“Viva il Papa!”
The arrival of the Pope was long awaited for almost everyone in Australia in some way or another for some time. One of the benefits of being an Australian pilgrim was that I got to see the whole WYD phenomenon slowly grow, from media and societal apathy, to ambivalence, to outright opposition, and now to a warm acceptance. But I never expected how wide Australia would open its arms to Pope Benedict XVI.
From behind the stage (I’m a sacristan) I could hear that in the crowd chants would spontaneously break out “Benedicto!” etc, and I couldn’t help but wonder what it looked like on the other side of the hurricane fence. I got a couple of minutes to scamper out between a space in the barricade and go and say hello to a couple of my friends and was taken aback by the amount of people that had jammed themselves into Barangaroo and the wealth of flags that were fluttering in the wind. Looking on to Barangaroo are a line of high rise apartments and office blocks, and people were even pressing themselves onto their windows and stepping out onto balconies to get a good vantage point of the stage. The Pope it seems still has pulling power, even in a country of “moribund” faith!
The technical crew (“techies” we call them, most of whom are not Catholic) and I had by this time struck up quite amiable friendships were all gathered around the big screen TVs, looking at the Pope making his way onto the boat, and as it left the dock something in me jumped for joy, and the rest of them cheered along with me, half amused at my admiration for an old man I don’t know, and half a little excited themselves. For the few days that we had been working together, the techies had started off just on a job, but as we developed friendships, got to talking about what was going on above us. I explained the Mass to some, clarified certain teachings they had misunderstood to others, and now they too were part of the pilgrim crowd in some way.
The reception of the Holy Father doesn’t need narration, it goes without saying that the crowd were elated at his presence. But what surprised everyone was what happened after he left Barangaroo. The Popemobile took a path through the city to his residence at the Cathedral, and for the entirity of the trip the streets were lined with people who wanted to catch a glimpse of the Papa. Lined six deep! Waving flags, waving their hands, waving anything they could find to get his attention. No-one expected that Sydney would give such a welcome, there must have been over a million standing there on the roads. That was what really stunned me, especially since in the lead up to WYD there had been complaints of the inconvenience of the event to the public, claims the Church was up to no good in the world, a couple of guys on the radio had even made fun of Blessed Pier Giorgio’s body.
But now? The whining was forgotten and the Holy Father is a very welcome guest to Sydney.