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Numbers down, spirits up for Toronto World Youth Day

Hundreds of thousands of Catholic teenagers and young adults will meet in Toronto for World Youth Day between 23 and 28 July, but the number is significantly lower than that expected, and that of previous World Youth Day crowds.

As of last Monday, 215,000 participants from more than 170 countries had registered.

"It's not a low number if you think about it," said World Youth Day spokeswoman Christina Parsons, noting that of the two million who attended World Youth Day in Rome in 2000 and the more than one million at World Youth Day in Paris in 1997, many of those had not registered in advance.

She said she is confident that 750,000, as initially predicted, will attend the closing Mass on 28 July with Pope John Paul II at Downsview Park, a former Canadian military base.

But Parsons acknowledged in a telephone interview with Catholic News Service that the current number of registered participants was "a bit lower from what we expected" and said several factors could have played a part.

For starters, not everyone believed that Pope John Paul, who first initiated World Youth Day in 1984, would make it to the Toronto event because of his health, she said.

Parsons also noted that the 11 September terrorist attacks might have influenced the travel plans of many young people from around the world unwilling to pay the increased air fare or to simply travel.

For US pilgrims, she said there is also the factor of the clergy sexual abuse scandal, which might have turned some against church-sponsored events.

"By and large this event comes in the middle of all that, and we need it more than ever," Parsons said.

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11 Jul 2002