Who's Paying for World Youth Day?

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With only four months to go, the estimated costs of World Youth Day have risen by 50 per cent to $150 million, according to an internal memo reported by the Sydney Morning Herald recently.

Federal cash grants provide up to a quarter (20-24 per cent) of the blowout, but this does not include any of the Government’s in-kind support, such as security, accommodation (pilgrims will be billeted at public schools as well as Catholic and private homes – newmatilda.com readers who are parents of school-aged children might have received a letter asking them to consider registering as hosts), emergency health care and use of City venues.

This includes up to 300 venues for three mornings of catechesis (where bishops give religious instruction to the youth in question). A "vocations expo" will also be held from 15-18 July at the Convention Centre in Darling Harbour to encourage youth to join religious orders. That’s where you can pick up your Benedictine showbag – but don’t expect it to contain any brandy samples.

Jim Hanna, Director of Communications for World Youth Day (WYD) confirmed that renting spaces such as the Convention Centre "is part of [the]in-kind support" being provided by the State Government. But he says the real cost of the event will not be known until pilgrim numbers are finalised.

Pilgrims pay a registration fee ranging from $50 to $395, depending on their country of origin. Registration includes health insurance, transport while in Sydney and visa fees – also part of Federal in kind support). WYD’s own attendance estimates have ranged from 125,000 to 500,000 (the Church denies that estimates are falling), so that could generate between $6 and almost $200 million.

The church "and donors" account for a slightly smaller 18-22 per cent of the budget.

The Vatican might not match the Government in dollar value, but it can offer benefits that Kevin Rudd and Morris Iemma can’t. The Holy See has chucked in plenary indulgences for anyone who participates in certain rituals around the tour of the WYD cross. You don’t even have to be in Sydney to have your slate of sins wiped clean, as the cross – the Olympic Torch of Christian symbols – is travelling through every diocese in the country.

The Archdiocese of Sydney is contributing $15 million toward WYD events and denies it will be making a profit from the event. On optimistic days the pilgrim juggernaut is expected to hit 500,000 participants and bring millions of tourist dollars into the state.

Image thanks to Lukas.

As a topical comparison, Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras brings a comparable number of visitors and an estimated $45 million into New South Wales, but attracts zero funding from either the State or Federal Governments. When Clover Moore raised the lack of State funding in Parliament two weeks ago, Iemma directed her to Events NSW, the new coordinating body which is supposed to attract more events to the State. Victorians aren’t that far ahead – John Brumby offers the Melbourne equivalent, Midsumma, a token $15,000.

The church has no shortage of corporate sponsors. Listed partners include Qantas, the Commonwealth Bank, Catholic Church Insurances Ltd and Mercedes-Benz. The "song benefactor" is Mineralogy, which owns the Fortescue iron ore lease near Dampier in WA – so we’re thinking there’ll be a little rock and a little metal.

The $150 million price tag doesn’t include disruptions to the normal running of the city. The Sydney Harbour Bridge will be closed for a mammoth 12 hours on Saturday 19 July, for the pilgrims’ walk from North Sydney across to Randwick to listen to Pope Benedict XVI conduct a vigil mass (and no, they can’t just walk on the water).

Nor does it include the payouts. The NSW and Federal Governments are providing $41 million to the Australian Jockey Club and the racing industry to reserve Randwick Racecourse for the mass, but the church denies this is all for World Youth Day. It also covers lease extensions and upgrades to Warwick Farm racecourse.

Even at this late stage the budget could grow further. "It’s going to depend on how many pilgrims come," Hanna explains. "80 per cent of that [$150 million] is delivered to pilgrims – meals, accommodation, backpacks – which will affect things like how much accommodation we need."

"The other 20 per cent is staging, building structures, preparing altars and sites for pilgrims… so we can ensure things can be done safely, toilets, lighting, we’ve got to put in sound equipment, arrange a host broadcaster," he continues. In Australia, SBS will screen the opening and closing events and papal arrival on free-to-air TV.

Security for the head of one of the world’s wealthiest states, Pope Benedict XVI, has already been compared to that laid on for the APEC summit and the Sydney Olympics. Police Minister David Campbell did not comment on the projected costs.

The free visas offered to pilgrims are also free of the usual quotas, so perhaps this ambitious Catholic event will turn out like the Olympics in more ways than one. We might even see a few defections.

New Matilda

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