32 Indian youths absconding in New Zealand as WYD starts (Lead, changing dateline)

July 14th, 2008 - 4:42 pm ICT by IANS  

By Neena Bhandari
Sydney, July 14 (IANS) Thirtytwo Indian youths, who were granted one-month visitor visa in New Zealand on their way to Australia, are absconding as the week-long Catholic Church’s World Youth Day (WYD) festivities kicks off here Monday. The New Zealand Labour Department, which is in charge of immigration, has confirmed that the Indian pilgrims, who were spending time in New Zealand en route to attending Pope Benedict XVI’s mass in Sydney, have gone missing.

The labour department is working with the Catholic Church in Auckland to trace the pilgrims, who disappeared from their church billets. Immigration New Zealand is also working closely with its counterparts in Australia to find the youth.

The 32 pilgrims have gone missing over the past four or five days, the department said in a statement, and that it was keen to ensure that they continued their onward travel as previously arranged.

The missing pilgrims, who have valid New Zealand travel visa for now, are scheduled to fly out Tuesday.

“Some of them cleared customs and sort of disappeared and nobody saw them. That was a very tiny number of the 32. The rest went to the various homes they were to be billeted at, and after a day or so kind of disappeared,” Catholic Church spokeswoman Lyndsay Freer told Radio New Zealand.

“In terms of the law it’s not illegal, but it’s certainly most extraordinary and most disappointing,” she said.

“We don’t know whether this was planned or spontaneous,” Freer told the radio, adding that the disappeared pilgrims did not have their passports with them.

The pilgrims were billeted with church members in Auckland under so-called Days in the Diocese programme before going to Australia.

As many as 220 Indian pilgrims, who were given one-month New Zealand visitor visas earlier in July, will be leaving for Sydney Tuesday.

Sydney is abuzz with over 100,000 young pilgrims from across the world as the first official WYD event kicks off.

Full of enthusiasm is a group of 10 pilgrims from the Pune Diocese in western India, who have self-financed their trip to be part of the WYD celebrations.

“I am looking forward to see the new Pope,” Tushar Tribhovan, 29, who has previously attended the WYD in Rome, told IANS.

“This event is incredible. I haven’t seen anything like this before and I can’t wait to see the Pope,” Patricia Martin, who is also from the Pune Diocese told IANS.

The pope will make his formal appearance Thursday, when he arrives in Sydney harbour in a papal “boat-a-cade” .

The WYD event will conclude Sunday when about 500,000 people are expected to attend the papal mass.

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