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600 already in Sydney with 112 to join World Youth Day next month

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, June 30, 2008) – Over 700 Youth Pilgrims from the Catholic Diocese of Tonga will get the chance of a lifetime to see Pope Benedict XVI in person during the World Youth Day on July 15-20 in Sydney, Australia.

A member of the Diocese Committee for the event Busby Kautoke said today that Tonga is sending 712 pilgrims from Tongatapu, the outer islands of Vava'u, Ha'apai, 'Eua and the two Niuas.

[PIR editor's note: Ha’apai comprises a group of islands in the central part of Tonga, north of the large island of Tongatapu. The Niuas, three small volcanic islands in the far north of Tonga’s island chain, include Niuatoputapu, Tafah and, Niuafo'ou.. ‘Eua island is located to the southeast of Tongatapu island, which is where Tonga’s national capital of Nukualofa is situated. Vava'u rises 204 meters above sea level. The capital is Neiafu, which is the second largest city in Tonga, situated at one of the best harbours of the world, the Port of Refuge (Puatalefusi or Lolo-‘a-Halaevalu).]

Busby said 600 pilgrims are already in Sydney with the remaining 112 to travel there before July 10.

This is the first time the Tongan Diocese is sending pilgrims to the event. It is an important event for the church because it hopes that its young people will strengthen their faith in God.

"We also hope that when they do come back they will become good Tongans in the future," he said.

The significance of the World Youth Day is that it is an invitation from the Pope to the youth of the world to celebrate their faith around a particular theme. This year's theme to be received from Pope Benedict is; 'You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses.'

The pilgrims are aged between 18-32 years but there are some who are younger than 18 and are accompanied by parents and guardians.

Prior to the main events, a Tonga National Day will be held on July 5-6 and will bring together Tongan pilgrims from different countries such as Australia, New Zealand, United States and Tonga.

On July 10-14, the Tongan pilgrims have been invited by the Catholic Diocese of Lismore to stay with families throughout their 16 parishes. An Oceania Day will also be held on July 15 to showcase the Pacific cultures of Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia.

Busby said the actual program of the World Youth Day is expected to draw to Sydney around 600,000 pilgrims from around the world and will be held in one week consisting of series of events.

The Pope arrives in Sydney on July 17 and the program will include the re-enactment of the last moments of the life of Jesus in a Station of the Cross held from the St Mary's Cathedral at Darling Harbour to the Opera House Forecourt on July 18.

The Pope will hold an Evening Vigil where pilgrims will sleep under the stars at the Southern Cross Precinct on July 19.

The week culminates in a Final Mass celebrated by the Pope on World Youth Day July 20 at the Southern Cross Precinct.

Folauhola Siale (27) the young Editor of Nuku'alofa's Talaki weekly newspaper, who has been to Australia before, is one of the pilgrims.

She said she was inspired to go because she wants to see the Pope in person and receive his message.

"It means the world to me to see the Pope and I want to experience the power of the Holy Spirit in bringing together youths from around the world. I hope this experience will strengthen my faith as a Catholic youth," Folauhola said.

Busby said in order to participate in the event, the youth had to register with AUD$50 dollars which covers the accommodation, transport, food and tickets into the various events. Individuals pay their airfare.

The late Pope John Paul II established the World Youth Day in 1986 as an annual event to reach out to the next generation of Catholics. It is a pilgrimage of faith, where young people from diverse backgrounds meet and experience the love of God.

Since then in every two to three years, the World Youth Day is taken to an international host city. This is the first time it is held in Australia in the Pacific region.

The Tongan pilgrims will return home starting on July 21 to August 8.

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