MADRID – With a month to go before half a million young Catholics descend on Madrid, “there are an infinite number of small problems to solve,” said the executive director of World Youth Day 2011.
Yago de la Cierva said July 18 that he has “seven tons of rosaries I have to bail out of customs.” The U.S.-based Family Rosary Crusade had the rosaries made in Ecuador and sent to Madrid for distribution to participants at World Youth Day, Aug. 16-21.
But, de la Cierva said, it is a bit difficult to convince customs agents that seven tons of anything shipped internationally is meant as a gift and not a product to be sold and, therefore, taxed.
A produce company has promised to donate 25,000 pounds of bananas, but if organizers accept the fruit, “we have to find a way to dispose of all those peels,” he told reporters at a news conference in Madrid.
More importantly, he said, the organization is trying to select and get security clearance for the 50 young people who personally will welcome the pope to Madrid Aug. 18, and organizers also are deciding which five young people will have the honor of asking Pope Benedict XVI a question during the vigil Aug. 20.
With just a month left to plan six days of activities for the more than 420,000 young people who already have registered for World Youth Day and for the 1.2 million people expected at the pope’s final Mass Aug. 21, organizers estimate the event will cost more than $70 million. However, they said they expect to cover it all with registration fees and donations, especially of supplies. The donated material includes the bananas and other food for participants, but also big-ticket items like private security officers and the materials and labor for the stages and altar platforms for papal events.
The Madrid headquarters is staffed with 250 people, “working 25 hours a day,” de la Cierva said. About 200 of the staff members are volunteers from around the world. Many are housed, fed and transported by World Youth Day, but none of them are paid.
“All the plans have been finalized. The work is going forward. We currently are reviewing what else needs to be done,” the executive director said.
One of those things, he said, is to accept more volunteers. The original plan was to have 23,000 helping Aug. 16-21, but now organizers are rallying 30,000 volunteers. Just the task of coordinating all those volunteers is a major undertaking, he said.
David Martin Valles, vice director of Madrid’s tourism promotion office, said the demand for hotel rooms in the city this August is “150 percent higher than normal for August.” In a city that has about 70,000 hotel rooms, the occupancy rate is expected to be complete, he said. Hotels in towns nearby also are experiencing a boom in bookings.
In fact, de la Cierva said, with more than 300,000 of the registered pilgrims requesting housing, WYD has recruited host families and has found schools, churches and sports centers willing to host young people with sleeping bags. He said the city has offered 643 public buildings – mainly schools – and the church and private groups are providing another 790 venues that will be transformed into hostels, complete with portable showers.
Father Javier Cremades, coordinator of the key large liturgies and ceremonies, said, “We’re in the phase when we don’t even have time to breathe. One of my assistants said, ‘I’m dying,’ and I told him he had to wait until September.”
With Masses planned each day for specific language groups and the papal Mass planned for the last day, the priest said his office expects to use between 4 million and 5 million Communion hosts. The altar linens have been made by volunteers around the world and mailed to Madrid.
The Archdiocese of Toledo is lending World Youth Day a 16th-century monstrance encased in a gothic tower, which will be used for eucharistic adoration at the Aug. 20 vigil, and cities from throughout Spain are lending – and paying the shipping costs – of the statues that will be used for the Way of the Cross Aug. 19.
The statues, usually carried through the streets during the cities’ Holy Week processions, will be displayed along one of Madrid’s main boulevards. Groups of 10 young people from various countries where people are suffering will carry the World Youth Day cross from one station to another.
The meditations for the service were written by a group of Spanish nuns and will focus on Christ suffering in his people, especially the young, de la Cierva said. One of the meditations will invoke prayers for “young people who have been abused by adults, whether at the hands of a teacher, a nurse, a police officer, a parent or a priest,” de la Cierva said.