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Benedict keeps to West in travel
Australia Pope OR21 5076088
In this photo released by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Benedict XVI wears an Australian police cap during his meeting with a former Australian Police officer at the Kenthurst Study Center in Sydney, Wednesday, July 16, 2008. - photo by Associated Press
    SYDNEY, Australia — While he didn’t expect to travel much, Pope Benedict XVI is actually keeping pace with his globe-trotting predecessor John Paul II. The difference is their destinations.
    John Paul, only 58 when he assumed the papacy, made extensive tours of the developing world, with stops in Catholic strongholds and some of the world’s poorest countries among his first nine pilgrimages. Benedict, now 81, has stayed mainly in the affluent West.
    With the exception of Brazil and a trip to Islamic Turkey, Benedict’s itinerary reads much like the list released by the Vatican last week of the countries whose Catholics and dioceses contribute the most to the Holy See: the United States, Germany, Spain, Italy, Austria.
    Benedict is marking the Church’s World Youth Day in this splendid city of First World opulence and is expected to announce that the next global youth event will be in Madrid, Spain.
    The German-born pope has made no secret of his interest in Catholicism in the West, particularly Europe, where Mass attendance is very low and many churches are empty. On the plane taking him from Rome to Sydney, Benedict said the church in the West was in ‘‘crisis’’ because people believe they no longer need God.
    He clearly has not made the developing world a travel priority — Benedict’s next scheduled trip is to France in September — but there are those who think he should.
    In an interview with the Italian Catholic newspaper Avenger before the pope left Rome, Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras stressed the importance of papal travel.
    ‘‘Only the rich can afford to come to Rome,’’ he said. ‘‘So I say, only slightly joking, that papal trips are a kind of preferential option for the poor.’’
    But the Rev. Hugo Valdemar, spokesman for Mexican Cardinal Norberto Rivera, said the pope’s travel choices were understandable.
    ‘‘The pope’s agenda doesn’t take into account if a country is rich or the number of Catholics in each country,’’ Valdemar told The Associated Press. In Australia, ‘‘he is attending an international ecclesiastical event and to this moment we haven’t had an event of such magnitude in Mexico.’’
    Benedict’s health — and the toll on it that long journeys and heavy schedules could take — must be considered.
    ‘‘It’s not that the pope doesn’t love Mexico as much as Pope John Paul II, but the truth is that he will be 82 years old next year and the Vatican takes good care of his health,’’ Valdemar said.
    ‘‘He has told Mexican Cardinal Norberto Rivera he wants to visit Mexico. We have invited him to come to the World Family Day in January and we’re planning the events as if he were attending.’’
    The more than 20-hour flight Benedict made to Australia is the longest of his papacy, which was three years old in May, and aides made sure he had plenty of time to recover from the flight by scheduling three days of rest before he joins youth festival events on Thursday.
    After Australia, the only confirmed trip is to France, with stops in Paris and the shrine in Lourdes. President Joseph Kabila of Congo, where the Catholic Church is an influential voice, recently invited Benedict during a visit to the Vatican. But there has been no confirmation that Benedict agreed to go.
    World Youth Day is pretty much a festival of young people from affluent countries. The United States — with 15,500 attending — has the biggest representation from outside Australia, followed by Italy with 10,000 and Germany with 6,000, according to a list from organizers Wednesday.
    There are exceptions. The Philippines, the Catholic bastion of south Asia and relatively close to Australia, has 2,500 young people registered. There are also small groups from developing countries sponsored by Catholic agencies and other groups.
    Two years of car washes, can and bottle drives and other fundraisers finally gave 16-year-old Cassandra Jimenez the $3,500 she needed to make the pilgrimage to Sydney with her diocese from Oregon. It was an exhausting process, but attending the festival was an incredible reward, she said as she tucked into a plate of food at her first Aussie barbecue on Wednesday.
    Fellow parishioner Jacob Lochner agreed the effort was worth it.
    ‘‘Every penny and then some,’’ the 16-year-old said with a grin.
    AP reporters Kristen Gelineau in Sydney and Olga Rodriguez in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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