Toronto organisers report weak registration for World Youth Day
Ahead of Pope John Paul II's arrival tomorrow for World Youth Day festivities, organisers say the number of people registered to attend is well below initial projections and figures from previous years.
So far, just under 200,000 young people - aged 16 to 35 - have signed up to take part in the weeklong activities that conclude with an outdoor Mass on Sunday.
The number is less than a third of the 750,000 predicted two years ago when Toronto was named host of the 2002 event, and less than half the scaled-back estimate of 500,000 after the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States.
Organisers said on Friday they expect some "walk-on" registrations from Canada and the United States to increase this year's total, and the number attending the final Mass could be double or more the total of registered participants.
But even the most optimistic estimates would make it among the smallest attendance figures for a World Youth Day. By comparison, one million people attended the final Mass at World Youth Day in Buenos Aires in 1987 and more than four million were at the final Mass at the 1995 World Youth Day in Manila.
Several factors contributed to the low turnout, with the pope's frail health the most significant, said Paul Kilbertus, the World Youth Day communications director.
News reports in recent months have raised questions about whether the Holy Father would be able to attend, causing people to wonder if they should go, Kilbertus said.
"It's understandable that they would ask, 'Am I going to risk spending all this money when the pope may not even be there?'" he said.
Holding World Youth Day in Canada, with a small population of 31 million, also affected attendance, with pilgrims from countries with significant Catholic populations facing long trips, Kilbertus said.
About 800,000 Italians took part in the last World Youth Day, in Rome two years ago, while only 40,000 Canadians are registered for this year's event, he said.
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