Friday, July 18, 2008

Australia - Pope's Official Arrival

Today the main event is the arrival of the Pope at Barangaroo, the same field or warf area where we had the opening Mass. He will arrive by “boatacade” from another part of the Sydney harbor and greet the 140,000 or so folks that comprise the welcoming committee.

Most of us decided in the morning that we would not go to Barangaroo to see him arrive. (Those who did told us later that they had gotten to within 100 feet of where the pope was.) Instead, we would make our way to Darling Harbor and watch the proceedings from the large screens set up for that purpose in the middle of harbor. This morning I also had to miss most of the catechetical activities in order to update the last few days of blogs. A slow internet connection combined with a computer that crashes every twenty minutes or so make it an increasingly time-consuming process.

I joined the folks at lunchtime in the garden area of the church next door, St. Felix, where all of the catechetical presentations and the assemblies and liturgies were being held. The lunch included canned tuna, bread, canned beans, and various other complementary goods. Actually, it was all rather well thought out – fast delivery and good variety. A group decided at the end of lunch to take the train into the Town Hall station and to make our way to Darling Harbor from there. The Bankstown station, of course, was packed with pilgrims, with more trying to enter the train as it neared Sydney. After several stops, the announcement was made that the train, which was now packed with pilgrims, would bypass outlying stations and go right into Sydney. Most of the train emptied out at the Circular Quay, while the rest of us went on to Town Hall.

We walked down to that harbor, found some seats along the water, and proceeded to watch the arrival of the pope via the screens. There was great coverage by way of the helicopters following the boats and the cameras on the boat itself. It was almost better than being there. As it was, Br. Adrian Watson was on that the big boat that the pope was on. He had to get there three hours early, of course, and couldn’t get off until the whole opening ceremony was over. He didn’t get to meet the pope, but he did see him come onto the boat and leave it when they arrived at Barangaroo. While it might have been nice to have been on that boat, as with most modern events, the TV coverage puts you much closer than you might be able to be in the best of circumstances.

For most of the time that we were sitting there, the sun was nicely warm and there was a fine breeze coming in. So, of course, it was the perfect incentive to take a little nap, and indeed this is what happened. It was interesting to watch the event unfold on the screen and to also see, in the distance, the water sprays from the fireboats and the “pope boat” when it left Barangaroo. We were too far to see it arrive, but we saw some of the sideline activity, as it were.

When the Holy Father had completed his homily, a couple of us wanted to see if we could make our way to the cathedral area and watch the motorcade go by. And so we walked over to the park areas around St. Mary’s Cathedral. However, the crowds were so thick along the motorcade that we wouldn’t see much from where we could stand. I asked the guys what they wanted to do, and they said that they’d rather go eat than stand there to get a glimpse of the pope. I was kind of surprised at that, but so be it. We walked back the way we had come.

Once back to Darling Harbor, the boardwalk was covered with crowds walking back from Barangaroo to Central Station – the same route I had taken a number of nights ago coming back from the Opening Mass. This time, however, we walked against the current and found the other guys in our group at a restaurant right next to the boardwalk. ((Along the way, I stopped to speak with an Indonesian bishop - stationed in Sumatra - who greeted me an knew the Brothers. We spoke a little Dutch and took a picture together. He wanted me to greet Br. Ray Suplido, I believe.) We found a table, ordered some food, and spent a good hour or so there, looking at the crowds passing by in front of us and talking about the day’s experiences. Every once in a while, a rather loud group of pilgrims would go by singing or shouting, and our guys would shout out to groups of Italians and Americans (Paul did this mostly) or Irish or Australian. Whenever we recognized someone going by, we invited them in to join us for a bit. Both Br. Adrian Watson and Br. Peter Iorlano (who really connected with our guys a couple of days ago and has joined us for various things) were ones that we called out to and joined us for a bit, with Adrian telling us about his experience on the papal boat.

Following dinner, Eric, Rob and I walked over the Convention Center where I was scheduled to staff the vocation booth. Along the way, we stopped at a rather fascinating water feature in front of the center, consisting of spirals of water flowing down into a large hole in the ground. By now it was dark and loud Christian rock was coming at us from different venues around the harbor area. A couple of times, someone would shout out to me, or high-five me, obviously recognizing the robe and wanting to make some sort of connection. It was all rather interesting and very unique in my experience.

In the Convention Center, we went to our booth and checked out some of the other booths in the hall. The place was doing pretty well in terms of people stopping by, picking up information packets, and the like. I was soon involved in various conversations with people about the Brothers’ vocation. This evening, this was a hopping place. And it didn’t let up until just before closing time at 10 PM. At some point, I made my way up to the upper level where the Missionaries of Charity had a large exhibit on the life of Blessed Mother Teresa, including glass cases containing her sari, handbag, sandals, and the like. The displays did an excellent job in depicting her life and death, including an honest and insightful consideration of her experiences of “darkness” in her life of prayer. I’ll have to look around for the book from which the exhibit was created.

At closing time, two of the Brothers who were there and had come by car offered to take us home to Bankstown. We were happy to take advantage of the offer and rode back to the residence. The students went to bed in their classrooms but some of us stayed up a bit to talk about the day and process some of our experiences this week. The Brothers have been very hospitable to us, making the whole thing both instructive, communal, and personal.

More pictures at although I’ve run into lots of problems uploading them. I’ll keep working on it as the day moves along.