Pope’s visit a fillip for Australia’s flagging faith

July 11th, 2008 - 9:07 am ICT by IANS  

By Sid Astbury
Sydney, July 11 (DPA) At Australian funerals these days mourners are more likely to hear the pop song “Stairway to Heaven” than the hymn “Abide with Me”. Only two picks from the hymnbook made it into a top 10 compiled in July by leading Adelaide funeral service company Centennial Park.

The switch from “Amazing Grace” to “My Way” is symptomatic of a godlessness that Pope Benedict XVI, who visits Sydney next week for the World Youth Day celebrations, hopes to reverse.

His message to the hundreds of thousands of youngsters coming to share mass with him is that they should “go against the tide” and “not be afraid of seeming different and being criticized for what might seem to be losing or out of fashion”.

Around a quarter of the 21 million Australians say they are Catholics, but only 14 percent are regular churchgoers. The next biggest Christian denomination is the 4-million strong Anglican Church, but it, too, is hard pressed to retain numbers.

As elsewhere in the developed world, the established Christian church is losing ground to evangelical movements. Sydney’s Hillsong Church can fill sports stadiums and gather 20,000 for a Sunday service. It’s even expanded to London, Cape Town and Kiev.

Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell, a personal friend of the pope, sees the July 15-20 gathering of young Catholics as a marvellous chance to claw back congregations and present his faith as modern and full of life.

As well as rosary beads and catechisms, the backpacks prepared for pilgrims contain vouchers for McDonald’s and a tattoo transfer.

There are football shirts with Benedetto 16 on the back and I Love Jesus T-shirts for sale as official merchandise.

A German heavy metal band is coming and altogether there will be 114 hours of performances. There will also be the opportunity for 14 hours of confession of sins - something that trendy Catholics now call the sacrament of reconciliation.

“This is an opportunity for young people to explore the values in which they want to live their lives,” said World Youth Day chief executive Danny Casey. “It’s a rebuilding of the social capital, providing a forum for people to explore their values.”

The event, begun 20 years ago and billed as the biggest meeting place for young people on the planet, was last held in Cologne, Germany, in 2005.

Its proponents say it has no equivalent in any other religion and has achieved the status of a sort of World Cup for Catholics.

“It does address a problem of giving young people an entr

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