BY SIMON CALDWELL
THE NEXT World Youth Day will only attract half as many people as originally
expected, organisers announced this week.
About 350,000 people are likely to join the Pope in Toronto, Canada, between July 23 and July 28, but organisers had hoped that 750,000 would turn up.
World Youth Day is held every two years and the last one, held in Rome in August 2000, the Jubilee Year, attracted a record two million people.
Organisers of this year's youth day blame fears of travel in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States and the high cost of travel from other continents to North America as a reason for the failure to attract pilgrims.
Basilian Fr Thomas Rosica, Toronto World Youth Day national director, said just 172,000 people from 165 countries have so far registered.
The United States has the largest delegation, with more than 46,000 people, followed by Canada with nearly 29,000. Italy has more than 12,000 registrants.
Officials of the Archdiocese of Ottowa have downgraded predictions for church attendance on special prayer and mission days which will precede World Youth Day. Some 25,000 young people were originally expected to participate but now just 5,000 are expected.
Mgr Pat Powers, vicar general of the Ottowa archdiocese, said that although the predicted shortfall was disappointing, it was also "providential", because collections to fund the diocesan prayer days yielded only $400,000, of a total goal of $2 million.
"We would never have had sufficient funds to finance the expense of hosting the 25,000 guests," he said.
Fr Rosica said he never theless believes the events will inspire a new Pentecost in the Church, when God's spirit would be "poured out once again on the young people of the world".
Fr Rosica said: "World Youth Day is truly a Catholic, Pentecost experience because it is Catholic and universal. To be Catholic is to be universal and open to the world."
He said throngs of young people who participated in past youth days echoed the experience of the early Church. "Their goodness, authenticity and joy could not help but inspire and attract others to the Christian way of life," he said.