By Dan McAloon
Catholic News Service
SYDNEY, Australia (CNS) – The New South Wales government has passed special legislation to accommodate Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Sydney for World Youth Day in July.
The temporary laws passed by the government in mid-December will allow police extended powers of search and seizure and the discretion to remove individuals and vehicles from July 15-20 World Youth Day events.
The laws, which have been likened to those enacted for the Sydney Olympics in 2000, also restrict air space above World Youth Day venues such as Royal Randwick Racecourse and the pope's residence while he is in Sydney. They protect commercial agreements between World Youth Day organizers and corporate partners.
The Pontifical Council for the Laity also approved operational plans for 23 World Youth Day events.
"We now have a final blueprint for the world's biggest youth event," said Sydney Auxiliary Bishop Anthony Fisher, coordinator of the July activities.
Bishop Fisher said that by mid-December 100,000 Australian pilgrims were registered with indications that the target of 125,000 international pilgrims would be exceeded.
"The largest source countries remain the United States, Italy and Germany," Bishop Fisher said, adding that the number of U.S. pilgrims had risen from 23,000 in May to a record 38,000.
Meanwhile, the first leg of the journey of the World Youth Day cross and icon around Australia was completed. Those traveling with the cross and icon clocked more than 19,000 miles, covering five states and territories and 500 community events. A new team of volunteers will continue the journey until July.
The Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference heard about the impact of the journey from Chantelle Ogilvie, who spoke of her time with the cross and icon at the Woomera immigration detention center, which closed in 2003 after accusations of human rights abuses and protests.
"For about five years I worked with asylum seekers and refugees, and so I knew this place would be powerful – I was nervous about it. We climbed the hill and planted the cross, and we observed a minute of silence. Then we planted a tree, a small one, I guess as a symbol of hope in a pretty harsh land," she told the bishops.
Ogilvie said for her generation the detention center "came to represent all that was wrong with Australia at the time."
"And so it was so powerful to look at it head on, to not look away, but then to raise that cross and say: 'This is what we believe in. This is love and courage and freedom.'"
The cross and icon, she said, "are powerful signs for young people and draw something out of us – our hopes and histories."
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