Plaque recalls ‘holiest week’

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The plaque commemorating Pope Benedict’s visit. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
The plaque commemorating Pope Benedict’s visit.
Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP and his predecessor Cardinal George Pell have jointly unveiled a bronze plaque in central Sydney, to honour the legacy left by what is still regarded as the largest gathering of people for any festival in Australian history: World Youth Day 2008.

The new plaque at Barangaroo marks the location where Pope Benedict XVI arrived by boat to the cheers of hundreds of thousands of young pilgrims on 18 July 2008.

Over 400,000 people attended a Final Mass at Randwick Racecourse celebrated by Pope Benedict.

“In those Spirit-filled days, fourteen years ago, God’s grace was poured into the hearts of hundreds of thousands of young pilgrims, both from our own backyard and from every corner of the globe.” ARCHBISHOP aNTHONY fISHER op

Archbishop Fisher, who as an Auxiliary Bishop at the time, was responsible for coordinating the event, described World Youth Day as an historic moment for the Catholic faith in Australia.

“Many remember it as the happiest and holiest week in the history of Sydney”, he said.

“In those Spirit-filled days, fourteen years ago, God’s grace was poured into the hearts of hundreds of thousands of young pilgrims, both from our own backyard and from every corner of the globe. On arrival here at Barangaroo, Pope Benedict expressed his confidence that our young people, empowered by the Holy Spirit like the first disciples, would be able to take on all that life would throw at them”.

Watched by Cardinal George Pell and Father Lewi Barakat, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP blesses the plaque commemorating the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Sydney in 2008 for World Youth Day. The plaque is located at Barangaroo, where the pope disembarked and was welcomed by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from Australia and around the world. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Watched by Cardinal George Pell and Father Lewi Barakat, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP blesses the plaque commemorating the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Sydney in 2008 for World Youth Day. The plaque is located at Barangaroo, where the pope disembarked and was welcomed by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from Australia and around the world. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Archbishop Fisher said the dividends from that festival continue to this day. “In vocations to marriage and family, priesthood and religious life, in laypeople making the world a better place, in youth ministry, inter-diocesan cooperation and collaboration between the faiths.

Only a few weeks ago, 13,000 people joined the annual Corpus Christi procession through our city’s streets and many were young adults. World Youth Day 2008 has left its mark on our souls”, he added.

Cardinal Pell, who was Archbishop of Sydney at the time of World Youth Day, said the plan for Sydney to host the event was proposed by a group of enthusiastic young Catholics and was later enthusiastically embraced by not only the Church by state and federal governments as well.

“I, for one, will never forget seeing the tens of thousands of young people going to Confession and the enduring silence of the 400 thousand strong congregation after communion at the final mass.”
CARDINAL GEORGE PELL.

“It was amongst the largest gatherings in Australian history and we had 112,000 visitors from overseas. We had more overseas visitors than they did at the Beijing Olympics in the same year”, he said.

“Around Australia and in many different parts of the world, many have thanked me for the spiritual benefits they received in Sydney in 2008.

“I, for one, will never forget seeing the tens of thousands of young people going to Confession and the enduring silence of the 400 thousand strong congregation after Communion at the final Mass at Randwick”.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP and Cardinal George Pell in front of the new plaque at Barangaroo marking Pope Benedict XVI’s arrival for World Youth Day in 2008. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP and Cardinal George Pell in front of the new plaque at Barangaroo marking Pope Benedict XVI’s arrival for World Youth Day in 2008. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Amongst the small group of young Catholics who encouraged Cardinal Pell to bid for World Youth Day in Sydney was the current CEO of Harvest Journeys, Ms Selina Hasham.

She believes one of the great highlights from the week-long event was the way in which the contribution made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholics was honoured in a very respectful way.

“There was a wonderful moment at Barangaroo when Pope Benedict embraced an Aboriginal deacon, Boniface Perdjert and on the boat on his way to Barangaroo, another young Aboriginal man told the Holy Father the story of the Gadigal people, pointing out sites of significance to the Pope along the way”, Ms Hasham said.

“it was a great vision of the church to bring an event like this to sydney and even if you weren’t catholic or particularly religious, you couldn’t help but admire the genuine warmth and enthusiasm that the young people showed for their faith.”

Also present at the unveiling of the new plaque was the former Chief Executive Officer of the World Youth Day Coordination Authority, Roy Wakelin-King, who reflected back on the long-term benefits Sydney gained from hosting the event for many years afterwards.

“There was a lot of visitation and world-wide exposure of Sydney through the world’s media as a result of World Youth Day”, he explained.

“It was a great vision of the Church to bring an event like this to Sydney and even if you weren’t a Catholic or particularly religious, you couldn’t help but admire the genuine warmth and enthusiasm that the young people showed for their faith”.