Pope-on-a-rope: Catholic kitsch gets with it

Sydney, Australia - The Italians brought along a heavy-metal group, from the United States there's a rapping priest and representing switched-on Austria at Sydney's week-long youth festival Thursday were a couple of monks that top the European pop charts with their CD of Gregorian chants. Welcome to the World Youth Day celebrations, where nationalities compete to show that the faithful aren't fuddy-duddies and fashion is for believers too.

The pilgrims, 125,000 of them from abroad, parade in T-shirts with slogans that proclaim their pride in their religion and their admiration for Pope Benedict XVI, who is in Sydney to greet them.

Jesus Freak!! is a popular one, along with Does This Shirt Make Me Look Catholic?

John Herron, a former government minister and once Canberra's envoy to the Vatican, delighted in the trend, also evident in crucifixes that double as USB computer sticks and bling emblazoned with the real Madonna.

"Don't be ashamed of anything, about your religion or your birth or your age or who you are," Herron, a World Youth Day ambassador, urged the young flock. "There's nothing to be ashamed about by being a public Catholic. They should be more assertive, because you stand for something."