Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Sydney farewells Pope Benedict

Pope Benedict XVI farewelled Australians with "deep gratitude", before boarding a Qantas charter flight bound for Rome at the end of his hectic World Youth Day tour.

The 81-year-old pontiff took off from Sydney airport, having closed the six-day WYD celebrations with a huge open air mass before 400,000 people on Sunday.

"Dear friends, as I depart from Sydney, I ask God to look down lovingly on this city, this country and all its inhabitants," he said.

"And as I bid you farewell with deep gratitude in my heart, I say once again, may God bless the people of Australia."

From a small dais in front of his plane at Sydney airport's Hangar 96, the Pope thanked Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Governor General Major General Michael Jeffery, the federal and NSW governments, the business community and the people of Australia.

"In characteristic Australian style you have extended a warm welcome to me and to countless pilgrims who have flocked here from every corner of the globe," he told the crowd.
"You have opened your doors and your hearts to the world's youth and on their behalf I thank you."

He also thanked more than 200,000 pilgrims for making the journey to Sydney, saying it was "them who have made this a global event".

"I thank them for coming, I thank them for their participation and I pray that they have a safe journey home," he said.

The pontiff expressed hope people would be inspired by the Blessed Mary MacKillop's example of compassion and service, and nominated his visit to her North Sydney memorial among the highlights of his trip.

Rudd thanked the pontiff for making the long journey to Australia for WYD, saying his presence, and WYD, had both left an indelible mark on Australia.

"Within that week, Your Holiness, it feels very much that you have already become one with us, indeed that you have become one of us," the prime minister said.

"After sharing this week with us I believe you now know you are among friends." Rudd said the sun had shone literally for the duration of the papal visit.

"As we think back on this last great week of reflection and celebration, minds and hearts of people are filled with the images of affirmation, of possibility and of unity," Rudd said.

He noted the Pope's special efforts to examine indigenous issues and address the difficult issue of child sex abuse by members of the clergy.

Pope Benedict then personally farewelled many of the 200 dignitaries gathered at Sydney airport's Hangar 96, including newly appointed Ambassador to the Vatican Tim Fischer, and the head of the Catholic Church in Australia, Cardinal George Pell.

After climbing the steps to the aircraft, he waved both hands and bowed slightly, before shaking hands with Qantas flight crew and disappearing into the cabin.

Earlier he thanked thousands of WYD volunteers in the Domain, many of whom waited for hours to see him. The Pope arrived at the Domain in the Popemobile just before 9am and toured the crowd before again taking centre stage.

"I want to thank all of you for the generous commitment of time and energy you have made in order to ensure the smooth running of each of the events we have celebrated together," Pope Benedict said.

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