BY CHRISTINA WHITE
MORE THAN 400 Ugandan youths have been denied visas to attend the World Youth Day celebrations in Toronto, further increasing the likelihood that the event will be dominated by young people from the industrialised world.
Visa applications from Bangladesh and South America have already been declined for the event, which starts in Toronto on July 23. To date, the United States has the largest delegation, with more than 46,000 people expected to travel over the border to the event. In total, an estimated 350,000 young people are thought to be travelling to Canada to join the Pope.
Canadian Immigration offi cials said last week the Ugandan applications were rejected because they lacked supporting documents.
But Church officials in Africa insisted that the necessary documentation was provided and over $32,000 (£21,000) has already been spent securing airline reservations, registration fees and accommodation for the proposed delegates.
Only 14 of the 430 Ugandans who applied received visas.
The Canadian authorities have expressed concern that many of those seeking to travel to Canada are using the trip to bypass conventional immigration routes. Applicants must prove sufficient financial and family ties to Uganda to guarantee their return.
The Canadians are advising that students should provide letters from parents, schools and colleges together with bank statements, land titles and housing deeds. Older delegates have been asked for proof of employment.
An immigration spokesman said that "given the economic and security situation in Uganda, it is likely that having failed to meet the criteria ... members of the group would seek to stay in Canada".
But a government Minister appeared to be seeking a compromise this week. Dennis Mills, appointed by Prime Minister Jean Chretien to oversee World Youth Day, told reporters that "anyone that is approved by the Vatican or local bishop as being a World Youth Day person, we will issue them visas".
And he insisted that Canada had tried to make the application process "as easy as possible".
The visa debacle threatens to detract from the celebrations, which are now in the final weeks of preparation. Ugandan Church officials said time was running out and they doubted the visas could be processed in time.
In a letter to Fr Thomas Rosica, the World Youth Day's national director, they said: "We find the conditions/criteria used to process the applications unfavourable given the nature of our pilgrimage."