Friday, July 18, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI knows best

Beautiful article from the Herald Sun, the highest daily circulating newspaper in Australia. How the Pope is transforming Sydney.

By Roger Franklin

July 18, 2008 12:00am

WHEN he stepped ashore yesterday at the spot Sydneysiders call Barangaroo, the man in the snow-white cassock seemed too small and far too old to tackle such a job of heavy lifting.

And tired, too.

Despite the ease with which Benedict XVI negotiated the boat's steep gangway, there was a weariness in the eyes behind the wire-rimmed glasses that he donned to read his speech of grace and greetings.

Here was an 81-year-old traveller who, just days earlier, had girdled half the world to celebrate the faith and future with 200,000 youthful members of his far-flung flock.

The decades, the residual jet lag and a hectic day's itinerary that began with Kevin Rudd and an official welcome at Kirribilli House were taking their toll.

You could deduce as much from the slow, deliberate way the visitor lowered himself into the oversize throne of native woods atop the red-draped dais on the dock.

Twice before he became Bishop of Rome, the man who would become Benedict XVI begged close friend John Paul II for permission to retire and to spend his final years as a simple, humble priest.

The canny Pole denied him that favour, even though the then-cardinal was well past the normal retirement age of 75.

There were greater things in store, which John Paul must have recognised.

Whatever the short and tubby white-haired man had yet to offer, it was to be much more than a grey life of memories in the company of his beloved cats.

Call it a higher fate, if you like. Or better still, call it the Sydney Miracle, which is what unfolded as Benedict XVI began his address.

His delivery was fast, perhaps too fast, and the Bavarian accent obscured the sense of some of his words.

But the message of moral fortitude - of revering timeless virtues and rejecting modern temptations - that message flew like an arrow into the very heart of the vast crowd.

As he spoke, a radiant joy glowed on every face.

It was a love that wafted through the crowd like the gentle breeze rustling the hem of the Pope's robes.

And that magic wasn't confined to the hearts of the faithful.

It radiated out, borne by sightseeing pilgrims to be shared with the host city's residents, who could not help but be lifted by the spirit of the moment.

Love was the flavour of the day, and it blessed the crowds that lined the route of Benedict's meandering motorcade through the CBD.

The spectators stood 10 deep in spots, many having lingered in the city after the working day was done to catch a glimpse of the man in the glass-walled box of the popemobile.

There was no pushing, no shoving, no catcalls or abusive shouts. Just joy to have seen the man and tasted the moment.

As the crowd drifted to trains, buses and the journey home, those smiles refused to fade.

Yes, there had been a few protesters handing out condoms or taping anti-Catholic signs to the odd lamppost, but those incidents worried no one - least of all the pilgrims, who were joyfully remaking Sydney in their own image.

Consider Randwick Racecourse, where Sunday's big mass will take place.

For the past week it has been renamed Southern Cross Precinct, with not a bookie or a punter's broken heart in sight.

By the Alamein Fountain in Kings Cross, a favourite rendezvous for rent boys and their clients, the usual trade was absent on Wednesday, replaced by an impromptu choir of Chinese youths belting out a hymn in Mandarin.

And in Goulbourn St in the CBD, another bizarre spectacle. Rolling out of Chinatown came a human train of African pilgrims chanting prayers as they advanced like a marching army.

Three abreast and a good 10 rows deep, their tramping column ploughed straight into another pilgrim posse, this crew from Spain.

Two more groups smashed into the knot of multicultural confusion before everyone resumed their separate ways with bows and laughter, apologies and hugs, blessings and high fives.

Around them, that display of confusion and infectious goodwill painted broad grins on the faces of man-in-the-street Sydneysiders, many of whom may not have been inside a church since Adam was a boy.

It is just such a mood that now holds Sydney in its spell, and the catalyst for the eruption of goodwill is the city's honoured visitor.

Yes, he is old, a little tubby and his English is far from perfect. But when it comes to the human heart, he can lift an entire city's worth with ease.

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