Written by Sherry
Tuesday, 15 July 2008 14:25
Inhale the exuberant joy of this description of the impact of WYD pilgrims and you can see God is already mightily at work softening the hearts of Sydneysiders.
"THE sun was just rising. It was around 6am and bloody cold on Sunday morning at the top of a hill in a suburban street in Sydney's Berowra Heights. That's when I first saw it.
As I started off for a run, the chatter of two young women could be heard.
Then, from the fog, they emerged. Bleary-eyed, no doubt from a rough night on the floor, and under-dressed for the biting wind in their lightweight t-shirts, the women were jumping up and down in an attempt to keep warm. As they blew hot air into each other's hands, they giggled like young children.
As I passed them one of the ladies with the broadest of smiles said an overly cheery "good morning" in a thick Italian or maybe French accent. The other said something to the effect of: "Peace to you."
It was pure goodwill from two strangers with no apparent reason to be laughing at that time of the morning as they waited for their lift in the freezing cold.
That was the first time I noticed the unprovoked, unrehearsed and utterly infectious happiness the World Youth Day pilgrims have brought to Sydney.
And not a friendliness of the variety I usually stumble across on an early morning run - the happy drunk or the buzzing clubber spilling out of a nightclub and smelling seedy.
This is a natural high we haven't seen in this city since the 2000 Olympics, only, dare I say, even better. No young punk throwing up his JD and coke on the Homebush train, no rednecks in their Aussie flags and off their chops on ecstasy, no bomb threats or sniffer dogs at this event.
It is unadulterated joy and it was noticeable yesterday at every turn.
It was there on most train services, where an unprecedented number of seats were actually facing each other for a change.
Cheerful flag-waving Brazilians whistling and singing at Town Hall station, the soulful Maori pilgrims singing hymns on the East Hills line and Africans in traditional costume drumming at Circular Quay station.
It was there outside St Dominic's church at Homebush where even those who couldn't sing were singing - an entirely silent group of deaf pilgrims dancing and singing hymns in sign language.
It was there in Chinatown yesterday as I walked with 100-odd Tahitian pilgrims who were handing out koala clips-ons as gifts to strangers while singing As The Saints Go Marching In.
"Woo hoo pilgrims," a Muslim woman dining next to a table of nuns at The Golden Harbour restaurant yelled as the Tahitians passed.
You could feel it in the spontaneous soccer match which broke out next to the Entertainment Centre, when a group of Croatian pilgrims took on the Japanese.
It was on the face of Californian Alex Henriquez as he made his way to the opening Mass at Barangaroo. He proudly told me he'd sold 50,000 tacos and tamales at $1 each every second Sunday for parishioners at Mary Immaculate church in order to get to Sydney.
And it is in their humble offerings, not what the pilgrims are taking from the city but what they are giving in song, in prayer and in the random blessings that they offer to strangers.
As I was speaking to a cool young group of Sisters of Nazareth nuns in their funky sneakers and oversized sunglasses at Darling Harbour yesterday, Sr Marianna asked me to join their picnic.
"Please. It's like the loaves and the fishes. Have a bread roll. There's ham there, give her a ham one Patricia," Sr Marianna insisted in her Californian drawl.
And I was holding my handbag tight in this crowd?
There's nothing malicious about these gorgeous young people. Their aim is friendship, nothing more.
Like the girl from Indianapolis walking around Sydney with rosary beads she made out of yarn with a label hanging from each decade with her email address to give to her new friends.
It's the same surge of energy with that exciting international taste we experienced with the Olympics.
The nerdy volunteers are back in their daggy tracksuits, anyone who's anyone has a lanyard swinging from their neck and temporary tattoos of Aussie flags and Akubra hats have re-emerged.
But it's the generosity of the pilgrims and a humility you wouldn't have seen in the US basketball team back in 2000 that makes this so much more enjoyable.
So they're not spending up big at the Casino or Scruffy Murphy's. They're not staying in 5-star hotels. They're not even taking taxis.
But mention that to Sydney cabbie of 25 years Peter Steiner and he's all right with that.
"I haven't had one pilgrim in my cab but I've been enjoying watching them. It's such a happy atmosphere," he said.
"They are Roman Catholics, they're not lager louts. This is the good thing."
As one local girl described it in a whisper yesterday over her Hungry Jack's burger as a group of nuns walked in: "They're so cute. They're not in your face, like Bible bashing or anything."
Indeed, you don't have to be Catholic for this one, Sydney. Just a walk through the wash of colourful flags and bright smiles and you will feel this city breathing again.
It's not their religion but something about the innocence of their youthfulness and the rich culture they offer that makes this a good news story for us.
Not to mention that, for a city that loves people who love our city, we couldn't ask for more - the place is swarming with people saying how great the place is.
And with temperatures of 23C in mid-July, it has to be a sign of God for which we should be all be thankful."
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