Sydney fizzed with excitement as 4 000 New Zealanders and around 219 000 other pilgrims descended on the city for World Youth Day 2008.
The city was on its best behaviour with Sydneysiders turning on a friendly and helpful face as puzzled pilgrims and journalists sought to navigate the routes out of Darling Harbour to the 400 venues for WYD activities.
The weather was centre stage with many of the events taking place in the open air. Even in the middle of winter the days dawned calm and sunny with frosty mornings warming to temperatures in the high teens.
It was one time when proud to be Catholic in this secular world was not some strange aberration needing urgent medical treatment. Youth of all ages joined enthusiastically in welcoming representations of Jesus and his disciples during a moving depiction of the stations of the cross which progressed through the city and harbour ending in the main venue, Barangaroo.
This formerly disused, eastern side of Darling Harbour, had been spruced up to host the opening Mass and papal arrival along with a vocations expo which organisers estimate attracted 2,500 pilgrims every hour.
Some 500,000 people turned out here to welcome Pope Benedict XVI on the Thursday of the World Youth Day week and to watch the proceedings on giant screens around Darling Harbour.
Organisers estimate the stations and other events of the week were watched by up to one billion people on television and the internet.
The week culminated in a vigil on the Saturday night at Randwick Racecourse which became the Southern Cross precinct for the occasion. Here Wellington’s Josie Leota conducted the proceedings as MC with Carl Mueller of Alice Springs.
The final Mass took place on Sunday morning after some 150,000 pilgrims had slept under the stars. Some 400,000 people are believed to have attended with 1,000 priests fanned out across the park to serve Communion.
The pope left Sydney on Monday morning after a private meeting and Mass with four victims of priestly sexual abuse to whom he apologised on behalf of the church.