The final farewells to the Pope are due to start in a few minutes, and I think most Australians will be deeply sad to see him depart our shores, yet buoyed up by the whole experience of his visit.
There are three key effects of the whole thing that I think we need to reflect on - the first is on attitudes to religion and the Church; the second on the liturgy; the third on the content of our faith. Let me start in this piece with attitudes!
Papal charm and the pilgrims
Despite the negativity from some elements of the secular media, the Pope has, I think made a deep impression through his deep humility, his profound words and gestures, his visible enthusiasm, and his sheer charm - the way he graped the hand of the Sydney Anglican prelate who felt obliged to reassert his protestantism, for example, was particularly powerful.
Aside from the Pope, the other extraordinary thing was the witness the pilgrims themselves gave. As they wondered around Sydney, the locals mostly seemed truly won over by the joy on their faces. At first there was a certain bemusement as people broke into song on train platforms, and walked up and down in groups with flags waving and so forth. By the end the locals were getting in on the act - I loved the picture of the train guard joining in the sing using his mike last night on TV!
Certainly the pilgrims played to the crowd - as I walked down to catch my coach home, a group of Italians, looking suitably stylish in their blue ponchos, gave a little opera medley for my entertainment (I particularly loved the Pearl Fisher's duet!).
Claire Harvey of the Daily Telegraph wrote yesterday :"For just a week, Sydney forgot to be too cool for religion.
With a revelatory rush of enthusiasm, the city that prides itself on being hard to impress discovered a new kind of rock star - an elderly gent in white.With his quiet dignity and broad smile, Pope Benedict XVI hit town accompanied by a posse of good-looking, intelligent youths, all unschooled in the great Australian tradition of knocking, and mocking, any open expression of faith.
It was an onslaught of exuberance, and Sydneysiders found themselves swept up in the spirit of goodwill, good humour and good fun. It's become customary for Sydney to prepare for any major event with grumpiness and gloom but, just like the 2000 Olympics, World Youth Day revealed a delightful truth about the harbour city: it works best under pressure.
The roads, venues and weather all shone. Nobody's life was ruined by marauding pilgrims. Everyone shared the party and, at the centre were thousands of priests, monks and nuns suddenly elevated to celebrity."Father John! Father John!'' shrieked a group of teenagers straining against a barricade at Barangaroo on Tuesday.
Their parish priest was passing by in a procession of ministers - and he was so startled he nearly tripped over the heels of the bishop in front, before coming over to be hugged and pawed by his new fan club.....
The streets were thick with crowds, businesswomen and bike couriers, side by side. Wolf-whistles rang out for the flocks of police cycling past in their little shorts and even the riot squad got a cheer. They looked nearly as shocked as Father John."
An innovative event that made the most of Sydney
A lot of kudos must go to the organisers of WYD for the design of the whole thing. The main events - from the boatcade to the stations of the Cross, to the blessing of the altar and the final mass with confirmations - were nicely contrasting. They made the most of the spectacular Sydney locations. They all had genuine teaching content - I particularly liked the continuing references to St Peter, from the barque of Peter onwards! And things like Xt3 and the daily text messages were cute touches if not terribly profound!
It all made great media too, enabling the event to be shared much more widely than it would have been otherwise.
The disappointing thing was the occasional outbursts of those claiming to be Catholics - but who clearly are not in any real sense.
The commentators (two retired priests I gather) for Saturday's really beautiful Mass consecrating the new altar were classic dispensers of utter banality (I particularly loved the line that 'the altars of St Peter's were consecrated many years ago'!) and some real clangers - gems like, 'in the old days mass was celebrated facing the wall (!) and in Latin (umm, were they listening to what language the singing they were commenting on was in....)'. There were some utter misrepresentations of concepts like active participation - you had to wonder whether either of them have actually read Sacrosanctum Concilium, or just feel free to go with their own Spirit of Vatican II.
And I heard some utterly erroneous commentary for the final mass on the radio from Paul Collins which included claims like that the Orthodox don't have a sacrament of confirmation...
One of the key challenges post WYD must surely be to finally tackle some of these problem kinder of a lost generation, lest they succeed in undermining the power of the Spirit that the young people will now bring back to their parishes.