Keen to get some warm clothes after arriving at Ballina yesterday were Solomon Island pilgrims (from left) Blaise Kokou, 20, Emma Houkura, 14, John Chris Liliu, 21, and Petra Laore, 16.
Keen to get some warm clothes after arriving at Ballina yesterday were Solomon Island pilgrims (from left) Blaise Kokou, 20, Emma Houkura, 14, John Chris Liliu, 21, and Petra Laore, 16. Doug Eaton

Warm welcome for cold pilgrims

WHEN Solomon Islands pilgrim Emma Houkura arrived at Ballina she was shocked by the cold bite of the wind.

But the 14-year-old, one of 227 pilgrims to arrive in town yesterday on their way to Sydney for World Youth Day, said the friendly faces and warm clothing waiting for her at St Francis Xavier Church more than made up for it.

“It's cold!” exclaimed Emma as she and a group of friends had their photograph taken outside the church.

“But this is very special,” she said.

“We are looking forward to meeting the Pope, and making new friends and renewing our faith.”

The pilgrims will be staying with local families this week and taking part in a number of community activities, such as planting trees at Lennox Headland and visiting elderly residents at Crowley Village.

Local school students and community groups, including St Vincent De Paul, have donated clothing to the visitors, who are not accustomed to the cold weather.

Acting Parish Priest of Ballina, Fr Martin Wallace, said the young people appreciated that the community had gone to a lot of effort to welcome them.

“They are glad to give something back,” he said.

“At the same time they get to experience something more than the usual tourist does, interacting in this way with the local community.

“The generosity of families offering accommodation has been impressive.”

More pilgrims from Tonga, Austria, Korea and Vietnam will arrive during the week. Most will begin their visit with a walking tour of the town.

They will experience a Welcome to Country by Bundjalung elders tomorrow, with a Mass with music from the Solomon Islands as a feature, and a civic welcome by Ballina Mayor Phillip Silver and State Ballina MP Don Page.

The council has provided each pilgrim with a gift of local produce and a guide to getting around the shire.

“At the end (of the week) we will send off the pilgrims - including 50 of our local young people - with a commissioning ceremony,” Fr Wallace said.

“Of course, that is only the end of the beginning.

“For the pilgrims the gathering in Sydney lies ahead, and we hope the young people will be reaping benefits from this whole experience for years to come.”

Want to know more?
Pilgrims are ready to go.
World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney.
World Youth Day 2008 in Brisbane.
World Youth Day transport and traffic.


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