A priest distributes Communion during the closing WYD Mass in Madrid. However thousands of pilgrims were unable to receive Communion because of inadequate preparations.

CNS FILE PHOTO | PAUL HARING

A priest distributes Communion during the closing WYD Mass in Madrid. However thousands of pilgrims were unable to receive Communion because of inadequate preparations.

May 14, 2012
VANESSA SANTILLI
THE CATHOLIC REGISTER

Lack of Holy Communion, the unavailability of water and a failed media structure were only some of the problems faced by Canadians at World Youth Day in Madrid.

An evaluation from nearly 6,000 young Canadians, 24 bishops and more than 100 priests, deacons and religious found a host of difficulties at the 2011 event.

"It was fraught with logistical difficulties, some of which are linked to the fact of any large event, but some clearly to a lack of preparation and foresight," said Father Thomas Rosica, who spearheaded the evaluation at the request of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The Canadian bishops appointed Rosica WYD co-ordinator for the Canadian delegation to Madrid, a role he will take on for the next WYD in 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The chief executive officer of Salt + Light Media Foundation, Rosica was national director of the 2002 WYD event in Toronto.

Rosica made his report available the week of April 30 to the CCCB and all Canadian youth ministers.

"Close to 3,000 Canadians did not have access to the final sites on Saturday and Sunday," said Rosica.

"There was very poor distribution of the screens and visibility. It was too crowded. The event was too large. There was a sense of being overwhelmed and a very poor use of English."

The Canadian evaluations also found the Stations of the Cross was neither accessible nor participatory.

Rosica highlighted a couple of areas of concern which need to be improved for Rio, including problems with communications.

"The journalists were treated horribly," he said. "When media passes are not recognized, promised locations are not granted to media personnel, we should not be surprised that stories are not favourable about our event or about the Church."

Another key concern that needs to be addressed in the future included the lack of Communion in Madrid at both the opening and closing Mass.

"We cannot forget logistical problems like this one also have pastoral and liturgical ramifications and consequences that last long after the event is over."

Whatever the real, legitimate circumstances were that caused these problems, something must be done to avoid them in the future, he said.

But with the bad also came the good. There was a lot of positive feedback about the meal voucher tickets, he said.

"One of the great successes was the Love and Life Centre," said Rosica, which was a home for English-speaking pilgrims. Salt + Light was one of the centre's sponsors.

"The Canadian gathering was a huge success in everybody's evaluation; it was very positive. It was the first time we held a Canadian national gathering and it was the first time we brought together almost 6,000 people from Canada."

Rosica's report and recommendations to the CCCB and youth ministers will also mention "very serious security issues" along with transportation problems in Rio.

"Though Rio is going to be hosting the Olympics and the World Cup, World Youth Day is not the same because of the vulnerability of the participants."

It's notable that Canadian and American participants will have to pay more than $100 for a Brazilian visa, since there's no reciprocal travel agreements between the countries, he said.

LISTEN TO THE CHURCH

And it's important to keep in mind that travel agencies do not dictate the agenda - that's the Church's role, he said. "Great prudence and caution is required in taking the advice of any travel agency in Canada over and above the Church and the bishop's conference."

At a Vatican meeting last month, Rosica suggested to the Pontifical Council for the Laity that some kind of permanent advisory group be formed in order to ensure good communication and continuity for World Youth Days, he said.

"All of that being said, I'm going to Rio. They're always wonderful events. But I think prudence is required this time. I'm not by any means discouraging people, but we must exercise prudence."