Cologne, Germany, Aug. 21 -- The World Youth Day festivities are going down under in 2008, Catholic leaders announced on Sunday, thanks mostly to lobbying by Cardinal George Pell of Sydney.

Hours before the highly anticipated announcement was made, Pell said in an interview that he hoped the event would help re-energize the church in Australia. "There are many reports in the news about the decline of the church and where it might lead, but to be part of an event like this one does nothing but strengthen a person's faith," Pell said. "Young people are looking for something central in their lives," he went on. "That is practically the definition of being a young adult. And if, at World Youth Day, you see thousands upon thousands of normal, happy, Christian young people, that is an attractive thing." At a massive open-air Mass on Sunday, some 1 million pilgrims turned out to see Benedict, the first German-born pope in some 500 years, in his first foreign trip as pope to World Youth Day. Pell said the events in Cologne illustrated that Pope Benedict XVI has been as effective as his predecessor John Paul II was at inspiring the church's youth, though he said Benedict has done it in more subtle ways. "It is obvious that the Holy Father can capture the attention of great crowds," Pell said. "We look forward to seeing him in Sydney in three years' time." As with previous World Youth Day events, the 2008 festival will welcome
the faithful from around the world. But Pell said he has proposed a plan that would place a high emphasis on attracting people from Oceania. Though Pell said there were some 2,250 Australian young people in Cologne, the numbers are severely limited by the distance they must travel to attend most World Youth day events. "Only the World Youth Day in the Philippines (in 1995) was even relatively close to Australia," Pell said. "When the events are so far away, it is less newsworthy in Australia and it becomes a less effective tool for reaching out to young people. That will change in 2008." Pell said that a team of Australian tourism officials was in Cologne to study the organization of the event. He said that many of the facilities used for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney would be utilized for World Youth Day. Australian newspapers have reported that director Mel Gibson, an Australian native who last year released "The Passion of the Christ," has been asked to recreate the Last Supper and Crucifixion in Sydney as part of a live-action Stations of the Cross during World Youth Day. According to Roger Baller, 24, who made the trip to Cologne from Sydney, Australia's being awarded the 2008 event has already taken on historical proportions for the country's youth. "Being here for this event in Germany is already the most important thing in my life," Baller, a student, said. "I cannot even begin to imagine what it will be like to host my peers from around the world in my own home town. It takes my breath away to think about it." The massive World Youth Day festivities are held every three years -- Cologne is the ninth global event, following Argentina, Spain, Poland, the United States, the Philippines, France, Italy, and Toronto. Local events are celebrated for the two years in between the massive global event with the pope.
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