Catholic Church hit by mother of all defections

Sydney, Australia - Australia's Marina Dickson wowed a worldwide television audience of 1 billion and was praised by Pope Benedict XVI for her portrayal of the Virgin Mary in a re-enactment of Jesus Christ's final hours. It was the high-point of the week-long World Youth Day celebrations in Sydney last year that drew 400,000 pilgrims from 170 countries.

Which is why the faithful were shocked Sunday when news broke that the beauteous 27-year-old had abandoned the Catholic Church and taken up with the evangelical Sydney-based Hillsong movement.

"It's important you are where God wants you to be," Dickson told the Sun Herald. "I feel Hillsong is where I'm called to be. I'm so happy."

Cardinal George Pell, who as archbishop of Sydney hosted the pope, described the defection as a "great sadness" - particularly because he headed the panel that picked Dickson over thousands of other hopefuls.

The Chilean-born Dickson was unrepentant. "Hillsong is more about having a relationship with God," she told the paper. "It's a lifestyle, not just somewhere to go on Sunday."