Violent protests, a kiss-in, pro-condom lobby and hackers ‘greet’ Pope at WYD

Pilgrims will not be likely to forget the 2011 Madrid World Youth Day in a hurry.

Any event that gathers 1.5 – 2 million young people together to celebrate their faith is a huge success, and whether it be the intense heat, untimely rain and wind or the growth in faith, the atmosphere of the occasion will remain a life-long experience.

The complexity of modern Spain meant World Youth Day 2011 has not been all plain-sailing.

Violent protests, a gay and lesbian kiss-in, a high profile pro-condom lobby and World Youth Day website hackers threatened to take the shine away from the event.

Protests became violent 

Violence repeatedly flared throughout the papal visit, as Spanish riot-police swung batons in clashes with anti-Church protesters.

Between 3000-5000 anti-pope protesters marched on the Spanish capital’s central Sol Plaza to voice their concerns about the 50 million euro price tag of the four-day trip.

Pilgrims were put under pressure and at times were told to stay away from some of Madrid’s popular areas.

“Pilgrims have been asked not to go to Sol for security reasons,” Malaysian pilgrim Yap Thomas reported on Twitter.

“Sometimes we were very afraid …but they did not attack me”, Lilly Cozzoleno of Italy told CNS.

Protesters were in the main objecting to the cost of WYD, and chanted “God yes, Church no”; “Not with my taxes”; “We are not the pope’s youth” and “I am a  sinner, sinner, sinner”.

Some protesters even taunted the faithful shouting: “Nazi, nazi.”

Baton-wielding anti-riot police were used to disperse the protesters.

Not all one-sided, one protester against the papal visit, who would not give his name, bled from the nose. “I was in the demonstration with my father and one of the Catholics punched me in the face,” he said.

The Vatican however rebuffed protesters’ claims saying, “The event will not cost anything” for Spain.

“The burden will fall on the church, the pilgrims and private donors,” it said.

Kiss-in foiled

On Thursday, more than 100 activists planned to join up along the street where the Pope travelled in his white, bulletproof Popemobile and stage a kiss-in.

Police foiled plans by gays and lesbians, blocking the protesters, forcing them to disperse.

In the end only two men managed to skirt security and kiss for the cameras just as the Pope passed by along the major Madrid artery of Calle Serrano.

Condom use promotion got creative

For the past few years an American-based organisation, Catholics for Choice, have run advertisements on billboards in Madrid subway stations and busses as part of their Condoms4Life programme.

This year the ads have been banned.

In a press release Catholics for Choice president, John O’Brien defended the ads. “As Catholics, we were supporting Pope Benedict’s claim that condoms can save lives,” he said.

It is unclear why liberal Spanish authorities blocked the ads, but it forced Catholics for Choice to adopt alternative creative strategies such as extensive social media campaigns, badges for pilgrims to wear and night-time projections onto the walls of buildings.

Despite being shut down, Catholics for Choice expressed delight at the success of their campaign.

“We were all over the media – local, national and international – and our projections were beamed around the world,” they said in their last blog post on social media platform Tumblr.

Website hacked

Issues have also hampered communication from the World Youth Day’s official website.

The website began experiencing problems on August 15 and organisers confirmed the issues were the result of computer hackers, and despite several successful attempts to prevent the site being hacked, the event’s technicians were unable to prevent several “Denials of Service attacks” which temporarily, but repeatedly took the site down, hampering officials’ communications efforts, particularly with the media.

WYD organisers released a statement saying, “Out of respect for the millions of people who are following us around the world and the 4,900 accredited communication professionals at WYD, we believe it is necessary to inform the public about this hacking attempt.”

The organizers said they regret “any distress caused” and confirmed they are working to resolve the issue.

Benedict left Madrid after Mass on Sunday, but not before calling on some of the 30,000 volunteers to thank them for their work.


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