14 JULY 2008

Pope Benedict XVI has arrived in Sydney for a week-long celebration of religion and youth.

The 81-year-old head of the Catholic church is to spend three days recovering from the journey Down Under in a retreat in North West Sydney, before being officially welcomed to the city at a ceremony on Thursday.

In what will be the lengthiest trip of his pontificate - his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, visited in 1986 and 1995 - the Pope will attend World Youth Day, a Catholic global youth rally inaugurated by John Paul II in 1984. Billed as "the Catholic Woodstock", the celebrations, which last a week and are expected to draw crowds of over 500,000, include performances by rap, rock and jazz artists.

As well as leading an open-air Sunday mass at the festival - held at Sydney's main horse-racing track of Randwick - the pontiff will see the sights of the city on a boat trip around Sydney harbour and with a helicopter ride.

Photo: © Alphapress.com
Pope Benedict arrives in Sydney at the start of a nine-day trip to AustraliaPhoto: © Getty Images
Photo: © Alphapress.com
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was waiting at the airport to greet the 81-year-old pontiff, who will be the centre of an official welcome ceremony on Thursday. The Pope is in Australia to preside over World Youth Day, which culminates in an open-air mass on SundayPhoto: © Getty Images