Sydney (AsiaNews) - "A new Pentecost": this is how Cardinal Rylko, the president of the pontifical council for the laity and in charge of organising WYD, has described the gathering of 150,000 young people for the opening Mass for World Youth Day in Sydney. At four o'clock in the afternoon (local time), the young people began streaming in to the area of Baragaroo, on the bay of Sydney. The "new Pentecost" means a mixing of languages and cultures in friendship, leaving security personnel amazed - and without much to do. At the Mass presided over by Cardinal George Pell, archbishop of Sydney, there were aboriginal dances, Maori songs from New Zealand, readings in Italian, English, French and Spanish, primitive and modern musical instruments. The young people are not afraid of being identified with their place of origin: they wore Peruvian hats, Japanese bandannas, American baseball caps, straw hats; Korean traditional dress, shirts from the Philippines, simple jeans, or Indonesian batik fabric. And then there were the flags of all the 160 nations present for this WYD, waving to the rhythm of the songs of the Mass.
But the "new Pentecost" also means - as implied by the title of this WYD 2008 - receiving power from the Holy Spirit, to be witnesses to the Christian faith in today's world.
In his homily, Cardinal Paul prayed that the Spirit might transform the young people present into "an army of saints" to renew the world, and asked them to "have courage", to "go far", toward radical decisions, even embracing vocations of total dedication, and encountering those who do not believe as well.
Before this, at the initial greeting, the cardinal said: "I want to welcome not only you, but all those who feel lost, weary . . . The call of Christ is addressed to all, including those who do not believe . . . those who do not have any religion". This invitation may have been addressed to the Australians themselves, marked by secularism and indifference. Out of 20 million inhabitants, only 5 million are Catholic (about 26%), and 17% have no religion or are declared atheists, often with radical tendencies.
In the days before WYD, there were numerous little demonstrations of people wearing T-shirts reading "God does not exist". There is also a controversy over the special police rules against offending the participants and events of WYD, struck down by a federal court decision yesterday. It is possible that this will prompt the "No Pope" groups to organise demonstrations and distribute condoms and coat hangers (symbolising abortion) to the young people of WYD.
The organisers of the event say that as of now there are 250,000 people signed up to attend WYD in Sydney, and that 500,000 young people are expected at the vigil at the Mass with the pope on Saturday and Sunday.
And they opening Mass, the young people also received a greeting from prime minister Kevin Rudd. ''Some say there is no place for faith in the 21st century", he told them. "I say they are wrong". And he added: "You are welcome guests in our land. May each of you be enriched by your time here among us in Australia, just as you enrich Australia by your time here with us".