My original ‘World Youth Day London’ post was three weeks ago, so I thought I’d give you an update.
It started as a very spontaneous idea: to set up a Facebook page to see whether people would be interested in World Youth Day coming to Britain. It’s the first time I have used Facebook for anything other than linking to this blog or posting the odd comment, so I had no idea how it might pan out. I spent a few minutes setting it up, clicked ‘Go’ or ‘Publish’ or whatever, and within about five seconds ‘Michael’ had signed up to come – so it was now officially a party and not just a lonely fantasy; and then within the next few hours we reached a hundred, and there was a minor buzz amongst my small Facebook network.
I think it was Luke Coppen at the Catholic Herald who shifted it up a gear from social networking to mainstream media, just by linking to the blog post on his morning Catholic must reads. Then, after a call from Ed West at the Herald, it became an article in its own right. And the following weekend this article was pasted over the front page of the Catholic Herald, as I was to discover quite by chance when I popped into St Mary Moorfields for a quite moment on the Friday afternoon. More significant, perhaps, was the fact that the lead editorial in the Herald gave the idea a cautious welcome (under the less cautious headline ‘Let’s get ready to bring World Youth Day to Britain’). After outlining some of the objections it concludes:
Such concerns should not be dismissed lightly. But neither should Fr Wang’s initiative. If Rome sees that there is an intense desire to host WYD here then it will take notice and, even if it is Krakow’s turn next, we may move to the front of the queue.
The Tablet called for an interview as well, and ran a short Notebook piece about the idea.
Very quickly, the secularists expressed their outrage at the idea, various blogs were re-posting the story, and the TV news agency Rome Reports was reporting that London was in the running with Krakow to host the post-Rio World Youth Day:
This is when it went global – literally. I think the Rome Reports videos are syndicated, so straight away the idea that London was a contender was appearing as news down-under on the website of the Archdiocese of Sydney.
Originally I set up on Facebook a ‘Group’ (which requires the moderator to approve you as a member), a ‘Page’ (which you can ‘like’ and thus promote with a single click), and an ‘Event‘ (which you can publicise and invite friends to and sign up to attend) – you can tell I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I was told that the Page would take off quicker, because ‘liking’ doesn’t involve as much commitment as ‘signing up’ – and people hate commitment. But the Page did not really take off, whereas the Event grew very quickly. I’ve now closed the Group and the Page and left the Event, so that there is one main focus for the idea, and all the comments and suggestions are collected in one place. The most significant discussion developing in the comments over the last few days is whether Liverpool rather than London would be a better British host city (you know where my sympathies lie).
By this weekend, about 1600 have said they are coming, and about 9000 have been invited. The interest spread very quickly in the first week, kept growing in the second week, and is now slowing down. Maybe it has peaked already. I’m not sure what level of interest would signify that there is the requisite amount of energy, commitment, faith, passion, desire and sheer enthusiasm for the project for it to be worth thinking about in a more serious way. I joked that if the London numbers overtake the Krakow WYD event page (currently around 3500 signed up) then it would be worth moving to Stage B – whatever Stage B would be. I keep telling people that at this point, Stage A, it is just an idea, a straw-poll, and not a campaign.
I’ve learnt how quickly something can grow on Facebook. I’ve learnt how easily something can morph from a social networking doodle into a global mainstream media news story. I’ve learnt how you cannot control how an idea will be interpreted or where it will go. I’ve learnt, I think, that sometimes (not always, but sometimes) it’s worth acting on an impulse even if you are not sure what the impulse really means.
Here is the present pitch, which has been adapted in response to various suggestions and criticisms. The main shift has been to make it less London-centric (only a little bit less…), and to address the money question and remind people that WYD benefits an economy rather than harming it. You can see the event page here, I think, even if you are not on Facebook.
We believe that the next World Youth Day, after Rio 2013, should take place in Britain in 2016, with the main events and closing Mass in London. And we’ll be there! There will never be a better time: post-Papal Visit, post-Olympics, the faith and energy of young Catholics here, the sense of renewal and hope within the Catholic Church in this country, the pull of the English language, and the attraction of Britain as a destination for visitors. WYD has already been to Poland, France, Italy, German and Spain – it’s time to come to Britain!
We could put on the best WYD there has ever been. It would revitalise the Church and be an incredible witness to the people of this country. It would be a truly national event, bringing together every Catholic diocese, parish, group and movement. It wouldn’t distract from other important pastoral priorities – instead it would provide a focus and stimulus for them. The period of planning and preparation would galvanise the Church at national and local levels. The ‘Days in the Dioceses’, in the week before WYD itself, would be a celebration of faith throughout the regions, with hundreds of thousands of international young pilgrims welcomed into parishes and families across Britain. And there could be an important ecumenical dimension too, with Catholics and other Christian communities cooperating in hospitality, witness and celebration.
London would be the focus for the main WYD events and closing Mass. Why? Not because of some unthinking ‘London-centric’ prejudice in favour of the capital, but simply because of the practical advantages. London has the venues, the infrastructure, the transport, the public spaces – the sheer size; and it will have the experience of dealing with the Olympics. In the three dioceses that converge there (Westminster, Southwark and Brentwood), it has the greatest number of Catholic parishes and movements, the richest concentration of Catholic life, and an incomparable diversity of people and communities. And it has a unique pull in the international imagination – witness the time of the Royal Wedding. It would be ‘London uniting the country and opening out to the world’, rather than ‘London excluding the regions’.
Yes, there would be significant costs. But unlike the recent Papal visit, WYD would pay for itself. If just half a million pilgrims register (a conservative estimate), and the fee is just £50, that’s £25m to start with, even before the serious fundraising has begun. And despite the misgivings of some, no-one seriously doubts that this kind of event brings massive economic benefits to the host country. The Papal visit, for example, brought an £8.5m boost to Glasgow alone; and a £12.5m boost to Birmingham. According to an independent report from PricewaterhouseCoopers, WYD Madrid brought 354m Euros to Spain [see links below]. This is one reason why the British Government, and Boris Johnson (as Mayor of London), will surely be interested in it. But there would be deeper reasons are well: the opportunity of hosting what is perhaps the largest youth event in the world, of opening our doors to people from every corner of the earth, and of putting young people at the centre of the national agenda.
At the moment, this is an off-the-cuff, un-thought-out, testing-the-water kind of proposition. It began in the parks and cafes of Madrid at WYD 2011, when thousands of young people from the UK began to think ‘We could do this!’ And this Facebook event itself started as a response to the enthusiasm shown on the Krakow WYD Facebook event page, and the feeling that we in Britain should be just as enthusiastic as the Poles. If we overtake the Krakow WYD event numbers (currently at 3,242 on 15 Jan), then it’s probably time to start thinking and praying about this more seriously.
So if you want to see it move forward, INVITE YOUR FRIENDS – TODAY!! And we’ll see where we are in a couple of weeks. The question is: Do we care as much as the Poles?
What do you think? Post your own comments, suggestions, criticisms, links, etc. in the box below.
You can see the Krakow event page here:
Report about effects of Papal visit on Glasgow’s economy:
Report about the effects of Papal visit on Birmingham’s economy:
Report about the economic benefits of WYD Madrid to Spain: