Hunt for Jesus in hedonistic city a huge challenge
Sydney is used to hosting big Hollywood productions. The Matrix, Mission Impossible 2 and Moulin Rouge were all filmed in and around the harbour city, using Australian actors and extras. But Sydney's next mega production, a full-scale re-enactment of the Crucifixion of Christ, is proving to be far more challenging - the director just can't find anyone suitable to fill the main role.
As part of the much-anticipated World Youth Day in July - a congress of young Catholics from around the globe - Sydney plans to stage a crucifixion on a barge floating on Sydney Harbour. The historical tableaux will feature a full cast of Roman soldiers, the 12 apostles, Judas, Mary and, of course, Jesus.
Unfortunately, Catholic authorities are finding it difficult to locate a Sydneysider with the required Christ-like attributes - although they have been inundated with suitable Judases, Roman centurions and thieves; no surprise in a city more associated with money and the pleasures of the flesh than religious devotion.
Father Franco Cavarra, responsible for mounting the multimillion-dollar extravaganza (which will be held in front of Pope Benedict), has already rejected two candidates. 'We're still looking for Jesus,' he said. 'I don't know if such a person exists, but that is what I'd like to find.'
The ideal candidate, says Father Cavarra, should be aged in his 20s or early 30s, at least 1.82 metres tall and project 'strength, gentleness and vulnerability at the same time'. Oh, and be a good Catholic, of course.
The search has captured the public imagination. A leading newspaper has already launched an online Find Jesus campaign - and the issue has been widely aired on radio and television.
Curiously enough, this is the first good press that the 23rd World Youth Day (July 15 to 20) has so far attracted. Apart from irritating Sydney's large contingent of agnostics and atheists, the event has upset the city's horseracing fraternity - the Papal Mass is being held at Randwick racecourse, causing a 10-week disruption to racing.
Morris Iemma, the state's Australian-Italian Catholic premier, only appeased the Australian Jockey Club by pledging A$20 million (HK$142 million) for the inconvenience.
Some opposition lawmakers claim that the compensation should have come from the Catholic Church, not the taxpayer. Sections of the horseracing fraternity, still recovering from an equine flu outbreak, are also unhappy. John O'Shea, vice-president of the NSW Trainers' Association, doubts the money will adequately compensate for the disruption. 'The timing of the event is horrendous.'
The state government defends its actions by claiming that World Youth Day will inject A$140 million into the New South Wales economy and attract an estimated 500,000 pilgrims to Sydney.
There are also mutterings of complaint about the church's plans to site 13 Stations of the Cross around the city, in parks, outside art galleries and around the harbour.
The event, which depicts the last hours of Christ, will culminate at the Sydney Opera House, where Jesus (when he is found) will be scourged, crowned with thorns and receive his wooden cross. He will then be taken by barge to a floating stage at Cockle Bay.
Having the central business district taken over by Catholic devotees from around the world has not gone down well with Sydney's non-religious population. The most immediate problem for the organisers though is Jesus. 'Maybe we'll have to import a Jesus,' one listener told talkback radio this week. 'I don't think such a person exists in Sydney - if he did we'd make him prime minister.'