CNS PHOTO | COURTESY OF WORLD YOUTH DAY 2011
People pose for a group photo, gather for a Mass and concert May 8 at an arena in Madrid, marking 100 days until the start of World Youth Day 2011.
MADRID, SPAIN - World Youth Day organizers in Madrid are promising a "fiesta," adding a Spanish flavour to the traditional opportunities for prayer, friendship, music and religious education.
So far, more than 350,000 youths have registered for the Aug. 16-21 event, which Pope Benedict will attend. The figure included about 22,500 young people from the United States and 5,500 from Canada.
The Italians - always a big contingent at World Youth Day - were leading the pack with more than 65,000 registrants, outpacing even the Spaniards by more than 10,000.
While registering has benefits - including priority seating at papal events - young people seem to know they won't be turned away, and so an earlier estimate of 1.5 million participants seems to be right on track.
Father Eric Jacquinet, the official in charge of the youth section at the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the official sponsor of World Youth Day, said, "We can't predict how many will register at the last minute."
At WYD Paris in 1997, he said, 300,000 young people pre-registered and there were 1.2 million people at the closing vigil and closing Mass with Pope John Paul II.
The staff of WYD Madrid has rallied interest and is helping prepare all those young people with a major presence on the Internet, especially through social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
Photos of the preparation phase are posted on Flickr and videos produced by or about WYD 2011 are collected on a special YouTube channel.
Organizers announced earlier this month that the Madrid event will be the first World Youth Day with its own radio station and with a web-TV site.
Erika Rivera Palma, a spokeswoman for WYD '11, said the organization looked for 20,000 volunteers to help during the event. More than 30,000 people applied and the staff is still sifting through the applications to settle on 22,400 volunteers.
As of May 12, she said, the World Youth Day staff was 500 strong, and 80 per cent of those workers were volunteers. Some were already in Madrid, but many were working from home on the website and Facebook pages.
That WYD Madrid has a strong presence in cyberspace - a very interactive universe where comments are posted with ease - may have something to do with the amount of criticism that has surrounded the official hymn for the Madrid gathering.
The anthem, with words by Auxiliary Bishop Cesar Franco of Madrid, was released in November.
But when WYD organizers started feeling the burn of the online commentators, they opened a worldwide contest, soliciting songs - not to replace the bishop's hymn, but to play alongside it.
Some 270 songs were submitted and just more than 130 were deemed eligible, said Rivera.
The public was being asked to go to a website - www.madridmeencanta.org - and vote for their favourites by May 31. A WYD panel was to take the top 25 vote-getters and choose five of them to feature in Madrid.
Hundreds of bands, choirs and soloists applied for an official performance slot at World Youth Day - vying for an international stage, but no pay. Organizers chose 255 of them.
The first three afternoons, evenings and nights - "evening" in Madrid would be considered "night" in many other parts of the world - have been set aside for cultural activities, including the music and museum visits.
The mornings will be dedicated to religious education sessions, which take place in hundreds of locations and in dozens of languages. The teachers of the sessions are 250 bishops, who almost always leave plenty of time to dialogue with the youths.
Jacquinet said the pontifical council chooses the 250 bishops, usually based on those who have told the council they will attend WYD and are available.