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Pope and pilgrims worship under the Sydney stars

Pope and pilgrims worship under the Sydney stars
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The Catholic Church’s World Youth Day festivities have continued in Australia with an all-night vigil. Around 200,000 pilgrims lit candles, sang and prayed at Sydney’s Randwick racecourse.

Pope Benedict XVI devoted his sermon to a call for unity in faith in a divided world and said growing secularism was fragmenting society. After a sleep-out under the stars, the pilgrims will attend Sunday’s final papal mass. Half a million people are expected to be there.

Speaking earlier at a service to dedicate an altar, the Pontiff formally apologised for sexual abuse committed by priests and other Catholic figures in Australia. Pope Benedict XVI said: “I am deeply sorry for the pain and the suffering the victims have endured.”

But support groups called the apology “meaningless” and called on the Pope to say sorry to victims in person. There was controversy too during the pilgrims walk to the vigil. Though the passage over Sydney’s Harbour Bridge was untroubled, the walk past Oxford Street, the heart of the gay district, was anything but.

Demonstrators threw condoms at the young Catholics, angry at the church’s opposition to homosexuality and contraception. And one pilgrim was arrested, after allegedly punching a gay protestor.