Friday, July 11, 2008

Australia trip will test 81-year-old pope's stamina

VATICAN CITY: Pope Benedict XVI departs Saturday on a 10-day trip to Australia, the longest pilgrimage of his papacy and a test of the 81-year-old pontiff's stamina.
Tens of thousands of young pilgrims are awaiting him.
Although aides say the pope is in fine health, the Vatican appeared to be taking no chances to ensure Benedict is fit for the church's World Youth Day festival.
With little advance notice, it canceled Benedict's weekly public audience this past Wednesday as well as most other meetings to give him as much rest as possible.
It even put on hold a much-awaited audience with Ingrid Betancourt, who was recently freed after more than six years as a hostage in the Colombian jungles and expressed a desire to see the pope.

Upon the pope's arrival in Sydney after more than 20 hours of flying -- interrupted only by a 90-minute refueling stop -- he will spend three days resting in a Roman Catholic study center in Kenthurst, in the countryside outside Sydney.
"He is not expected to leave the center," during that time said his spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi.
Benedict will be attending World Youth Day, an event generally held every two years, which attracts hundreds of thousands of young Catholics. It was begun by Pope John Paul II, who considered it essential for the pope to deliver his message to young people.
After he succeeded John Paul three years ago, Benedict said he doubted he would make many long trips. But invitations keep coming in from world leaders and officials of his global 1-billion member flock.
The Vatican generally does not give out information about the pope's health, citing his privacy. Except for a light chronic cough, though, the pope appears healthy and has never skipped a planned event for health reasons.
Benedict himself has said that being pope is "really tiring" and, in an interview with German television in 2006, said he does not feel strong enough to take many long trips.
He visited Brazil last year, made a pilgrimage to the United States in April and will travel to France in September.
"Those who live in Rome, in Italy or in Europe maybe can't appreciate the value of papal trips," Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras told the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire in an interview published Thursday.
From elsewhere, he said, "only the rich can afford to come to Rome. So I say, only slightly joking, that papal trips are a kind of preferential option for the poor."
In fact, Benedict will be greeted at Sydney Harbor on Thursday by a group of Aborigines and other young people from the Pacific Basin and deliver what is expected to be an important address. In 2001, John Paul issued a formal apology to the indigenous peoples of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific islands for injustices perpetrated by Catholic missionaries.
Australia's senior Catholic leader, Cardinal George Pell, has also said that Benedict will likely express regret during the trip for sexual abuse committed by clergy -- as he did during his U.S. trip.
Lombardi, Benedict's spokesman, said it is possible that he will.
Support groups for victims of church abuse -- whose numbers are not known but who activists say are in the thousands -- have demanded that Benedict make a full apology.
Pell himself has been accused of badly handling a sexual abuse claim and this week agreed to reopen investigations into the 25-year-old case.
World Youth Day will culminate July 20 with an open-air Mass expected to draw some 250,000 pilgrims.
The papal visit is Australia's biggest public event since the 2000 Olympics.
Despite the pilgrims' excitement, the festival has attracted a fair amount of controversy. The NoToPope Coalition, made up of gay rights, student and atheist groups, is planning a July 19 march to protest what it calls the pope's homophobic and antiquated ideas. The Church forbids the use of condoms and other forms of artificial birth control and the coalition planned to distribute condoms to young pilgrims in response.
A new law that gives authorities the power to order anyone to stop behavior considered "annoying" toward the pilgrims has been assailed as a form of censorship. Anyone who does not comply with the regulations could face a fine of 5,500 Australian dollars (US$5,300). Police and the New South Wales state government say they are a necessary security measure, but libertarians and rights activists disagree.

No comments: