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Thousands Greet Pope in Sydney


Hundreds of thousands of people have greeted the Pope on his official arrival for World Youth Day in the Australian city, Sydney. The pontiff has praised the Australian government for apologizing to the country's indigenous people for past injustices. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

What has been called "Super Holy Thursday" has attracted up to half-a-million people into the center of Australia's biggest city. The Pope traveled across Sydney Harbor, accompanied by a flotilla of vessels, before disembarking to address pilgrims on the shore.

Earlier, Benedict used his first public appearance in Australia to praise a government apology to the country's Aborigines for injustices committed in the past. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd formally apologized to indigenous people, earlier this year, in a historic act of contrition.

The Pope says it was a brave move that offered hope to disadvantaged people, around the world.

"Their ancient heritage forms an essential part of the cultural landscape of modern Australia," he said. "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."

The Pope is in Australia for World Youth Day, an international festival that celebrates the faith of young Catholics from all over the world. Pilgrims have come from all corners; from South America and Europe to Indonesia and the South Pacific island nation of the Solomon Islands.

Eighteen-year-old Colombian student Marcela Franco has traveled from her home, in Bogota, to see the Pope.

"Oh, my God!" she exclaimed. "I don't know. It's just a spiritual experience, you know. I'm so excited. I mean, it's going to be amazing. "You see the Pope, and you go to many Catechesis, you know. It's a lot of information, a lot of learning about this. A great experience."

World Youth Day began in the mid 1980's and has become a pivotal part of the Catholic calendar. The event in Sydney has taken five years to plan and is attracting more people than the 2000 Olympics that were staged in Australia's iconic harborside city.

During his ten-day visit, Pope Benedict is expected to apologize for sexual abuse by the clergy in Australia.

Concerns about climate change will also be addressed by the leader of the world's billion Catholics.

The highlight of World Youth Day is a giant open-air papal mass in Sydney on Sunday.

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