Young and happy, pilgrims from the four corners of the Earth are gathered in Spain for the Roman Catholic church’s third World Youth Day, presided over by Pope Benedict XVI.
However many in Spain are irritated at the invasion of the happy clappers at a time of austerity and a decline in church attendance.
On arrival the young faithful are greeted by the organisers with a veritable goody bag of kit to help them enjoy the festival, a rucksack brimming with discount vouchers for lodgings, transport and food at a total cost of over four million euros.
In all the event is budgeted at 50 million euros, and it is estimated it will generate 100 million in revenues for the state.
The organisers say 70 percent of the costs will covered by pilgrim’s subscriptions, and the rest by business donations.
The price for a pilgrim depends on where they come from, but assuming a 100 euro average, with 450,000 people attending, that raises 45 million euros. The price includes free board and lodging and cut-price public transport. Sponsors’ donations are 90 percent tax deductible.
The obvious shortfall and hidden costs to the taxpayer is upsetting many Spaniards, who have just seen their bus and metro tickets rise by 50 percent. The question being asked is – with all the freebies how is the state going to make a 100 million euro profit?
Plus there are other costs. Policing the event will need extra personnel who will get big bonuses, and the cleanup operation will not be cheap, either.
In addition 450,000 extra visitors will put a strain on infrastructures, and the young are not noted for having a lot of disposable income to splash around.
Opponents of the Papal visit and the Youth Day say the figures are all wrong, and are also opposed on other grounds.
Luis Vega, head of Spain’s Association of Atheists and Free Thinkers “We do not agree with our taxes being used to pay for this. We do not agree that in a secular country the administration can give an exaggerated amount of assistance to a religious representative, whatever the religion.”
Above and beyond criticisms due to the current financial climate, the cold wind of crisis is blowing over Spanish Catholicism. Although nearly three-quarters of the population says it is Catholic, only 13 percent go to mass, and only seven percent of young people. In just the last decade, the number of those calling themselves atheists has doubled. Among the young that figure is 42 percent.
Spain, one of the Catholic church’s European jewels, is starting to slip from the fold, and the voices of those demanding a clear separation between church and state are growing in number, and volume.