Canada: one year on, the balance sheet from World Youth Day in Toronto
In July 2002, the disused Downsview Park military airport in Toronto, received John Paul II and the 700,000 pilgrims of the 17th World Youth Day. Exactly one year later, it was the Rolling Stones and their 450,000 fans who invaded this former air base. What remains of the Popes visit? La Croix (September 13-14) gives a report which expresses mixed feelings to say the least.
For Mgr. James Wingle, bishop of Saint Catherines in Ontario, member of the episcopal committee responsible for the follow through of the WYD, the impact of this gathering is palpable: We feel in the Church a certain excitement. The young are still seeing each other one year later. They have formed groups, they work together on community and pastoral projects, gather together for prayer and to deepen their faith. We see many new faces at our gatherings, young people who have met WYD participants, or who followed the event on the television.
Denis Bérubé, responsible for the pastoral care of the young in the diocese of Montreal, is a long way from sharing this enthusiasm: Young people have never been a priority for the Church in Canada, and a one-off gathering can not completely change things. Old habits quickly get the upper hand. There have been successes in some parishes, who have known how to take advantage of the occasion to set up meetings, such as weekly Taizé prayer. But the majority have contented themselves with welcoming the young people who came. That is why, according to him, there are not more young people in churches today.
Furthermore, the balance sheet shows a deficit of 38 million Canadian dollars (€25 million). The Canadian bishops justify themselves: Our budget estimates were upset by events which were out of our control. The participation of young people was affected by, amongst other things, the tragedy of September 11, 2001, by the political climate and by economic difficulties which are rife in many countries. The result: dioceses today must dip into their own coffers or take out bank loans, in order to repay the sum allocated to each of them, according to their Catholic population.
In addition to this deficit, there is another deficit, more serious and more enduring: 83% of the population of Quebec declares itself Catholic, but scarcely 10% go to Church; only 5% of 18-34 year olds attend Mass on Sunday. Moreover, 35% of the 3,300 diocesan priests are over 70, and half of them are between 50 and 70.