LIKE five million other Australians, I proudly belong to the Catholic faith - a tradition that stretches back 2000 years and includes more than one billion adherents in every country of the world.
Faith is important to me. Deeply important.
It provides a sense of meaning to life and a set of time-honoured values for our children. Crucially, it also offers a constant reminder of the innate dignity and worth of every human being.
My faith directly influences my Government's policies in areas like mental health, disability services and housing for the needy and homeless.
Faith is also a source of comfort and guidance.
My faith helps achieve a sense of inner calm, understanding and forgiveness. It's important to never lose balance and perspective.
For Christians, as with every other religion, faith is mostly a daily struggle with the challenges of daily life. But occasionally there are times when our faith becomes particularly vivid and alive, as during this week's World Youth Day activities and the historic visit of Pope Benedict XVI.
For Catholics, a papal visit has deep meaning and significance.
This is the first papal visit to this country since 1995. Until 1970, a pontiff had never visited Australia.
In fact, until the early 1960s, the pope never left the Vatican.
In previous eras, the papacy was quite remote.
Today it has become a central role for the pope to travel around the world visiting far-flung communities in person, including Australia. This reminds us that we are part of the universal Church - that despite distance, we count, we belong.
In undertaking these journeys, the Pope comes as a servant and a shepherd who wants to strengthen our faith and commitment through his own wisdom, love and example. That is why Catholics tend to call the Pope by the name Holy Father - or, in Italian, "Papa".
The word, which means something more like "daddy", is especially appropriate for the humble, humane and good-humoured Benedict XVI.
So for me and my family, meeting the Pope will be something special and beautiful.
This isn't just because it is exciting but because it will give us encouragement and inspiration long after His Holiness has flown back to Rome.
That is the real point of World Youth Day and Pope Benedict's visit.
Yes, it's a week of excitement, colour and adventure. But, more importantly, it's a source of strength for the long journey that lies ahead for all of us.
Welcome Pope Benedict. May your visit be peaceful, joyous and enriching.
* Morris Iemma is Premier of NSW
Source: DT, 15 July 08