19-July-2008 -- ZENIT.org News Agency |

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Pilgrims Journey to Vigil Site, Sleep-Out

By Catherine Smibert

SYDNEY, Australia, JULY 18, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The part of World Youth Day that most resembles a traditional pilgrimage is under way -- hundreds of thousands are walking toward Randwick Racecourse where the vigil with the Pope and closing Mass will take place.

Over 200,000 pilgrims traversed about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) of Sydney on foot, starting from its north side, crossing Harbor Bridge and moving around Darling Harbor as they headed to Randwick Racecourse. The site has been converted into a massive outdoor cathedral ready for Saturday's vigil and Sunday's Mass with Benedict XVI.

The first pilgrims set out from their sleeping spots as early as 4 a.m. Saturday morning local time for a walk that began at 5:30. Some extra walkers were drawn in along the way by the infectiously uplifted spirits.

New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma was found with the pilgrims along the route. He told ZENIT that "World Youth Day has been a real awakening because I don't think people really understood what it was about."

"It's woken people up to the role faith can play and the impact it can have in building understanding and peace, and has been an example to us and the world of the role that faith can play in goodness," he added.

Iemma said that Sydney does not want the Youth Day spirit to end on Sunday.

"These youth say they're astounded by the beauty of Sydney -- but these same people have already left a great impression on us in return, and we'd like to keep those lines of communication open beyond just this week."

Papal tribute

The leader added that he attributes a lot of the success of the event to the Pope himself.

"Pope Benedict says he's been bolstered by the reception he's had and he's been impressed with the welcome and the organization, but I believe the reception is a tribute to his success and messages."

The message is getting through. Nineteen-year-old Sydneysider Lydia MacDonald admitted that she was originally skeptical and critical of the event and the supposed "discomfort" it would bring her daily life. Now she finds herself caught up in the streams of pilgrims.

She told ZENIT: "I'll probably go to church more because I've seen the energy of the living faith now."

As the pilgrims snaked over Sydney's streets on the last leg of their journey, the general consensus was that the walk was more joyful and unifying than what they had imagined.

Organizational success

Walking with the youth on Harbor Bridge, ZENIT caught up with Deputy Premier and Minister of Transport John Watkins, who expressed his satisfaction at the results of years of planning.

"With known numbers of 125,000 international visitors, plus up to 80,000 national travelers, plus the great unknown of up to 300,000 Sydneysiders, it's like putting on five or six New Years Eve's per day, but the buses and trains have done a great job," said Watkins. "What we've seen is not only functionality from all transport systems, but we have received so much from the activities and well-mannered pilgrims themselves -- it's been very positive for our city -- we've really embraced this event. It's changed the nature of the way this city is."

Watkins' sentiments were echoed by local police. "I've never seen a crowd like this, it's even better than an Olympic crowd," New South Wales police Commissioner Andrew Scipione told the Herald Sun today. "Hundreds of thousands of young people moving through the city not affected by drugs and alcohol has been such a wonderful experience."

As the pilgrims approach Randwick, they will see seven banners motivating them on their journey -- each one depicting one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Pilgrims were also encouraged to bring warm gear for the sleep-out at the racecourse as winter night temperatures were expected to fall to 7░ Celsius (about 44░ Fahrenheit).

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