“Even the cynics charmed”

Pope Benedict XVI. has finished his nine-day trip to Australia and has returned to Rome. Landing at Rome's Ciampino airport at about 11 p.m. Monday night aboard a Boeing 747 operated by the Australian airline Quantas. The head of the church went to his summer residence Castelgandolfo after the more than 20-hour flight. Shortly before his departure, he had met with a group of abuse victims.

The meeting was met with criticism, some of it strong, by victims' associations in Australia. They accused the church of having presented only "hand-picked" victims to the pope and not those who were critical of the church's handling of sexual abuse. The father of two victims, who in recent days had particularly vehemently demanded a personal meeting with the Pope, even spoke of a "slap in the face". Two men and two women had attended the pope's early Mass at Cathedral House in Sydney, a Vatican spokesman said. Afterwards, Benedict XVI. spoke to each of them individually and expressed his solidarity with them. The meeting took place "in a climate of respect, spirituality and great movement," the spokesman said. Before his departure from Sydney, Benedict XVI thanked. on the forecourt of the cathedral 8.000 volunteers of the World Youth Day. Without them, the big event would not have been possible, the head of the church stressed. The meeting of officially 223.The meeting of the Church of God, attended by thousands of pilgrims from 170 countries, ended on Sunday with the largest church service in Australia's history.

"In these days, you have practically become one of us" At the official farewell at the Sydney airport, Benedict XVI addressed. Words of thanks to top state and church leaders in Australia. They had made it possible for young people from many countries and cultures to make friends and deepen their love for God and the Church. For him, too, the week was a wonderful and unique experience, the Pope said. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said, "In these days, you have practically become one of us."It was Benedict XVI's ninth and longest trip abroad. As in the U.S. in April, abuse scandals in the church were a dominant theme in the Australian media. At a service with the country's bishops Saturday, the pope had strongly condemned sexual offenses against minors. He expressed his personal regret to the victims and relatives for their suffering.

500 million spectators worldwide According to the organizers, 113 people came to World Youth Day.000 WYD pilgrims from Australia, as well as 110.000 from abroad. From Germany there were about 6.000 young people arrived. Accordingly, among the participants were 4.000 priests and deacons, 420 bishops and 26 cardinals. According to the organizers, some 500 million people worldwide followed via screen the major events, such as the Pope's boat trip to Sydney Harbour, the staging of the Stations of the Cross, and the closing Mass on Sunday with some 400.000 participants. The Australian press drew a first balance of the World Youth Day on Monday. The Australian newspaper wrote: "The week will go down as one of the most effusive in Sydney's history." The festival of faith and youth had "breathed life into the city and charmed even the most cynical and secular citizens". A "tsunami of joy and faith" made the Sydney Morning Herald. But the paper also cautions, "There will be prere [on the church] to justify spending on the festivities through a tangible renewal of the church."

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