.- World Youth Day organizers announced today that 440,000 young people have already signed up for the international gathering set for this coming August â a record enrollment figure this far out from the event.
âWorld Youth Day is an extraordinary experience for a Church which is a friend to the young, sharing their problems, a Church which is at the service of the younger generations,â said the President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, at a June 28 Vatican press conference.
âIt is an epiphany of the Christian faith on a truly global scale. And young people - especially in our old Europe, deeply secular and secularizing - have a special need for all this,â he said.
Cardinal Rylko went on to give some of the highlights for the six-day event that will take place in the Spanish capital from Tuesday, August 16 to Sunday, August 21.
The Pope will arrive on the evening of Thursday, August 18. Over the next four days he will preside at a total of nine events with young people.
This includes a meeting with young female religious on the Friday morning, followed by a gathering with young academics. Pope Benedict will end the day by joining young people for the Way of the Cross through the streets of Madrid.
On the Saturday the Pope will hear confessions at Madridâs Jardines del Buen Retiro before going onto the cityâs cathedral to offer Mass for seminarians.
The highpoint of his visit, though, will be Sunday morning Mass at Cuatro Vientos Airport with hundreds of thousands of young pilgrims. So far, 745 bishops, 13,455 priests and 4,585 seminarians have committed to being there, too.
Journalists at todayâs press conference also heard about the logistics involved in World Youth Day from a young Spanish volunteer, Jose Antonio Martinez Fuentes.
âWe have done it all in light of our commitment to a job well done,â said Martinez, who has been working in the information office in Madrid for the past year.
His office â and others cooperating to make a global network â have answered over 25,000 queries in the past 12 months.
âWhat has been the foundation of our work is the fact that we consider each pilgrim that contacts us as Christ himself.â
Such information centers have helped over 10,000 groups to register, aid pilgrims with specific needs such as dietary requirements and disability issues, as well as accommodation and visa requests. In collaboration with the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, pilgrim groups can actually obtain entry visas free of charge.
Madrid will be Pope Benedictâs third World Youth Day. His first two gatherings were in Cologne, Germany in 2005 and then in Sydney, Australia in 2008.