities known as "Days in the Dioceses," in which pilgrims stay with families or parishes throughout the host country to learn more about the place they are visiting. The 24 dioceses of Australia will be joined by the six New Zealand dioceses in hosting visitors.
The first European explorers called Australia "the southern land of the Holy Spirit." Therefore it is quite fitting that the theme for the 2008 gathering is "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses" (taken from Acts of the Apostles 1:8).
The WYD 2008 Web site -- wyd2008.org -- offers preparatory materials for parishes, schools and individuals planning to join in, as well as an opportunity for those who cannot travel to Australia to share in the preparations.