Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd greeted pilgrims prior to the Mass, in several different languages. “You are here for this great celebration of life, this great celebration of faith and this great celebration of hope," said the Australian Prime Minister. "For this you are so much the light of the world at a time when the world has so much darkness."
Cardinal Pell presided over the opening Mass, which was the largest Mass to be hosted in Australia’s history, with 26 Cardinals, 400 bishops and approximately 4,000 priests.
In his homily Cardinal Pell called all to listen to Christ’s message saying, “Christ’s call is to all who are suffering, not just Catholics or other Christians, but especially to those without religion. Christ is calling you home; to love, healing and community.”
The Cardinal’s words are particularly relevant in Australia, where nearly one-third of its population does not identify with any religion.
Given this dearth of religion, Australia's top clergyman emphasized the opportunity for reform and reiterated the Pope’s message of hope.“While there is life there is always the option of hope and with Christian hope come faith and love.” “Our task is to be open to the power of the Spirit, to allow the God of suprises to act through us.”
“We must pray for an openness of heart, for a willingness to take the next step, even if we are fearful of venturing too much further,” said Cardinal Pell.
The congregation was awash with a sea of international pilgrims waving flags from over 170 countries.
Whilst traditional rituals were observed, the Mass was an exhibition of international collaboration, reflecting the global influence of the Catholic faith.
The first reading was read in Spanish, the second reading in French, the gospel acclamation was accompanied by youth from the Torres Strait Islands in the Pacific, and the Gospel was read in Italian. Each prayer of the faithful was also prayed in German, Sudanese, Polish, Vietnamese, Arabic as well as English.
As night covered the city of Sydney, a solemn air of reverence permeated the crowd as Communion was distributed by scores of Eucharistic ministers also all wearing their distinctive national attire.
Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, President of the Pontifical Council of the Laity, delivered a message to the youth before the Mass ended, where he directly invited the pilgrims to rediscover the importance of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
“Your presence here has brought spring-time to Australia’s winter. You are the spring-time of the world and the Church,” he told the pilgrims.
The Mass ended with the World Youth Day 2008 hymn “Receive the Power,” sang with enthusiasm by the pilgrims present and lead by the 80 piece orchestra and 300 person WYD08 choir.
“It was amazing to see so many people coming together to worship God,” said Jake, an American pilgrim from Colarado.
“Unbelievable,” said Chris Suarez, a local pilgrim from Sydney. “A Mass of this magnitude within the heart of Sydney, just breath-taking.”
“The Mass was very emotive and vibrant,” said Magdalena, from Chile. “This was a wonderful welcome to begin the World Youth Day activities.”
The Opening Mass was followed by an outdoor concert with performances from popular local and international bands and artists.