SYDNEY, Australia, JULY 13, 2008 ( Choosing Sydney as the venue for World Youth Day 2008 was an act of faith on the part of Benedict XVI, and the Archdiocese of Sydney, says a Vatican spokesman.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, affirmed this in the most recent edition of Vatican Television's "Octava Dies."

The spokesman is traveling with the Pope as part of his entourage to Australia.

He said he believes that with the Pope's and pilgrims' arrival, "the countenance of the Australian metropolis is being transformed for a week into the world capital of youth, and not just Catholic" youth.

World Youth Day is proving to be the most numerous event in Australia's history. It will attract some 125,000 young pilgrims from all over the world, more than the 2000 Olympic Games.

"It was an act of faith and courage of Cardinal George Pell and of the Church in Australia to invite young people worldwide to Sydney," Father Lombardi acknowledged. "It was an act of faith and courage of the Pope to accept.

"It is an act of faith and courage of the local Churches to send their young people in the measure of their possibilities, despite the cost and exhaustion of a long trip.

"However, no place of the Church is far away. The Spirit leads the disciples to proclaim the Gospel to the ends of the earth. And every place of the earth is at the center when the Eucharist is celebrated there."

"Many young people," he added, "if unable to be physically present in Sydney, will be there 'virtually,' [...] and many -- and this is what is most important -- will be there spiritually, united in prayer."

"Young people of past World Youth Days are now adults and know up to what point this experience has been wonderful for their lives," said the priest. "Today's young people, tomorrow's adults, will also know that Sydney is close, and that hope and love in the Church's future and in that of the whole of humanity also depends on them."