Pope Headlines Offbeat Festival

SYDNEY, Australia — A reformed crack addict brought pilgrims to tears with tales of his spiritual transformation, nuns partied it up and Pope Benedict XVI petted a koala during a low-key second day of a massive Roman Catholic youth festival.

Wednesday's World Youth Day celebration offered a relaxed schedule, beginning with "time for silence for reflection," according to the pilgrims' official handbook. The faithful attended barbecues at hundreds of venues around the city, browsed through souvenir shops and participated in a pilgrimage walk to St. Mary's Cathedral downtown. In the evening, a beach party at Sydney's famous Bondi Beach was to feature a rapping American priest.

Pilgrims also received a second mobile phone text message from Benedict: "The Holy Spirit gave the Apostles and gives u the power boldly 2 proclaim that Christ is risen! — BXVI."

Australian fauna was on the minds of some of the crowds of pilgrims who celebrated together at traditional Aussie fry-ups in the city.

"Is it kangaroo? Because I can't do that," said Carol Stockley from New Jersey as she overlooked meat sizzling on a hot plate at St. Benedict's Catholic Church in the city. "But we'll try the sausages."

At Notre Dame University, hundreds of pilgrims relaxed in a courtyard, posed for pictures with a life-sized cutout of the pope and munched on Tim Tams (Australian cookies) and lamingtons, local favorite coconut sponge cakes.

Sister Mariam Caritas of New York City chewed on a sausage and giggled with fellow nuns as she enjoyed her first Australian barbecue.

"I've never had so much fun in my life!" she declared.

Elsewhere, crowds of faithful gathered at the city's convention center to hear the words of John Pridmore, a former crack addict and London gangster who once carried a machete, abused women and spent time in jail — but has since found God and embraced Christianity.

"I was out searching to be loved," he told the crowd.

Nearly 250,000 people registered for World Youth Day, more than half from overseas. The pilgrims — who are staying in churches, schools and volunteers' homes — have filled the city for days, recognizable by their official yellow, red and orange backpacks and their cheerful greetings and outbursts of song.

Their joy has not been matched by everyone. As one group of faithful walked down the street belting out a cheerful rendition of "You Are My Sunshine" Wednesday, irritated drivers trying to navigate the city's largely blocked-off downtown roads leaned on their horns.

A Mass on Sunday before thousands is scheduled to end the proceedings.