12 Jul 2008

Catholic pilgrims prepared for 'once in lifetime' visit

6:40 pm on 12 July 2008

From the convents of Hong Kong to the parish halls of Vanuatu, Catholic pilgrims worldwide have long been preparing for Australia's "once in a lifetime" papal visit.

Thousands of young pilgrims have already spent the night "camping" indoors at Sydney's Olympic Park, ahead of Pope Benedict XVI's arrival on Sunday.

The pontiff will touch down at Sydney's RAAF base about 3pm local time and rest for four nights after completing the longest international flight of his life before leading the six-day World Youth Day event.

Tens of thousands of international and local Catholic pilgrims continue to flood into Sydney in preparation for the Pope's official welcome to the city on Thursday.

The final Papal Mass at Sydney's Randwick Racecourse is expected to attract more than 500,000 people, including about 125,000 international pilgrims, organisers say.

In Sydney's west, more than 3,000 teenage pilgrims braved the winter chill to "camp" indoors in large industrial sheds at Sydney's Olympic Park.

The bitter winter weather is proving a problem for some pilgrims who have arrived unprepared for the cold. Organisers have been busily collecting warm clothing, blankets, beanies and sleeping bags for pilgrims from nations unaccustomed to cold weather.

Many pilgrims from tropical Pacific islands, as well as some Asian and African nations, have arrived without enough, or any, warm clothing despite pre-event information advising them what to expect.

Text messages from Pope

Meanwhile, Telstra has launched a telecommunications precinct in Sydney's Hyde Park to allow pilgrims to receive daily text messages from the Pope and upload prayers to giant screens.

More than 540km of fibre optic cable has been installed to beam WYD event broadcasts to about 200 countries, with an estimated audience of one billion people.

Eight temporary base stations will be erected to allow young pilgrims to send text messages to family and friends.

The four giant digital "prayer wall" screens will be erected at the Sydney Opera House, the Domain, Darling Harbour and Randwick Racecourse.

The New South Wales government has announced special services for 1,000 pilgrims with disabilities, including a respite service at Sydney's Hilton Hotel, a shuttle bus to major events, a mobile wheelchair repair service and a free taxi service.

Sex abuse victims want apology

In Melbourne, supporters and victims of sexual abuse by clergy held a vigil on Saturday, calling on the Pope to make an apology.

Broken Rites Australia conducted the vigil outside St Patrick's Cathedral which included a short silence to remember victims who have lost their lives.

The group is asking the Pope to make a meaningful apology, and for effective action by the Australian bishops that would include not impeding victims' access to justice in the courts.