.- The Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd and Governor General, Major General Michael Jeffery, Australia’s head of State, extended a warm welcome to the Pope at a formal ceremony held on the lawn of Sydney’s Government House this morning following a 21-gun salute and an inspection of the Federation Guard.
“You are a welcome as an apostle of peace in an age when in an increasingly interdependent world, peace is a much needed voice among us all,” said Mr. Rudd.
“You are welcome as a voice of hope at a time in our planet’s dealings when hope is most needed of all. You are also welcome as a voice for the world’s poor,” he added.
The Pope then delivered a message to the modest crowd who lined the courtyard where the members of the Royal Australian Navy, Army and Airforce had assembled in a cross like formation.
“Ever since the first World Youth Day in 1986, it has been evident that vast numbers of young people appreciate the opportunity to come together to deepen their faith in Christ and to learn more about their Christian faith.”
He described the pilgrims as people who “long to hear the word of God… and take part in an event which brings into focus the high ideals that inspire them... [who] return home filled with hope and renewed in their resolve to contribute to the building of a better world.”
The Pope also used his message to praise the Australian government for its moves to promote reconciliation and its relationship with the Indigenous people of Australia.
“Thanks to the Australian Government’s courageous decision to acknowledge the injustices committed against the indigenous peoples, the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.”
Pope Benedict also spoke of the contribution of European Catholics to the building of the Australian nation “particularly in the fields of education and healthcare.”
He made special mention of the Blessed Mary MacKillop, whose tomb the Pope prayed at immediately after the official welcome.
“I know that her perseverance in the face of adversity, her plea for justice on behalf of those unfairly treated and her practical example of holiness have become a source of inspiration for all Australians.”
“In today’s more secular environment, the Catholic community continues to make an important contribution to national life, not only through education and healthcare, but especially by highlighting the spiritual dimension of the questions that feature prominently in contemporary debate.”
The care of the environment was also part of the Pope’s message, where he said it is “appropriate to reflect upon the kind of world we are handing on to future generations.”
“In the words of your national anthem, this land ‘abounds in nature’s gifts, of beauty rich and rare…The wonder of God’s creation reminds us of the need to protect the environment and to exercise responsibility stewardship of the goods of the earth.”
Several cardinals of the Australian Catholic Church together with the representatives of the Maronite Church, were also present to greet the Pope.
Before the Pope’s departure, two young students from an Australian Catholic School approached the Pontiff and gave him a bunch of ‘poseys,’ a small bouquet of flowers.
At the conclusion of the welcome ceremony, the Pope visited the Mary MacKillop Chapel in North Sydney, where he was introduced to the leaders of the order of nuns founded by her.
Tens of thousands of Sydneysiders are expected to line the harbour and city streets to catch a glimpse and welcome the Pope as the papal motorcade travels to Barangaroo Wharf to deliver his first message to the pilgrims.