.- Pope Benedict XVI officially opened Australia’s first ever pilgrim center in Rome on Oct. 19.
“The Domus Australia will play an important part in creating a home for Australian pilgrims in the city of the Apostles,” the Pope said at a special dedication service.
The Domus Australia – or Australia House - is former Marist Brother’s study center built in the 19th-century. Three years ago it was acquired by the Catholic Church in Australia. It has since been heavily renovated and restored. Only five minutes from the city’s main train station, it now boasts 32 guest rooms, a conference center and chapel.
After making his way across Rome, Pope Benedict was welcomed on Wednesday evening by the center’s rector, Fr. Anthony Denton, and Cardinal George Pell of Sydney.
In his welcome address, Cardinal Pell told the Pope that the twin ambitions of the center were to “encourage more of the 60,000 Australian tourists who come to Rome each year to become pilgrims,” and also to “strengthen the links between the distant Church in Australia and the papacy.”
The Pope responded by praying “that the pilgrims who pass through this house will indeed return to their homes with firmer faith, more joyful hope and more ardent love for the Lord.” He also hoped that their “visit to the See of Peter will deepen their love for the universal Church and unite them more closely with Peter’s Successor.”
The Oct. 19 evening service was held in the newly restored chapel of St. Peter Chanel. It is adorned with 32 paintings by the award-winning Sydney artist, Paul Newton. Many of the artworks portray significant figures from Australia’s Christian history, including the country’s first saint, St. Mary MacKillop. She was canonized almost one year ago to the day.
The guests included many VIPs from Australia, such as the country’s Ambassador to the Holy See, Tim Fischer, and the majority of the country’s bishops who are in Rome for their five-yearly “ad limina” visit to the Vatican.
The music was provided by the choir of St. Mary’s Cathedral, which was flown in from Sydney for special the occasion.
“It went really well. I’m still shaking from all the nerves, though,” said 13-year-old choirboy Jeremy Lowrencev after the ceremony.
“It was a great experience to see the Pope, not on TV but seeing him live. That was a great experience and it will live in my heart forever,” said 12-year-old Kendal Kim.
After the speeches were given, Pope Benedict was guided around the center by Cardinal Pell, stopping only to bless various locations with holy water. The Pope then departed while the evening’s celebrations continued with a champagne reception in the courtyard of the Domus.
“It was just a wonderful experience,” project manager Danny Casey said.
“The cardinal’s vision was certainly very demanding, but we all worked very hard for it. And to see it all come together tonight with the Holy Father giving us a blessing, well, that was a life changing moment for all of us,” Casey said.
Along with the Archdiocese of Sydney, the principle supporting dioceses of the project were Melbourne, Perth and Lismore.
“I just count myself so lucky to be here at such a historic moment for the Church in Australia,” said 26-year-old seminarian Daniel McCaughan from the Archdiocese of Sydney.
“To actually have a pilgrim house here in Rome that we can call our own, a slice of the Down Under in the Eternal City, is something very special.”