- The Washington Times - Friday, July 19, 2002

TORONTO The scandal over priests' child sex abuse and a fear of terrorist attacks have hurt efforts to attract young worshippers for Pope John Paul II's upcoming visit to celebrate World Youth Day, organizers say.

The scandals "did take the wind out of our sails," World Youth Day spokesman Paul Kilbertus said. "It means [American] churches are caught up with it and cannot devote their energy to World Youth Day."

"Since September 11, Americans are more reluctant to travel, and many are concerned that because of the pope's health, he might not be able to come," Mr. Kilbertus said.

Organizers of World Youth Day, from Tuesday to July 28, say they are facing a $10 million deficit and a shortage of 5,000 volunteers they had hoped to recruit.

Thus far, just 150,000 people have registered to attend, not the 750,000 they had hoped would attend.

About 6,000 foreign registrants have been denied visas, and Toronto is scrambling to clean up after a garbage collectors strike.

"Now we're down to the last minutes and there's still a lot of details to work out," Mr. Kilbertus said.

With fewer than 200,000 people expected, organizers fear their World Youth Festival will be the smallest in the annual gathering that began in Rome in 1984.

The pope's remarks at his one public event the final Sunday Mass will be limited to about 10 minutes, Mr. Kilbertus said, citing the pontiff's failing health.

Susan Scarlett, a spokeswoman for Canada's Department of Citizenship and Immigration, said Ottawa has been as accommodating as possible in issuing visas.

In an unprecedented move, the government has waived the $50 application fee for registrants, and added extra staff to cope with the volume of applications.

While the possibility that terrorists might use the event as a cover to enter North America exists, Miss Scarlett said there are systems "in place" to deal with this possibility.

Canada also fears an influx of people from poor countries who are seeking economic opportunity.

Applicants must "show they qualify, that they're a genuine visitor, and not seeking a permanent move," she said.

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