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article imageCost of Pope's trip to Spain facing scrutiny

By Cynthia Trowbridge     Aug 11, 2011 in World
As the Pope is preparing for his trip to Spain next week, the Vatican has come under fire from both lay groups and some priests who are against the cost of the visit.
There are nearly 150 groups that are planning to protest on Aug. 17, the eve of the Pope's arrival in Spain. More than 100 priests, many of whom come from some of the poorest parishes in Madrid, are also protesting the Pope's visit because of the cost.
Pope Benedict XVI will be arriving for the final four days of the Roman Catholic Church's six-day youth festival which is expected to draw more than one million people.
Organizers peg the cost of the event at 50-60 million euros ($72-86 million). This is not counting what the price will be for security.
Some of the costs include building a 200-metre (656-foot) long stage at the Cuatro Vientos aerodrome. This stage is where the Pope will deliver the final mass of his visit on Aug. 21. The stage will be decorated with a huge metal tree.
The cost also includes hundreds of water fountains and 20 giant screens at the aerodrome and showers that will be installed at public schools for the pilgrims that will be housed at the schools.
According to organisers, 80 percent of the cost of the event will be coming from the young pilgrims who will be attending the event. They say the remainder of the money is coming from donations by companies and individuals.
Critics say corporate sponsors are eligible for tax rebates of up to 80 percent of the amount they are donating because the government has declared World Youth Day celebrations to be an event of "exceptional public interest."
The priests from Madrid, called The Priests Forum, are criticizing the loss of state revenue since the government has slashed social spending and the salaries of public workers. Unemployment is also floating around 20 percent in Spain.
Evaristo Villar, one of the leaders of the group, claims the Church had to ally itself with large multinationals to cover the costs of the "showmanship" of the event. "These companies that are backing World Youth Day and the pope's visit leave much to desire," The Guardian quotes Villar as saying. "They are the ones who, together with international capital, have caused the crisis. We are not against the Pope's visit, we are against the way it is being staged."
France24.com reports there are more than 100 corporate sponsors, including Coca-Cola, Telefoncia and Banco Santander.
Opponents of the Pope's visit set up a Facebook page calling for the boycott of sponsors.
Among the secular groups calling for the boycott is Europa Laica (Secular Europe).
After learning the city has prohibited his group's planned protest march, the leader of Europa Laica, Francisco Delgado, told The Guardian, "Catholics can go wherever they like in Madrid but the freedom of movement of the rest of us is restricted."
The slogans the group plans to march under is: "Not a penny of my taxes for the pope" and "For a secular state".
What has further angered protesters and those against the Pope's visit is with 500,000 pilgrims expected in the city, they will be getting free transporation and the Madrid metro fares rose by 50 percent on Monday.
A spokesman for a group whose members call themselves "the indignants" said, "With the economic crisis we are going through, we can't pay for this. The Church should set the example," AFP reports. He added, "The regional government of Madrid in June slashed the education budget by 40 million euros this year, nearly the amount that it will cost to hold World Youth Day."
The executive director of World Youth Day 2011, Yago de la Cierva, said, "We have made a huge effort to be moderate and economically responsible. The new generations – young people today – they like big events and the church uses all the tools that exist to present the message of Jesus Christ."
Young people in Spain are losing interest in the Catholic Church; a recent survey by the national statistics office showed in the last 10 years the number of believers aged 18 to 24 has fallen by 56 percent.
On a lighter note to help celebrate the Pope's visit, Renova, one of Europes largest household paper manufactures, has manufactured toilet paper in the colors of the Vatican flag. They say with each pack holding one yellow and one white roll, the paper can be used as streamers to welcome Pope Benedict XVI.
With Renova being an official sponsor of the World Youth Day celebrations this year they have 10,000 celebration packs with an “I heart the Pope” logo and a red heart.
More about The Pope, Pope Benedict XVI, World youth day, Spain, Madrid
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