WYD08 – A Week of Pope & Hope

Mood: Pilgrim Dodging

For the past week or so, Sydney has been gearing up for the inaugural visit from His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for the World Youth Day Sydney 2008 celebrations. The festivities officially commenced on Tuesday 15 July, culminating in a Final Mass to be celebrated by the Pope on Sunday at the Randwick Racecourse.

Since the middle of last week, Sydneysiders have been watching with bemusement the arrival of pilgrims from all over the country and the world. Some of the key stats gleaned from the official website are listed below:

* Up to 225,000 registered pilgrims are expected to take part in WYD08 events each day, including 125,000 international visitors.
* 100,000 Australian pilgrims are expected, including 40,000 from greater Sydney.
* An estimated 2,000 clergy and 700 Cardinals and Bishops will be present.
* 3.5 million meals will be served to pilgrims.
* 100,000 will sleep in 700 schools and parishes.
* Up to 500,000 people are expected to attend the Final Mass at Randwick Racecourse and Centennial Park (which is open to all).

Significantly, this is the biggest event hosted by Sydney since the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. But unlike the Games, which were held before the horrific attacks of 9/11, the security measures around Sydney are the tightest ever seen in the city – even more so than during APEC in September last year.

Security measures aside, the ever wise, oh so popular NSW Premier Morris Iemma reassured Sydneysiders that everything would be just like it was during the Olympics – our city would be filled with a happy party spirit and there would be no issues getting around using our wonderful public transport system. (Has anyone noticed the sarcasm dripping off the screen yet?)

And whilst I enjoy a party as much as any other partygoer does, I will be very glad when the WYD08 festivities end on Sunday and the pilgrims leave Sydney for whence they came.

I can’t quite put my finger on why I’m so grouchy towards the event and the people who have converged on Sydney for the event, but I just want to scream "go home" to every person decked out from head to toe in their official WYD08 merchandise. My levels of tolerance are at an all time low (I’m not 100% at the moment physically, physiologically or psychologically), and these shiny happy people irk me.

Yesterday was the last straw. So far this week, I have waited a lot longer for a bus to pick up passengers at my bus stop, because no matter what time I finished work, all the buses that would normally take me home would be packed and consequently fly by without stopping. Mornings were only slightly better, but ever so slightly.

Yesterday morning, I boarded a bus to go to work, and found, to my amazement, a seat near the front of the bus that was unoccupied. I stopped and waited for another passenger to sit (this male pilgrim was standing closer to the seat and was laden with WYD paraphernalia) and after a few seconds, it was evident that he wasn’t going to sit down, so I gladly took up residence. I had been sitting for no later than 10 seconds when my seat buddy, a female pilgrim decided to shift her weight from her seat on to me. Yes, that’s right, she wriggled around and ended up in my lap.

I was a bit stunned by this, so I tried to push her off my lap. She pushed herself further into me, so I pushed back against her. She kept wriggling to get back into my lap, but time and time again, I pushed her off. After what seemed like an eternity of struggling against her weight, she finally moved enough to not be sitting in my lap, but that still didn’t stop her from using me as her cushion as she then sprawled over me for the rest of the 15 minute bus trip.

So why did she climb into my lap? She was making room on her seat for her bag.

And the kicker? As we were nearing the end of our trip, she finally took up her seat again, only to turn to me and stare at me with a look of complete disgust on her face. I have no idea what that was for – by that point, Jackson the iPod was on so loud I’m sure the bus heard Fergie sing "Labels or Love".

Having sounded very cynical thus far, I suppose I was a little excited when the Pope’s motorcade pooped past my work building yesterday morning. But I’d be more excited by next week, when the bulk of the pilgrims would be leaving our shores!

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