WYD: How Good is This? Print
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 16 May 2008 16:58
I love this.

Fr. Mike and I had the chance to met Bishop Anthony Fisher (the youngest bishop in Australia and a Dominican) when we visited Australia in 2004 to train our national team there. In fact, we spent election evening 2004 with the Dominicans, who were eagerly watching the results and shuttling them into their American visitors. I was able to have a fascinating discussion with Bishop Fisher (a expert in Catholic teaching on bio-ethics) on the issues that were dominating the election for American Catholics. (I'll have to blog on that soon)

In 2007, Bishop Fisher was named Co-ordinator of the World Youth Day team. He has an opinion piece in the Australian today that is responding to a highly critical essay God's Big Day Out a Shambles? that I blogged about a few days ago.

It's great - and more colorful than I would expect from a bishop in the US.

"NOVELIST Alan Gold demonstrates his skill as a fiction writer in his recent opinion piece about World Youth Day 2008.

While the Sydney Olympics ran like a well-oiled machine, he says, insecurity, top-level resignations and a growing "sense of doom" have turned the organisation of WYD into a potential nightmare.

Now let's be clear. There have been no top-level resignations from WYD, which is unusual given the size of the staff and the mammoth task involved.

The reason for the extraordinary sticking power of our staff is that, far from a sense of doom, there are such good spirits and excitement among the leaders and staff, as there are among other Australians. The same cannot be said for some of those campaigning against World Youth Day with their dire predictions and constant carping about costs.

Despite all the obstacles placed in its path, WYD is on track to deliver all the overlay to venues - yes, even the toilet cities - as per its timetable.

Track protection for Randwick Racecourse is based not on "guesswork" but on past experience with similar events, including the Paris World Youth Day which was held, believe it or not, on a racetrack. Far from being a disaster, Longchamp had such a good experience with WYD that the French have used it for a number of other major events since.

Apocalyptic predictions from novelists notwithstanding, health and safety experts have assisted with and signed off on measures such as corralling. These are no different to similar events. Even judged from a purely secular, business point of view, WYD is great value for the economy and will bring very significant returns for a much smaller outlay by government than is usual for big events in Australia. WYD08 will also showcase Sydney and Australia to international television audiences of up to a billion people. That's why the Sydney Chamber of Commerce, Tourism NSW, Tourism Australia and business generally are so pleased.

When 125,000 young pilgrims from overseas join 100,000 young Australians for the week of WYD celebrations, it will be a magical time for all Sydney, and for all Australia, not just the Catholics, not just the youth. Ordinary people will join the pilgrims in big numbers and will have an emotionally and spiritually uplifting time. At least, that's been the experience in every previous host city.

So what's going on here? Why the constant negativity in some quarters? One reason may be "Sydney Events Syndrome". A senior reporter recently told us WYD08 was suffering the "bash 'em up" phase. But he thought that would finish soon and erstwhile critics and sceptics would then move to the "How good is this?" phase. Ultimately, we will have the "We're so proud we did this" phase. But in the meantime some prefer to whinge about costs and road closures ...

It was the same with the Olympics. And the Rugby World Cup. Doom and gloom, then grudging admissions that this might not be so bad after all, then growing excitement, then the joy of being hosts for something so special and, finally, pride afterwards.

What that tells us about Australia is interesting. We want to be a big player on the world scene. We want big events here. But as soon as we realise they are coming, we become like a horse that habitually takes fright just before the gates are opened.

This seems to be especially the case for Sydney. As Deputy Lord Mayor Tony Pooley put it recently, rather more colourfully than a bishop might, "I don't think (Sydney) can pretend to be a global city unless we occasionally invite the bloody globe here."

The recent papal visit to the US offers some interesting points of comparison. It was a great celebration for America. There wasn't all the negativity in the months leading up to it. Just excitement and expectation, an expectation that, in the end, was more than fulfilled.

Of course there are other critics apart from the gloom merchants and nervous nellies. A few seem to be driven by a mixture of old-fashioned anti-Catholicism and more newfangled feeling against all religion. Sectarianism and intolerant secularism are ugly parts of Australia's spiritual landscape which, happily, is more commonly marked by very willing co-operation among churches and faiths and those who are still searching.

Certainly, that's been the WYD08 experience. All the churches and religions are working with us in various ways, from practical help with venues, accommodation and volunteers, to taking part in spiritual, musical and other cultural activities.

Sydney and Australia will love World Youth Day. It will build up the faith and idealism of our young people and move us all in the process. The time has come to put aside all the divisive antagonisms and the end-of-the-world talk.

In company with God, the holy father, and the youth of the world, let's move on to the "How good is this?" phase."


Bishop Anthony Fisher OP is the co-ordinator of World Youth Day 2008.