With less than 100 days to go to World Youth Day, organisers have launched an appeal for 8,000 volunteers to welcome the 125,000 international visitors expected.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports the Church says it needs 8,000 volunteers, but so far it has 4,000, for crowd marshalling, to distribute pilgrims' meals, provide translation services and supervise accommodation venues.
Yesterday it appealed to the city's spirit of Olympic volunteerism - and love of God - as it called for an extra 4,000 people to become the public face of World Youth Day in July, when Pope Benedict will make his first visit to Australia.
At St Mary's Cathedral, the Church unveiled the volunteers' uniform: polo shirts of red, blue and white and a lightweight weatherproof jacket in red and yellow.
Bishop Anthony Fisher urged volunteers - of any denomination - to put up their hand urgently "to ensure they are part of something big, something beautiful for God".
He and the state Minister for Volunteerism, Linda Burney, said they were confident of recruiting 8,000 in time for the event, which runs from July 14 to 20.
But the Church faces a huge challenge with only 10 per cent of the 125,000 expected international pilgrims having been granted visas for the six day event.
As of March 24, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship had granted 10,071 visas to World Youth Day participants, including 3,249 from the US, 1,261 from Germany and 970 from Poland.
But time is running out for pilgrims, with the department saying it cannot guarantee that any applications made after June 1 - in seven weeks' time - can be processed in time for travel to Australia.
However, the Catholic Church says it is not worried by the slow pace of applications. It insists that it remains on target for 125,000 visitors from overseas, including more than 21,000 from the US.
"Our planning assumption remains based on 125,000 international pilgrims from more than 170 nations, most of whom will require visas," a World Youth Day spokesman told the Herald.
"This figure is supported by our regular contacts with group leaders overseas. Many bishops' conferences, including the Italian, German, French and Polish, plan to obtain their visas in one bulk application. We also understand that a significant number of pilgrims eligible for the WYD08 visa are opting to obtain a visa when booking their flight rather than using the WYD08 visa arrangements."700 priests for confession
In another report, the Herald notes that 140 hours of Confession, or Reconciliation as it is also known, will be offered during the six day event, with a dedicated Reconciliation Centre at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre and at Hyde Park, with about 32 Reconciliation booths at each.
About 700 priests have already confirmed they will be offering Reconciliation, and Fr Peter Williams, the director of liturgy for the event, said bishops and cardinals were also expected to be available to help out.
Father Williams said the service had been very popular at previous World Youth Days.
"If what organisers of previous World Youth Days have told me is the case, the priests that I've engaged at the various centres are going to be very busy," he said.
For the love of God, come all ye volunteers and pilgrims (Sydney Morning Herald, 7/4/08)
Virtue out of a host of sinners (Sydney Mornin Herald, 6/4/08)