WELLINGTON, July 14 – New Zealand immigration officials said Monday they were looking for 32 Indian Catholic pilgrims who have gone missing during a stopover on their way to Australia for World Youth Day.,
The Department of Labour said it was working with the Catholic church in New Zealand to look for the pilgrims, who went missing soon after arriving last week on their way to Sydney where Pope Benedict XVI will lead World Youth Day celebrations later this week.
A total of 220 Indian Catholics were given one-month visitor visas for New Zealand and they were due to leave for Australia on Tuesday this week.
The 32 pilgrims have gone missing over the past four or five days, the department said in a statement.
While they had the legal right to remain in New Zealand until their visas expired, the department, which is in charge of immigration, said it wants to ensure they continue their trip to Australia as previously arranged.
New Zealand Catholic church spokeswoman Lyndsay Freer said the pilgrims arrived in New Zealand early last week where they were met by local Catholic parish representatives.
"Some of them cleared customs and sort of disappeared and nobody saw them. That was a very tiny number of the 32," Freer told Radio New Zealand.
"The rest went to the various homes they were to be billeted at, and after a day or so kind of disappeared."
"In terms of the law it’s not illegal, but it’s certainly most extraordinary and most disappointing," she said.
More than 100,000 foreign pilgrims are expected in Sydney for this week’s celebrations, which begin on Tuesday and end with a papal mass on Sunday.