Pope Benedict XVI is set to arrive in Madrid on Thursday for World Youth Day, which is taking place in the Spanish city over six days August 16 to 21 with more than a million young Catholics expected to attend.
The pope has said of his trip, “Tomorrow I will go to Madrid where I will have the joy of meeting so many young people gathered there for XXVI World Youth Day.”
Prior to his trip the pope asked for the support of the Catholic youth saying, “Your prayers will support and accompany me in the apostolic trip I undertake in Spain.”
It is Pope Benedict XVI’s third trip to Spain since he became the Roman Catholic head in 2005, and is the third world youth day he has led.
However, the celebration of youth this year comes at a time when young people around the world are universally struggling to find work and survive amid global economic chaos.
Spain is no anomaly to this situation and Pope Benedict XVI arrives in Spain amid acute economic turmoil. The Spanish government is saddled with debt and the unemployment rate is soaring to nearly 21 percent.
Fears that mounting Spanish debt might lead to a Greece and Ireland style bailout for the Eurozone has also been causing widespread panic and speculation that has been playing out on both the Spanish and global markets.
Spain is Europe’s fourth largest economy but its current dire economic status is causing some to question the necessity of the pope’s visit at this time.
The Associated Press has reported that the Pope’s trip, which comes with a $72 million dollar price tag, is hitting a “raw nerve” even among the most avid Catholics in the country due to the country’s economic stagnation mixed with the large cost of preparing for a large scale event. It is estimated to have millions of attendees from as far away as Pakistan to as close as France.
Nevertheless, the Catholic Church is holding its stance amid the criticism and arguing that the central aspect of this trip will be to generate a sense of hope and positivity among desperate youth.
One such representative of the Church, Rev. Father Stanley Gomes of Seton Hall University told AP of the pope’s visit, “This message is about hope, about the future, to move from the current situation – whatever it is, and now it is kind of devastating – but move forward toward the future and hope that things will be better.”
World Youth Day began in 1984 when Pope John Paul II invited young people to come to Rome for Palm Sunday. More than 300,000 young people turned out for the celebration.
The second international world youth day took place in Buenos Aires in 1987 and Pope John Paul II announced to the crowd, “As I said from day one of my pontificate, you are the hope of the Pope, you are the hope of the Church.”
Each world youth day has its own separate theme to reflect the diversity and universality of the Catholic Church. Organizers predict that up to 2 million people will attend the events in Madrid this week.