.- Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, called spiritual and religious preparation "the most important challenge" for the upcoming World Youth Day 2008. The cardinal noted an "erosion of faith and practice," citing census figures showing a two percent increase in Australians who do not claim a religion.
Archbishop Pell said he had personally witnessed "deep conversions" in youths at World Youth Day in Rome in the year 2000. He expressed great hopes for the Australian-hosted World Youth Day:
"One of the great blessings that the World Youth Day will give us is that it will present the one true God to us, remind us of the teaching and the role of Christ, the only Son of God, and generally place spiritual values in the public domain."
The cardinal is confident the event will be well-organized. Up to half a million people are expected to attend the July 15-20 celebration.
The Australian government announced yesterday that it is simplifying visa procedures for World Youth Day pilgrims. Visas for registered pilgrims are free of government charges, are available for a three-month duration, and allow multiple entries into the country. Limited visa quotas have also been removed both in general and for particular countries.