I’ve been to two World Youth Day events and they were indeed spectacles. I even dedicated an entire chapter to World Youth Day in my first book, Googling God. These pilgrimages that bring youth and young adults together from all over the world were the brainchild of John Paul II and will probably be what he will be remembered most for as pope. He wanted to bring college students together for a “jamboree style campout” with the pope at the helm. The result was a Pope-as-Rock-Star event that brought hundreds of thousands of young people together from around the globe.
But there is a huge downside to World Youth Day. It costs A LOT of money — for the host diocese to produce and for the individual pilgrim to attend. Travel costs alone often range in the thousands of dollars (or high amount of your currency of choice) for many pilgrims. (World Youth Day in Sydney cost me a pretty penny to travel to in 2008!) The rising costs of World Youth Day may lead Pope Francis to re-think the event in its entirety.
A second thing that I know will bother the pope is the amount of waste at World Youth Day. Take a look at this video I shot in Sydney:
I saw more garbage strewn about than I have seen in a long time, and I know that this can’t sit well with a man from a country where poverty and hunger are extreme. And it shouldn’t sit well with those of us from the United States or other parts of the world either.
That said, Pope Francis may have other plans that we don’t know about. With technology being what it is, perhaps he could host virtual World Youth Day events more frequently. (Right now, World Youth Day is held every two years.) I don’t see this pope traveling much because of the expense involved. And even the amount of money required to pull off small events that the pope would attend is likely still quite high. This World Youth Day was already in the hopper, so he let it proceed. Who knows what effect the throngs of young people he meets will have on him?
To be honest, my first World Youth Day in Toronto was exhausting. I couldn’t wait to get home even though I enjoyed it. My second World Youth Day in Sydney was amazing and I wished it would never end. I think in general the event is a good one and helps young people see that the pope has time for them. However, witnessing Pope Francis’ creativity and ability to surprise us so often this early in his papacy makes me wonder what he might be cooking up for the future of World Youth Day.