Against the breathtaking backdrop of Sydney Harbour, the Pope has made his first major appearance at the World Youth Day celebrations.
The picture postcard setting was a fitting starting- point for an eagerly-awaited guest who was warmly welcomed by the Aboriginal community and the tens of thousands of young pilgrims from more than 170 nations who had travelled to Australia to worship with him.
World Youth Day was the brainchild of Pope Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, aimed at boosting Catholicism among young people.
There was also a formal welcome from Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd whose official apology to Aborigines for past injustices won praise from the pontiff.
“Thanks to the Australian government’s courageous decision to acknowledge the injustices committed against the indigenous peoples in the past, concrete steps are now being taken to achieve reconciliation based on mutual respect,” he said.
The Pope used the official start of his visit to speak out on various issues.
He attacked the consumer culture and said protecting the environment was “of vital importance to humanity.” But he has not yet made a promised apology to Australian victims of sexual abuse in the church.