Too many World Youth Days (WYD)? Too much money in WYD? This is the debate that is stirring people's minds in Portugal at the moment, a few months before an event whose cost, published by the press, in more than one way seems exorbitant in a recessive economic context while war is raging at the gates of Europe.
More than 160 million euros is the total for the expenses planned to date for the 37th edition of World Youth Days (WYD) to be held in Portugal from August 1 to 6, 2023. The cost provides an opportunity for left-wing parties to mock “world days of mismanagement.”
But what is perhaps causing the most ink to flow is the altar and its adjoining structure, which are to be the scene of the celebration of the closing Papal Mass: an imposing three-story setting that can accommodate 2,000 people, the cost of which could exceed five million euros.
The President of the Portuguese Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, a practicing Catholic, even turned to the Holy See to ask for more austerity: “The faithful hope that all this really corresponds the thinking of the Pope who is attached to simplicity and poverty,” wondered the Head of State.
In Rome, they defend themselves from any responsibility in the organization of what is likely to appear, once again, like a Hollywood blockbuster: “The organization of this event is local, and the Holy See was not consulted on the sums involved,” specified Matteo Bruni, director of the Press Room of the Holy See, thus returning the ball to the Lusitanian camp.
On the side of the Portuguese Church, one senses the discomfort: “I admit that these figures are grievous,” laments a somewhat embarrassed Msgr. Americo Aguiar, auxiliary bishop of Lisbon. The prelate, who is, it should be remembered, at the head of the WYD organization, promised to revise the budget downwards, and to eliminate “non-essential” expenses.
There is a positive side, the controversy has had the merit of showing that World Youth Days are increasingly considered by political authorities as a means of attracting tourists - and investors - in the long term. “The WYD is a great project which will mobilize the whole country,” explains Carlos Moedas, the mayor of Lisbon, who sees it above all as an “investment” for organizing future events which have nothing religious about them.
Moreover, the city councilor does not hide having put all his weight in the organization of this pharaonic WYD. A rather interesting “investment” for him, since the Church contributes 80 million euros against 35 million from the town hall for infrastructures which will be reused later for projects from which the city will mainly benefit.
Same story happened beyond the Portuguese borders, in neighboring Spain: Isabel Diaz Ayuso, the mayor of Madrid, is pleased that the WYD organized in her city in 2011 made it possible to generate a juicy profit of 350 million euros.
“WYDs can make Lisbon a global epicenter,” says Isabel Diaz Ayuso, already imagining the economic benefits for the Lusitanian peninsula.
It is sometimes said that the value of an idea depends on its use. For the Portuguese, the question is whether WYD 2023 is really a good idea; but one thing is certain, for the organizing cities, prayer is business.