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Associated Press
SYDNEY, Australia – Pilgrims bore a giant wooden cross through the streets of Australia’s largest city Monday, as thousands of faithful crowded around the procession, some lunging for a chance to touch the symbol of the Roman Catholic Church’s youth festival.
At a secluded retreat on Sydney’s outskirts, Pope Benedict XVI worked on overcoming jet lag from the more than 20-hour flight from the Vatican by strolling through bushland, holding prayers and listening to a musicians play Schubert, Schumann and Mozart.
The two events marked the final day before World Youth Day, a Catholic festival that draws hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. The event is expected to take over Sydney for six days – the biggest since the Olympics eight years ago.
The 12.5-foot cross and a copy of a painting portraying Mary and Jesus landed by ferry at Sydney’s busy Circular Quay, completing a yearlong tour of more than 400 communities across Australia from the desert Outback to the tropical north.
Hundreds of faithful gathered on the wharf burst into applause and belted out Australia’s unofficial anthem, “Waltzing Matilda,” as the boat docked and the cross was carried into downtown Sydney.
“It means everything to me – it’s the symbol of my faith,” said Linda Wilkins, 55, a Sydney office worker who raced down from her high rise and ducked under a tape meant to keep onlookers away to caress the cross. “To touch it makes me feel I was an integral part of it.”
At Monday’s procession, groups of volunteers took turns carrying the 88-pound cross and 33-pound painting. Pilgrims sang “Amazing Grace” and shouted out Australia’s rallying cry: “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, oi, oi!” Others echoed with, “Holy, holy, holy! Spirit, spirit, spirit!”
Stephanie Luna, 18, from Laredo, Texas, was one of many who burst into tears.
“We’re homesick and we’re exhausted, but it’s a sacrifice,” said the 18-year-old, who helped carry the cross through Sydney. “It was so beautiful.”
Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, gave the cross to the youth of the world in 1984 to be carried across continents as a symbol of Christ’s love for humanity.
Benedict has raised expectations that he will apologize directly to victims of past clergy sexual abuse while in Australia, telling reporters he will do everything possible to achieve “healing and reconciliation with the victims.” Activists in Australia have demanded a formal apology from the pope.
Sydney Archbishop Cardinal George Pell, who met briefly with Benedict on Monday, said the church in Australia had apologized to clergy abuse victims a number of times, and was still struggling to help them heal. “That’s the most important thing. Counseling, help, justice,” Pell said.
Benedict also signaled he will discuss the need to face up to the “great challenge” of caring for the environment, noting that global warming is an issue worrying many young people.
There was a minor security scare at Benedict’s retreat late Monday, when a police officer in a guard unit accidentally set off what authorities described as a “distraction device,” seriously burning his hands. Deputy Police Commissioner Dave Owens said the pope was never in any danger.
Associated Press writers Tanalee Smith and Victor L. Simpson contributed to this report.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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