Monday ~~ Monday July 7 2008
Pope-approved megastore opens its doors
By ninemsn staff
Scroll down to note the role of Australia's misogynic, homophobic Cardinal George Pell which saw World Youth Day awarded to Sydney; the multimillion dollar deals involved; Pell's "close relationship" with Benedict XVI; and read HERE for the tidal wave of criticism following the exposure of Pell's direct role in covering-up evidence/denying victim justice following sexual abuse/attempted rape by a Sydney priest
Pilgrims who plan to open their hearts to God at World Youth Day will also be encouraged to open their wallets at the Catholic Church's official merchandise store in Hyde Park.
Pilgrims can get their days off to a holy start by stirring their morning cuppa with an official Pope Benedict XVI teaspoon.
The adjacent St Mary's Cathedral has an electronic reminder of how long pilgrims have left to shop before the official proceedings begin.
The Catholic Church is encouraging pilgrims to give into temptations of a retail kind with its official line of World Youth Day merchandise.
At the official World Youth Day store in Hyde Park, Pope Benedict XVI's face is emblazoned on everything from teaspoons to keyrings.
A huge tent has been erected across the road from St Mary's Cathedral and is packed with over 460 different items.
Those searching for divine threads can find brands "Receive the Power" and "Faith" while the street-smart Catholic might appreciate the teen-targeted "Pilgrim Pride" range.
Proving to be a true trendsetting Pope, Benedict's range includes a sporty collection of "Benedetto" rugby jersey and baseball caps.
And despite flaunting the fourth commandment "thou shall not make for yourself an idol" celebrity singer Guy Sebastian features heavily in the merchandise marquee.
The inaugural Australian Idol winner teams up with fellow reality TV alumni Paulini on the "Songs of Faith and Love" CD and DVD collection.
Deep-pocketed pilgrims can pick up a signed and framed copy costing $250.
The Aria-winning singer even has his very own line of WYD-exclusive clothing.
"It is great to be involved in an event where so many young people come together with the same thing in mind to unite and spread the message of love," Sebastian said.
With 10 cash registers at the ready and over a dozen staff buzzing around the store, WYD organisers also plan to open 17 mobile merchandise kiosks at locations including the Opera House and the Domain.
Sydney Morning Herald ~~ Monday July 7 2008
Almost there: the long road to success
After fights over rising costs and falling pilgrim estimates, government and church both need World Youth Day to be a hit
By Linda Morris
In the autumn of 2003, a high-ranking Vatican official visited Sydney for a week. He was Cardinal James Stafford, a member of John Paul II's inner circle and a mate of the Sydney Archbishop, Cardinal George Pell. It was primarily an informal visit but he met the then premier, Bob Carr, and business leaders, and toured Sydney's Olympic Park and other prime venues.
It was the first indication of the serious backing being given to the Sydney Catholic Church's bid for World Youth Day, a jubilee of Catholic youth celebration held outside of Rome every three years or so. Never before had the event come to Oceania or to a country with as small a Catholic population as Australia.
Stealing it from Europe required a sea-change in thinking in Rome. Previously, Sydney had been considered too remote an outpost of the Catholic empire.
But a confluence of circumstances, the sheer force of personality of Pell, his connections with conservative patrons in Rome, and the post-Olympic appetite of Australia's political leaders to woo big tourism events appear to have come together to bring the event to Sydney.
World Youth Day was the grand vision of John Paul II, who founded it in Rome in 1986, creating a Catholic version of the pop-culture youth ministry that Billy Graham, the elder statesman of world evangelism, had exported from the US in the 1950s.
But it was a group of six young Catholics, not the church, which in 2001 floated the idea of Sydney staging World Youth Day.
Pell had just moved to Sydney from Melbourne where there had also been talk of a youth-inspired bid. Hoping ambitions for World Youth Day would travel with the archbishop, the six drew up a petition, gathered 10,000 names and presented their bid to the Vatican, which commended them for their enthusiasm.
That year, the Sydney Convention and Visitors Bureau identified World Youth Day as having potential for the city. The bureau was on the hunt for big events which would bring tourism and global coverage. It became the bridge between church and government, making the first approaches to the NSW Major Events Board.
Pell was already alert to the possibilities of an event capable of capturing the religious imagination of secular Australia. In March 2003 he established a feasibility committee of church and government officials and youth groups to assess the level of support for such an event in the wider Catholic community as well as the archdiocese.
The committee's job was also to investigate logistical issues, venues, security and prepare costings, and investigate financial sources and risks.
The following month was Stafford's visit. An American, Stafford had worked on World Youth Day in Denver in 1993, and the success of his venture had elevated his stocks at the Vatican. He was named to the post to oversee World Youth Days.
Bishop Anthony Fisher, who was brought on as co-ordinator for Sydney's bid later that year, came to regard Stafford as a friendly face in the Vatican. "He had been the host for Denver and knew all there was to know about staging an event like this. He's been a helpful connection for us, encouraging us all the way, always a friend and adviser."
Might he have swung things for Sydney? "If he did, he did so in an informal way. If there was a question in the Vatican about Sydney being too far away or too expensive to get to, or should we look somewhere else, I think he would have spoken in our favour."
In mid 2004, the bureau booked 6383 rooms for World Youth Day. By January 2005, the bid was well under way but still largely unknown to the public. The feasibility committee had reported, looked at a dozen sites, and the promenade of Sydney Olympic Park with overflow to Telstra Stadium (now ANZ Stadium) was offered as the main venue.
An economic study, commissioned by the Department of State and Regional Development, showed the benefits were relatively low compared to the taxpayer aid sought by the church from the State Government, at that stage just one-fifth of the present cost.
However, Carr gave the green light to $20 million in in-kind assistance, and the then prime minister, John Howard, did the same. Neither is Catholic but both seemed to have been persuaded by the possibilities of another global showcase.
"Bob Carr was genuinely enthusiastic and I remember it was his direction to the public servants to make this happen, we want this for NSW," says Fisher.
That month, the Vatican worried over the frail health of John Paul II. Ashe neared death, Sydney bid organisers went to the Vatican for the international preparatory meeting for World Youth Day to plead their case.
The Vatican considers it unseemly for churches to openly bid for World Youth Day. Apart from Sydney, Seoul was thought to be bidding, as was South Africa. Dublin had apparently expressed an interest as had Brazil and Spain. But according to the rumours, Sydney had the inside running.
But then, John Paul died and the doctrinal enforcer, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was elected Pope. There was much speculation as to whether he would embrace World Youth Day as much his predecessor.
The Australians were buoyed but not overconfident when they made their formal bid in July 2005. "It was in a big boardroom, big enough for 30 but we were only five on our side and five on the Vatican side," Fisher said.
"They had lots of questions for us mainly about the distance and the weather. They were impressed with the level of [government] support. I don't think they had seen the like of the Olympic level of bidding.
"On one hand they were saying to us to be confident and on the other they were saying to us we should not assume anything."
Meanwhile, Pell had a private audience with the new Pope with whom he was on good terms - he was even said to be his numbers' man in the conclave. They shared a joke about the distance to Australia. The next month in Cologne, Pope Benedict announced Sydney would hold World Youth Day 2008.
THERE was no rest for the organisers. Fisher began touring national church councils to try to firm up pilgrim numbers. Estimates had been 89,000 foreign and 84,000 interstate visitors, but some of the early figures were unscientific, Fisher said, based more on the capacity of the Telstra Stadium, a possible Mass venue, and crowd overflows than anything else.
The church says estimates gleaned from countries at that first preparatory meeting at the Vatican have held up fairly consistently and they showed that Australia could expect 200,000 or more visitors. Others say it was only after the announcement that the church began to sharply revise upwards its predictions and panic set in that Sydney Olympic Park would not be large enough.
Whatever the case, Fisher recalls at one point he and Pell pacing out the Olympic promenade. There was talk about removing avenue trees, the lighting towers and dismantling two sporting venues, all at a cost of $20 million. The Federal Government made it clear it was unwilling to advance funds to rebuild what was there. It still left the Pope on a stage outside the Novotel Hotel with the crowd split, heading down one street and the other down another.
"It would have required huge modifications to make it work and even after all that, the Government, police and others were not confident the crowds could fit," Fisher said. "We knew needed a site taking up to 500,000 and though the Sydney Olympic authorities were co-operative even with the best will in the world this was not a site that would work."
Those close to the Government say the taxpayer cost blow-out began with the realisation that Homebush was not suitable.
Quitting Olympic Park meant taxpayers had to wear the cost of the East Darling Harbour site of the Hungry Mile, along with the Opera House, the Domain and the Art Gallery.
It added to the complexity of police and transport planning.
Most costly was Randwick Racecourse, where the federal and state governments had to commit $42 million to placate the racing industry.
In all, about 20 sites were looked at, including Eastern Creek and the possibility of holding Mass on the tarmac at Sydney Airport. The public has not been permitted to see the assessments.
It came down to Randwick Racecourse.
Fisher says the early meetings with the Australian Jockey Club were extremely positive. "It was almost a sense of 'of course, it will be there'. The mood was all upbeat … The Government at the same time was warming to it being at Randwick."
The church showed the racecourse to Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, Stafford's replacement as head of the Vatican body reviewing the event preparations. "We had a lot of confidence and optimism in showing off the site, then there was a change of board, a change of chief executive officer and we started to hear in the press, not direct to us, that some of trainers were unhappy. I had assumed the AJC wouldn't have been so friendly to this without having settled with their members. Clearly, the atmosphere changed," Fisher said.
But those in the racing industry say the former AJC board was not fully aware of the scale of the disruption the Mass would have on the racing industry, and had never entertained the prospect of the track shutting down for 10 weeks.
An AJC official spokesperson said of those times: "The AJC currently does not believe that the previous board ever formally bid for World Youth Day. There was no detailing of the ramifications and the extent of the event. At the beginning it was friendly conversations and a willingness to co-operate on a smaller scale. I think it came down to a major misunderstanding on both sides as to what the event was going to entail. If you look back to when the last Pope came it was radically different [event]."
As equine flu struck, fears were intensified.
Tensions between the parties degenerated to a point where the church was sidelined in the negotiations. The Federal Government chipped in half the cost of the $42 million compensation package to the racing industry fearing the whole event was on the brink of cancellation.
Even now, the Catholic Church believes its event has been unfairly lumbered with the cost of track improvements and upgrades at Randwick and Warwick Farm and lease extensions unrelated to World Youth Day.
But it was not in a position to object because the church was beholden to the state and federal governments to share the substantial compensation costs. For its part, the AJC feels it did no more than defend its stakeholders' rights.
Randwick proved to be just one unexpected expense on top of the other for the NSW Government. Having failed to stipulate the extent of its liability, the Government, an enthusiast for the event, has been left with an in-kind services budget that has quadrupled in a year to $86 million.
Insiders describe the chief executive officer of the World Youth Day Co-ordination Authority, Roy Wakelin-King, and the Deputy Premier, John Watkins, as hard bargainers who tried to limit taxpayers' exposure but "every time there's a problem the church is on the phone to Morris Iemma". Some suggest Carr, who was blooded on the Olympics, would never have permitted the event to proceed without an ironclad agreement and a more rigorous examination of the church's revised attendance figures.
Pessimists in the Government believe the actual turnout will be closer to the church's original estimates; the church insists it is on track for 225,000 registered pilgrims. The NSW Auditor-General is sharpening his pencil.
The dispute over access to Randwick hasn't been the only cause of tensions, with behind the scenes disagreements between the church and the Government over everything from advertising campaigns to public access. Frustrated Government organisers say the church was never geared to put on such an event, and if there have been shortfalls in pilgrims, homestays and volunteers, the attitudewas too often: "God will provide." And maybe He will.
In one form or another, World Youth Day has cost federal and state governments $160 million. "If it all goes well and the sun shines, it will be a great feather in the Government's cap," said one insider. "If it doesn't, it will tarnish Sydney's reputation as a major events capital in the world. That's what the Government fears most, damage to the Sydney brand."