World Youth Day organizers tap into Toronto leaders’ experience

  • April 24, 2007
TORONTO - The organizers for World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, Australia, have discovered that the Toronto experience holds some valuable lessons. As the officials from Down Under who were in town just before Easter learned, the two cities have a lot in common.
“The Toronto approach and scale are very similar to what we’re looking at,” said Danny Casey, chief operating officer for the church’s World Youth Day 2008 organization, in an April 4 interview.

Casey and Roy Wakelin-King, the chief executive officer for the World Youth Day Co-ordination Authority set up by the state government of New South Wales, which encompasses Sydney, spent two days meeting with officials from WYD 2002. They met with Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, the national director of the Toronto event, and representatives of Ontario and municipal authorities who were involved in everything from policing to transportation.

“We’ve gained valuable information,” said Wakelin-King.

Casey and Wakelin-King pointed out that the Stations of the Cross, dramatized live with actors on downtown Toronto streets, was a highlight of the 2002 event that can be emulated in Sydney. They also liked the emphasis on encouraging religious vocations and plan to provide a similar experience. They also said the Toronto focus on the sacrament of Reconciliation has given them some pointers for their sacramental preparations.

Both men led a group of Australians to Cologne, Germany, for the 2005 event attended by Pope Benedict XVI. They’ve tried to learn lessons from both Cologne and Toronto that can be adapted to the Australian experience.

Sydney, a modern city with a metropolitan population of 4.2 million, is about 25 per cent Catholic. It was the host of the 2000 Summer Olympics and is enthusiastic about hosting what its organizers expect to be the largest public gathering ever to take place in Australia.

Casey said his group is planning for 200,000 registered pilgrims for the week-long events to be held July 15-20, and at least 450,000 for the final vigil and Mass to be presided over by Pope Benedict.

With roughly five million Catholics in Australia, the organizers hope to see some 75,000 of the Australian young Catholics come for the week.

Australia has also been reaching out to neighbouring countries in what is called Oceania. These include Indonesia, Philippines and many small island countries such as the Solomon Islands. The WYD Cross, an icon of past WYD events which is toured across the hosting country in the year prior to the actual day, has been allowed this time to tour other countries in Oceania and Africa before beginning its Australian tour this summer.

And the organizers have teamed up with New Zealand to create the Partnership Support Program. This is designed to link groups from Australia and New Zealand to pilgrim groups in places such as East Timor, West Papua and some of the surrounding islands. In this way, parishes, schools, religious communities and others can help partners from less privileged locations to ensure they can get their pilgrims to Sydney.

The organizers have also created a special low price for the poor in Oceania to attend WYD.

There has been plenty of interest. When registrations opened on the web site in March, there were 57,000 initial registrants from 750 groups in three weeks. The web site ( is now one of Australia’s top 10 sites for the number of visitors.

The church of Australia has high hopes for WYD 2008, said Casey. He sees the event as the catalyst for a 20-year period of renewal and revitalization of the Catholic Church in his country, led by its youth.

“It’s going to be a wonderful thing for the renewal of the church in Australia,” he said. “We’re very confident the people of Australia will embrace the pilgrims. We want to make sure we have a really moving experience of faith.”

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