World Youth Day 2008 Information Day
11 April 2008
Australia Centre, Australian Embassy
Ambassador Rod Smith
• Good morning. I am pleased to welcome you to this World Youth Day Information session. I would like particularly to welcome Mr. Geoff Morris from the World Youth Day 2008 Executive Team who has flown here especially to be with us today and impart his knowledge. Thank you Geoff for taking the time out of your busy schedule.
• World Youth Day is truly a unique event. It is inspiring to see hundreds of thousands of young people from all over the globe coming together to make their pilgrimage in faith, friendship and hope. Organised by the Catholic Church, it has become the largest single mobilisation of young people in the world.
• While World Youth Day is primarily an event about faith, it is also an opportunity to reflect on the many issues and concerns that youth around the world share: issues like peace, justice, democracy, development, human rights and of course the environment. Gatherings of this kind are so important because they bring people together and build bridges and understanding and help to find common solutions to shared challenges.
• We anticipate that around half a million people from more that 160 countries will participate in WYD. The response from the Philippines has been amazing. We are estimating around 6,500 pilgrims from the Philippines, and the Episcopal Commission on Youth alone has received close to 1,500 diocesan nominations from around the country. These numbers are a good indication of the commitment of youth not just to pursuing their faith but to engaging with their fellow youth from around the world.
• Australians across the country look forward to welcoming participants in WYD, including of course His Holiness Pope Benedict (correct form of address?).
• Australia is a natural home for an event which brings people together from different backgrounds and unites them in a common cause. Australia is a society which has enshrined in law and in our common values the right of people of different backgrounds to be free to practise their faith. While nearly two-thirds of Australians identify themselves as Christians, all other major religious faiths are also practised, reflecting Australia’s rich cultural diversity.
• The Australian Government is committed to encouraging mutual respect, understanding and tolerance among different religions and cultures in Australia and across the region. Australia is a leader of regional interfaith cooperation through its involvement in the Regional Interfaith Dialogue—a process which we co-sponsor with the Philippines, Indonesia and New Zealand. The dialogue brings together leaders from the many faiths in the region to share experiences and identify ways to promote peace and understanding. In the Philippines, you may be interested to learn that the Australian Embassy is a strong supporter of grassroots interfaith dialogue carried out by organisations such as the Bishops–Ulama Conference, the Silsilah Dialogue Movement, and the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Philippines.
• The World Youth Day celebrations in July will be the culmination of three years of intense preparations and close cooperation between the Catholic Church in Australia, Australian Federal, State and local Governments, business and local communities. During the recent Palm Sunday celebration in St Peter’s Square, his Holiness Pope Benedict acknowledged this contribution and support by the Australian Government and community to preparations for World Youth Day.
• I wish you and your members a meaningful and safe pilgrimage. Please also take the opportunity to learn about Australia’s modern and multi-cultural society and enjoy the warm hospitality of our people. Upon your return, we look forward to learning from you on how to promote progress in areas of mutual concern, whether it be a youth peace building project, promoting the heritage of your Indigenous peoples, or even raising awareness on climate change.
• Let me just finish by saying that we are hoping that this information session will enable you to make the most of your pilgrimage down-under -- that the information you hear today will enrich your experience with insights on what to expect in Sydney. I would also like to thank the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines for your support and assistance. And also the World Youth Alliance, The Association of Catholic Universities of the Philippines and the Couples for Christ: Youth for Family and Life all who have representatives here today.
• Thank you and I wish you all a good day.