Rocking To Bene And The Jets

Rocking To Bene and The Jets

Jano Gibson and Barney Zwartz
The Sydney Morning Herald
July 15, 2008

TENS of thousands of young Catholic pilgrims surged into Sydney on bone-rattling buses and 20-hour flights yesterday before today's official start of the World Youth Day festival.

Immigration officials at Sydney Airport cleared 8000 more visitors than they would on a typical day, while thousands of other pilgrims shuttled into Sydney from interstate capitals, including a convoy of 300 buses from Melbourne.

A World Youth Day spokesman, Father Mark Podesta, said yesterday was the “heaviest day” in terms of the influx of pilgrims, but today Sydneysiders would really notice their presence.

He said up to 200,000 pilgrims would be in the central business district this afternoon to celebrate the Opening Mass by the Sydney Archbishop, Cardinal George Pell, at East Darling Harbour.

“Walking through the city this past week, it's already been a noticeable presence [of pilgrims],” Father Podesta said yesterday. “But that's nothing as to what it will be like tomorrow. It will be a flood of happy, smiling, laughing, singing young people.”

In a taste of what Sydneysiders can expect to see over the coming week, pilgrims arriving from all over the world transformed Sydney Airport's international terminal into a mini festival site.

As they waited for buses to take them to their accommodation, a group of Swiss entertained themselves with an impromptu game of soccer. A bunch of Americans played cards on the footpath. And a flock of Chileans screamed: “Chi! Chi! Chi! Le! Le! Le! Viva Chile!”

But it was the Brazilians who brought all of the individual nationalities together with a spontaneous session of singing and dancing. Dressed in their various national colours, pilgrims joined arms, surrounded guitarists and drummers, and sang religious songs.

“We don't speak the same language but we can understand each other because of the presence of the Holy Spirit,” said a Brazilian, Matheus Safraid, 25.

In Melbourne there were scenes of pandemonium as pilgrims boarded buses at Southern Cross Station yesterday morning.

The queue of young travellers waiting to register stretched hundreds of metres, and they did not wait quietly. There were trumpets, impromptu bursts of choruses and hymns, excited greetings, shouting and lots of laughter.

One bus, which carried 59 French pilgrims and one Herald journalist, usually ferries school children around Bacchus Marsh.

The bone-rattling ride, hard seats and inconsistent air-conditioning did not deter the pilgrims, whose mood ranged from delirious to merely good-humoured over the 14-hour trip.

“Don't expect to get any sleep on the bus,” a welcoming pilgrim told the Herald.

On the bus there was singing, sometimes devotional, morning and afternoon prayers, sometimes rousing religious choruses, and even an a capella The Lion Sleeps Tonight, with French words and international four-part harmony.

Some songs enjoyed a flute accompaniment from a young woman. The odd pillow was produced in a usually fruitless quest for a doze.

At Wangaratta, the first stop 3 hours from Melbourne, there were dozens of buses and scores of hard-working, harried volunteers. They ran out of soup and sandwiches as the bus arrived, leaving potato crisps or hot dogs, but the sun shone and the pilgrims relaxed with a philosophical Gallic shrug.

In Melbourne, the pilgrims were based in Kew and fell in love with the city. Melbourne made at least one convert: Ludovic Broche, 20, went to the Melbourne Cricket Ground to see the Hawks beat the Swans on Sunday, and loved it. His host family had explained the rules during the week.

Isabel Masson, 21, stayed sufficiently true to rugby union to hurt her wrist in an impromptu match, before sitting on St Kilda pier, feet dangling over the water, watching the city skyline. “It was perfect,” she said.

Ms Masson, not especially devout, decided to come to World Youth Day as a cheap way of getting to Australia, although it still involved lots of cake stalls and fund-raising.

She confessed that at home she spent considerable energy working out how to avoid going to church, but in the company of pilgrims, with all the conversation and worship, she was opening more to the idea of faith.