Despite the millions in support from State and Federal governments, it’s looking as if Sydney’s World Youth Day will be the smallest in the event’s history.
The current last place holder is WYD 93 held in Denver, Colorado, where a paltry half a million believers showed up -“ and that was for a rock star pope, John Paul II.
So far only 123,000 pilgrims have committed to Sydney, sparking panic in the NSW tourism industry with thousands of hotel beds remaining unbooked and much of the regular trade diverting elsewhere after being told to expect a Catholic throng. To make up the shortfall, literally one in 10 of Australia’s Catholics would have to make the trip to Darling Harbour for WYD Sydney to even scrape in at second last place.
Much has been made of the money thrown at the event in comparison to the diddly-squat that Mardi Gras gets. Catholics make up around 20 percent of the population, the GLBT community about five.
All up state and federal governments will kick in nearly $100 million towards an event that will draw similar crowds to a wet parade year. Surely we deserve something.
And it’s not exactly like the Vatican is crying poor or has difficulty organising large events. In 2003 when Chile was about to become the last country in the Americas to legalise divorce, the Catholic Church ran a nationwide ad campaign screened on multiple TV channels trying to defeat the bill.
Then in 2005 it organised protests to try to block the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Spain and, when that failed, held enormous political rallies to try to kick the government of President Jose Zapatero out of office. The plan backfired and he was returned with an increased majority earlier this year.
And this trend of defeat for Catholic orthodoxy, I fear, explains why we’ve been so lucky to be lumped with the event.
Catholicism has lost the battle on gay rights and other issues across most of Europe and South America. But outside the Third World, Australia is one of the few majority Christian countries that has bucked the trend.
So expect our community to get a special mention from his Holiness on his trip Down Under, as he tries to rally the troops to shore up the crumbling wall. Remember -“ this is the same Pope who, when confronted with outrage over pedophilia in the Church, deemed launching a witch hunt against gay priests to be the appropriate smokescreen.