¡Hola from the Pope’s Vacation Destination (Madrid)!

It’s recently been very chaotic around here at TRIS – (Updates to follow!)

I am writing this post from Spain’s capital!* Yes it’s true, we have traded the mild summer weather of Gijón for the blazing heat of Madrid. Here today the tempts got up to around 105F – yikes!

*I actually started writing this post last night but was forced to abandon my efforts because I got overheated! I guess that’s what sitting with a hot computer on your lap – in a small apartment – on a night with no breeze – and no air conditioning – will do to you 😉 I’ve resumed writing early the next morning and feel much better 🙂

We’re not the only newcomers to this city forced to tolerate the extreme “hotness” – a half a million other individuals have also recently arrived to Madrid this week and are spending their days and nights sweating just like us!

This massive “pilgrimage” to Madrid that I’m describing is due to an event called “World Youth Day 2011”  (or WYD 2011).  It’s a “world wide encounter” with the Pope in the honor of young people celebrated in a different city internationally every three years. In 2011 Madrid was selected to be the festival’s host city.

Basically it’s a whole week of organized events (like speeches given by high ranking church officials, special masses, shows, and parades through the city) here in Madrid in which thousands of catholic youths from around the world have come to witness/participate in. And of course the main event is getting a chance to see the Pope and hear him speak!

The “pilgrims” that have come to Madrid for the festival also receive a lot of perks from the city/participating businesses. For example, they get a 80% reduced fare on the subway (here called the Metro) and special ” food stipends” that they can use at major chain restaurants. Also, we have seen that many of the smaller restaurants offer the WYD participants a special discounted price on menu items. Finally, Madrid has offered to house the pilgrims in many of its churches and schools (both private and public).

Besides having to put up with the heat it seems like a pretty sweet deal for the WYD participants, huh? 🙂

However, this Catholic youth festival is not without it’s critics.

There seem to be two major problems that some of the people of Madrid (and the rest of Spain and Europe) have with the festival. The first critique has to do with the philosophic argument of “separation of church and state”. Some here believe that it’s “unconstitutional” (my own Americanized wording – in Spain they don’t have a Bill of Rights or a Constitution exactly like ours, but you see my point) that a clearly religious organization is taking over public spaces like parks, schools, and city streets for their own demonstrations.

Also, I saw reported on a news broadcast that many secular school workers were forced to cut their vacations short this year because they need to “supervise” the pilgrims that are residing in many of Madrid’s schools.

The second of the critiques against the WYD 2011 celebration is the “financial” burden it’s putting on the city. Many people are arguing that tax payers’ Euros are being unfairly spent towards hosting this religious event. For example, giving a half a million people a discounted fare on the Metro results as a cost to the city – not to mention paying all the extra city workers it takes to police and control the WYD events.

This article titled “Europa Laica” Llama a la Participación Contra la JMJ (WYD) (A “European Secular Organization” Calls for Participating Against the World Youth Day) summarizes more of the critisim against this event – especially from non-religious organizations. This article in particular argues that this secular group feels that it’s unfair that non-Catholics are being forced to help pay (with their taxes) for the Pope’s visit to Madrid – even though they are non-believers and/or against the messages and practices of the Catholic doctrine.

Furthermore, the article argues that businesses are also suffering from this event because the half a million festival participants are mostly sleeping for free in schools or churches and using food stipends to pay for meals.

So TRIS readers – what is your opinion of the WYD 2011 Madrid event?

Are the protesters justified in their stance against the festival that tax payer’s money is being indirectly used to fund the events?

Is it fair that the pilgrims are staying for free in schools (public and private) and churches?

Is it “unconstitutional” that the events for this massive celebration are taking place in public spaces like city streets, plazas, and parks?

I must admit that I don’t possess a clear opinion in regards to these arguments. All in all ( financially speaking) although the city may be “losing” money by hosting WYD 2011 – Spain and Madrid are getting a lot of positive international press because of their participation in this event.

Furthermore, I’m sure that many of the pilgrims that have traveled to Madrid from all over the world will take advantage of their trip and do more site-seeing and traveling around the country (at their own expense) after the event is over. (A financial plus to the countries’ economy)

Lastly, Madrid wants to apply again to host the next summer Olympics and, in my opinion, the fact that they hosted the WYD 2011 event will earn them “points” towards their cause.

In any case, I hope you are enjoying the end of the summer! I’ll keep you updated with all the changes that are happening here 🙂 See you Friday!

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3 thoughts on “¡Hola from the Pope’s Vacation Destination (Madrid)!

  1. Good article. The non Catholics have a very good point. But I’d like to know the percentage of non Catholics to Catholics in the city or whomever is footing the bill. If they are the minor minority, it would be hard to “fight city hall”.
    But it is very refreshing that they are allowed to protest without getting shot at or beaten up with clubs – unlike other countries in the world (USA included!) That would have happened in Franco’s era!

    • It’s curious because the majority of the people here are Catholic by tradition but grew up not practicing. So it’s not like Catholics are a minority here or anything like they are in the US – I think one of the major problems is that the country is still struggling with the financial crisis (like everywhere else in the world) so the people are fed up with the government and little and super critical of the decisions it makes…. maybe if Spain were doing better economically there wouldn’t have been such a negative outcry against the Pope’s visit….

  2. Hmmm, interesting situation. If this were to take place in America, I’d say that they were entitled to temporarily congregate in public spaces with advance approval from the government just like any other group would be allowed to. I’d also say that it was up to the individual school districts to set their own policies on housing young people in their facilities (as long as this policy would provide the same housing for all religious, civic… youth groups.) However, being a capitalist, I’d be against the government providing them with basically free transportation and free food. I’d expect the groups organizers to work with our large corporations to offer discounted meals, give away subway passes and sponsor events… for the students. I would however, have no problem with our tourism departments putting in some of their dollars for an event as large and puclicized as this. I’d just want to be sure that the funds went towards publicity and encouraging additional tourism in the country – not hand outs. As much as I’m glad these young people got to participate in such an amazing event, I think it sounds like Spain has crossed the line in separation of church and state for this event.

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