Youth Day Said to Reveal an Australian Secret


Prelate Contends Nation More Spiritual Than It Thought

SYDNEY, Australia, JULY 20, 2008 ( Australians are more spiritual than they thought, says the auxiliary bishop who headed up the organization of World Youth Day.

Auxiliary Bishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney told ZENIT that the youth event, which ended Sunday with a closing Mass attended by some 400,000 people, transformed regular citizens into pilgrims.

Though the prelate admitted Australians are very "comfortable" with their "good life," he said there was an overwhelmingly positive response to key events, including the 250,000 who cheered Benedict XVI through Sydney's streets after he arrived to a crowd of 150,000 at a disused shipping port, Barangaroo.

This proves, Bishop Fisher suggested, that Australians are less apathetic and more enthusiastic than they may have thought themselves to be.

"We often talk of Australia as being a secular country, as if the view that religion has to be privatized or abolished has won," the bishop said. "But the day the Pope arrived, I was astonished. Surely all the people were at Barangaroo welcoming him; there can't be more. But there were more and more lining the streets of Sydney to see him in the papal motocade.

"We know in fact that most people still say, when asked, that they believe in God and they pray sometimes and say they're Christians. So Australia isn't as agnostic as it's portrayed.

"That's been demonstrated in the way people have responded to a spiritual event -- not with hostility."


Bishop Fisher said he believes it will be Australia's youth that will reinvigorate both the social and spiritual life of Australia, with the working of the Holy Spirit, of course.

He contended that the Pope outlined a blueprint for the social and spiritual renewal of the nation.

"We've seen a new generation that have their own passions and ideals, which resonated with the things we heard the Pope saying about what they could do and what they can do with God's grace for the world," Bishop Fisher said. "[The Pope] has provided us with a program for the spiritual and social renewal of our country and offered young people the encouragement and inspiration to go out and do that.

"We're going to have 125,000 Australians come home to their parishes, schools, universities and agencies, whether they were pilgrims or volunteers at World Youth Day. We would hope that there's going to be a new life and energy in every corner of the Church, especially youth ministry, which will obviously be bigger and better as a result of World Youth Day.

"There are so many people newly committed to working with young people, who will be leading and serving the Church, some of which is unpredictable.

"Previous hosts have reported that things have sprung up in their countries that no pastoral planner proposed. It was the confidence and inspiration it gave to young people when they got home."

A variety of Sydney citizens were transformed into pilgrims, drawn by the positive spirit of the Australian and international guests, the prelate noted.

"Train and bus drivers have asked to take extra shifts because they love being part of this; policemen have told me that they've been thanked by people on the streets for the first time in their lives," Bishop Fisher said. "Whether it's train drivers of security or health officials, they became pilgrims too, sharing the experience."