More than 2,000 young Australians will leave for Germany this week to celebrate their Catholic faith with Pope Benedict XVI, in what is believed to be the biggest religious pilgrimage ever to leave Australian shores.
The 2,200 young Catholics from right across the nation will embark on various pilgrimages which ultimately take them to Cologne, Germany for the 20th World Youth Day celebrations.
World Youth Day, initiated by Pope John Paul II, is a worldwide Catholic celebration for young people.
The highlight of the week-long festival in Cologne will be the final Mass, presided over by Pope Benedict.
During that Mass, the Pope will announce whether Sydney has been successful in its bid to host the next World Youth Day in 2008.
Selina Hasham of Harvest Pilgrimages, said the young people travelling to Cologne come from every state and territory in Australia and represent every Catholic Diocese in the country.
“They also represent many church movements, groups and orders,” she said.
“And for the first time, a group of indigenous pilgrims from the Top End will travel as an independent group led by Bishop Christopher Saunders of Broome.”
Cardinal George Pell, three Archbishops, 19 Bishops, about 90 priests, 15 religious and numerous lay leaders will accompany the Australian contingent.
Supporting the WYD event in the lead-up to Cologne has been Australian Test Cricketer and World Youth Day Ambassador, Matthew Hayden who wrote an open letter to young people urging them to make the trip to Germany.
“For thousands of young people, World Youth Day has been a life changing experience,” he wrote. “It is not just a religious event, but the World Youth Day is an opportunity for youth to grow and be challenged on every level, morally, spiritually and culturally.
“I have great optimism that the Cologne World Youth Day experience will have a positive bearing on many young Australians, our future leaders.”
Released by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference