"Horrendous" airfares block American WYD pilgrims

American pilgrims are complaining of exorbitant airfares from the US of up to $5,000 to attend this year's World Youth Day in Sydney.

Catholic News Service reports airline tickets are ranging from $2,000 to $5,000.

Tickets also have been hard to come by because of the limited number of carriers with flights from the United States to Australia, namely, Qantas and United Airlines.

Pat Pacer, a youth ministry coordinator with the Chicago Archdiocese, said the trip's expense, coupled with a lack of flexibility to purchase more tickets, brought attendance numbers down considerably for their group.

The Chicago Archdiocese sent 2,000 pilgrims to World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002. Three years later it sent 500 youths to World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany. This year it is sending 43 pilgrims.

Pacer told Catholic News Service that he fields calls almost daily from people who suddenly want to go to World Youth Day.

Unfortunately, he said, he cannot accommodate them because the group tickets purchased months ago at a discounted rate of $2,100 are no longer available.

A group of 75 pilgrims from the Diocese of Colorado Springs, Colorado, had its share of travel frustrations nearly a year before the actual event.

The group made a deposit on the trip last summer based on airfare prices quoted to pilgrims through a Colorado organisation called Catholics for Pilgrimages. In September, United Airlines informed the tour group its itinerary had been cancelled. The group was told another itinerary was available, but the price tag would be twice the initial amount.

In an effort to curb costs, the group altered its trip, purchasing airline tickets that will take participants to Australia via Seoul, South Korea, where members plan to spend two days visiting Catholic sites prior to World Youth Day. Other groups similarly purchased airline tickets through Asia for a cheaper rate.

A group of students from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, also had to amend its initial flight plans when told last August by a Qantas representative that tickets the students had reserved in 2006 were no longer available.

The group, which had planned its itinerary well in advance, had to scramble to get new tickets at a higher price. The students also changed their initial plan for staying in New Zealand prior to World Youth Day to going there after the event.

"To be informed we no longer had seats was quite a shock," Franciscan Father Dave Pivonka, the pilgrims' spiritual director, wrote to group members last fall. But he added that "with so many blessings that will come from this trip, there are bound to be some bumps along the way."

Salesian Sr Maryann Schaefer, who is leading a group of 66 pilgrims from the Salesian Youth Movement to World Youth Day, knows all too well about bumps along the way.

In fact, she uses somewhat stronger words, calling the exorbitant ticket costs and other logistical frustrations with registering for the event both "utterly ridiculous" and "horrendous."

Sr Schaefer, director of admissions for Mary Help of Christians School in North Haledon, N.J., has chaperoned pilgrims to seven World Youth Days, so she knows a thing or two about lining up group registrations and transportation.

She began planning for the Sydney trip in 2006 and tried, unsuccessfully, to book airline tickets well in advance. When the group was finally able to purchase tickets, the fares were more costly than anticipated.

And when the group added two tickets a week later for two more members, each of them cost more than $1,500 above what the other tickets cost, she told CNS May 23.

"The church works with the poor; we're not the rich," Sr Schaefer said.

No NSW police leave for WYD

Meanwhile, The Australian reports that leave for NSW police has been cancelled and 4,000 officers will be on duty at the height of the World Youth Day celebrations in Sydney, only 50 days away.

Many normal police activities, including appearances in court for legal proceedings, will be postponed until after the event.

At a special preview of security arrangements, the authorities forecast that 500,000 people will participate in the final mass led by Pope Benedict.

The World Youth Day spokeswoman for the NSW Government, Kristina Keneally, said security arrangements should not be compared with last year's APEC meeting.

"Sydney during World Youth Day will not be Sydney during APEC," she said. "What we have is a celebration of youth." She said one of the clear messages to come from the Pope's recent US visit was that Australia should expect an atmosphere of celebration, festivity and happiness from the crowds.

World Youth Day police commander David Owens said there would not be a repeat of the APEC-style security lockdown, including fencing off city blocks.

Deputy Commissioner Dave Owens, who is in charge of security for the event, says Sydney will not see the same security fencing erected as was in place during last year's meeting of world leaders.

"We are not, and I'll put on record, we are not going to use APEC-style fencing across the board," he told the ABC.

"That's not what this event is about. This event is about the youth, and Christians and a whole range of other people coming together to celebrate the visit of the Pope."

Cardinal George Pell said the church was on track to register 225,000 pilgrims for the event, with well over half coming from overseas.

He praised the security preparations. "I have no significant concerns at all," he said. Cardinal Pell said the Pope was looking forward to visiting Australia, and he believed Australians would quickly warm to the pontiff.

"He is a really splendid teacher and a really pleasant personality. He is not John Paul II, but I am sure Australians will warm to him." Carinal Pell said.

"I am a veteran of three world youth days. They are happy occasions, not just for the participants but for the whole community. It is a Catholic celebration but it will be open to all young people. It will be good for the whole of society."

Thousands of Catholics joined a Procession of the Blessed Sacrament through the streets of Sydney yesterday, led by Cardinal Pell, to mark the Feast of Corpus Christi, with the increased numbers being attributed to the enthusiasm being generated by World Youth Day.

Chaser boys invited

Asked what message the organisers would send to pranksters such as the Chaser television program, which disrupted security at APEC, Minister for Ageing and Disability Kristina Keneally said everyone was invited to World Youth Day.

"Provided they behave themselves ... the Chaser boys, well they're not really boys, maybe they're a bit too old for World Youth Day," Ms Keneally said.

Cardinal Pell said: "They could probably do with a dose of religion."

In another report, Stuff.co.nz reports that 4000 New Zealanders who have already booked their tickets across the Tasman for the event.

Catholic Communications spokeswoman Lyndsay Freer said this was the largest contingent to leave New Zealand for a non-sporting event.

New Zealand will also co-host Days in the Diocese.

SOURCE

U.S. pilgrims cope with expenses, logistics to get to World Youth Day (Catholic News Service, 24/5/08)

All hands on deck for police at World Youth Day (The Australian, 24/5/08)

Catholic Youth Day won't see APEC-style fences (ABC News, 25/5/08)

Security advanced for World Youth Day (Sydney Morning Herald, 25/5/08)

4000 NZers booked to take part in World Youth Day (Stuff.co.nz, 25/5/08)

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