, July 17, 2008 (ENS) - Pope Benedict XVI opened the official portion of his first visit to Australia today by reminding everyone at the Government House welcoming ceremony of "the need to protect the environment."
"With many thousands of young people visiting Australia at this time, it is appropriate to reflect upon the kind of world we are handing on to future generations," the Pope said. "In the words of your national anthem, this land "abounds in nature's gifts, of beauty rich and rare.'"
Young people await the Pope's arrival at Barangaroo. (Photo © and ™ WYD 2008)
"The wonder of God's creation reminds us of the need to protect the environment and to exercise responsible stewardship of the goods of the earth," he said. "In this connection I note that Australia is making a serious commitment to address its responsibility to care for the natural environment."
The pope is here on the occasion of the 23rd World Youth Day, the largest youth event in the world, which opened in Sydney on Tuesday and continues through Sunday. Organized by the Catholic Church, World Youth Day gathers young people from around the globe to celebrate and learn about their faith.
In his welcoming statement, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd acknowledged "the first Australians on whose land we meet and whose cultures we celebrate as among the oldest continuing cultures in human history," and welcomed the pontiff on their behalf at their request.
One in every four Australians is Catholic and there are 1,300 parishes across the continental country, in each of which the pope would be most welcome, the prime minister said.
"It is fitting that his holiness's first visit to Australia is for the occasion of World Youth Day," said Rudd, "in part because Australia itself is a young country, although as this young country we inhabit this vast and ancient land."
Later in the day at Barangaroo, a waterfront renewal area in Sydney Harbour, Pope Benedict returned to his environmental message.
Addressing an estimated crowd of over 150,000 pilgrims who traveled to Sydney for World Youth Day '08, the pontiff told of his feelings of awe while traveling from Europe to Australia by air.
Pope Benedict XVI blesses the crowd at Barangaroo (Photo © and ™ WYD 2008)
"The views afforded of our planet from the air were truly wondrous," he said. "The sparkle of the Mediterranean, the grandeur of the north African desert, the lushness of Asia's forestation, the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, the horizon upon which the sun rose and set, and the majestic splendour of Australia's natural beauty which I have been able to enjoy these last couple of days; these all evoke a profound sense of awe."
"It is as though one catches glimpses of the Genesis creation story - light and darkness, the sun and the moon, the waters, the earth, and living creatures; all of which are "good" in God's eyes," said the pope. "Immersed in such beauty, who could not echo the words of the Psalmist in praise of the Creator: "how majestic is your name in all the earth?"
But Pope Benedict also called attention to environmental degradation.
"Perhaps reluctantly we come to acknowledge that there are also scars which mark the surface of our earth: erosion, deforestation, the squandering of the world's mineral and ocean resources in order to fuel an insatiable consumption," he said.
"Some of you come from island nations whose very existence is threatened by rising water levels; others from nations suffering the effects of devastating drought," said the pope.
"God's wondrous creation is sometimes experienced as almost hostile to its stewards, even something dangerous. How can what is "good" appear so threatening?"
Pope Benedict is introduced to a koala at Kenthurst Retreat. (Photo © and ™ WYD 2008)
The planet is in urgent need of caring stewardship, the pontiff emphasized, saying, "My dear friends, God's creation is one and it is good. The concerns for non-violence, sustainable development, justice and peace, and care for our environment are of vital importance for humanity."
The World Youth Day events began on Tuesday with an opening Mass at Barangaroo celebrated by Cardinal George Pell and bishops from around the world.
On Friday afternoon, there will be a live theatrical and devotional re-enactment of the Stations of the Cross, the last days of Jesus' life against the backdrop of the Sydney Harbour.
On Saturday, there will be an evening vigil and candlelight ceremony with the pope at Southern Cross Precinct.
And on Sunday, World Youth Day, Pope Benedict celebrate Mass for what organizers predict will be the largest gathering of people in the history of Australia at Southern Cross Precinct.
The pope will fly over the precinct in a helicopter and then drive through the precinct in the pope-mobile, a bullet-proof vehicle designed for the pontiff.
Through Friday night, the Youth Festival features music, performing arts, visual art exhibitions, debate, film, community gatherings, street performers, workshops and a Vocations Expo. All Youth Festival events are free and open to the general public.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.
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