International religious events in Australia have been few and far between over the past century. One recalls the Eucharistic Congresses and papal visits of past years which provided opportunities for thousands of Catholics to demonstrate or rekindle their faith and for the Church to have an evangelical impact on the rest of the community through the secular media's coverage.
There is no doubt the upcoming World Youth Day in Sydney, from 15-20 July, will go down in Church history as one of a handful of religious events in Australia of international significance.
The difference from the past is that this event is aimed specifically at young people, both in fortifying those who believe and practise and in re-evangelising the vast unchurched majority. In light of the massive fallaway of school leavers over recent decades, an event of the scope of WYD is urgently needed to arrest the slide - something Cardinal George Pell well appreciated when he first campaigned for Sydney to host the event.
The spiritual dividends of past World Youth Days have been noted by the bishops of dioceses where they were held. These have included increased interest in priestly and religious life, a return to practice by many of the lapsed and more inquiries from non-Catholics.
The massive scale of the events, the large attendances, including thousands of overseas visitors, and Pope Benedict's presence, will all ensure a constant coverage by the secular media over the course of a week. Given the Church's own modest media resources, this coverage will be priceless in presenting Catholicism in a positive light on TV, radio and in the newspapers.
The presence of thousands of young Catholics enthusiastic in their faith will be a potent antidote to the all-too-common sour, negative images of dissent that tend to populate secular media reports.
Two articles (pages 8-9) provide some indication of what can be expected in the coming weeks. This journal wishes Cardinal Pell and his many helpers every success with their efforts and prays that the spiritual fruits of WYD in Sydney will be considerable over the coming months and years.
Michael Gilchrist, Editor of AD2000
(email address available on request)