POPE-AUSTRALIA Jul-17-2008 (550 words) With photos. xxxi
Pope formally welcomed to Australia with 21-gun salute, military band
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
SYDNEY, Australia (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI formally was welcomed to Australia with a 21-gun salute and bright sunshine that had only just begun drying the dew in the grassy garden of Sydney's Government House.
Although he arrived in Australia July 13 and in Sydney July 16, the first days of his stay were dedicated to relaxation.
Protocol took over July 17 with the government's official welcoming ceremony, complete with a papal review of members of the Australian armed forces, including the Australian Army Band, which played "Waltzing Matilda" only after the pope had left.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd welcome the pope as "an apostle of peace," a defender of the world's poor and "a voice of hope at a time in our planet's dealings when hope is most needed of all."
Rudd said it was appropriate that World Youth Day was being celebrated in Australia July 15-20 because, like the Catholic pilgrims, Australia is young and includes people from every part of the world.
Pope Benedict hailed the prime minister for apologizing earlier this year on behalf of the Australian government for past offenses against the continent's indigenous peoples and for making a commitment to "close the gap between indigenous and nonindigenous Australians regarding life expectancy, education achievement and economic opportunity."
"This example of reconciliation," the pope said, "offers hope to peoples all over the world who long to see their rights affirmed and their contribution to society acknowledged and promoted."
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2006 some 517,000 citizens -- about 2.5 percent of the population -- identified themselves as Aborigines or Torres Strait Islanders.
Pope Benedict also paid tribute to the generations of Catholic religious and missionaries who helped build the country, particularly by establishing schools and hospitals. He highlighted the contribution of Blessed Mary MacKillop, whose tomb he visited later in the day and who likely will become the first Australian saint.
"In today's more secular environment, the Catholic community continues to make an important contribution to national life, not only through education and health care, but especially by highlighting the spiritual dimension of the questions that feature prominently in contemporary debate," including questions regarding euthanasia, assisted suicide and legal recognition of gay unions, he said.
Only about 100 people were invited to the welcoming ceremony at Government House. They included 10 students from St. Charles Primary School in Sydney.
Emily Watson and Matthew Gwynne, both 11, are the school captains.
"It is an honor to be here because it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the pope. It's special," Emily said.
Matthew said: "It's really amazing because he is the leader of the whole Catholic Church. Having him here outside Government House is a great privilege."
Pope Benedict said that with so many young people in the country for World Youth Day, "it is appropriate to reflect upon the kind of world we are handing on to future generations."
"The wonder of God's creation reminds us of the need to protect the environment and to exercise responsible stewardship of the goods of the earth," he said.
He praised Australia's commitment to promoting environmental protection around the world, and he also praised the country's commitment to "the human environment," particularly its work for development and peace in the Pacific, Southeast Asia and elsewhere.
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