Six months from now will everything be in place to receive the 1.5 million pilgrims expected? That's perhaps the biggest question of all

Full cost of Pope’s visit/ World Youth Day put at €155 million

Controversy still swirling over who is paying for what…

World Youth Day (WYD) in Lisbon in just six months time will cost at least €155 million, according to the latest estimates from the Catholic Church, the government and the municipalities of Lisbon and Loures.

What is considered the biggest event of the Catholic Church is taking place between August 1 – 6 in Lisbon “by the choice of Pope Francis”, writes Lusa today.

The Pope is expected to participate in the meeting, the main ceremonies of which will take place in Tagus Park, north of Parque das Nações, on the riverside, on land owned by the municipalities of Lisbon and Loures.

Investment forecasts began appearing last year, with a memorandum of understanding, with respective responsibilities defined, at the end of last year.

Lisbon city council has announced its willingness to invest “up to €35 million in the demanding creation of conditions for the different events” – a figure confirmed last week by mayor Carlos Moedas (PSD).

The largest slice of municipal investment (€21.5 million) is intended for the Tagus-Trancão Urban Park. In this plot of land, focus is on the rehabilitation of the Beirolas landfill (€7.1 million), the assembly of an altar-stage (€4.24 million, excluding VAT and not including the foundations), the construction of a pedestrian bridge over the Trancão River (€4.2 million) and infrastructure and sanitation equipment, water supply and electricity (€3.3 million).

In October, the Council of Ministers approved a boost to its investment which, according to a source in the office of the minister of state and parliamentary affairs, Ana Catarina Mendes, raised government (PS) spending to €36.5 million, not including costs for security, mobility, health, among others, as registration for the event was not yet open.

Last weekend, the government announced that expenditure will be (only) €30 million, without considering the Value Added Tax (VAT), since this reverts to the State.

According to a statement released, commitments could go “up to €21.8 million” (including the acquisition of multimedia towers, sanitary facilities, television broadcasting, water supply, military bridge, promotion of the country abroad, command and security centre, national and international press support centre), to which should be added €8.2 million from a contract “awarded by State infrastructure company Infraestruturas de Portugal for the relocation of the container terminal”, as part of the requalification of Bobadela riverside area.

“The State will also participate through support, namely in the area of health, safety, rescue and mobility,” said the statement

Loures municipality meantime has estimated its investment at between € 9 – €10 million. It will mainly involve landscaping, the construction of a cyclopedestrian bridge (Loures-Lisbon), a drainage plan and execution of hydraulic crossings and accesses and mobility.

As Lusa concedes: “WYD costs have been in the spotlight after it became known that the construction of the altar-stage of the Tagus Park space (nine metres high and with a capacity for 2,000 people), in the charge of the capital’s municipality, was awarded to civil engineering company, Mota-Engil for €4.24 million (plus VAT), to which should be added €1.06 million for the indirect foundations of the roof”.

The other bone of contention was that Mota-Engil landed the contract without any kind of public tender. There has also been criticism of the fact that other companies could (and possibly would) have done the job cheaper.

As controversy really started swirling last week, the president of the Lisbon 2023 WYD Foundation and general coordinator of the local organising committee, Américo Aguiar (auxiliary bishop of Lisbon), said that the Church’s budget is not yet finalised and will be disclosed soon, with a provisional figure of over €80 million.

The memorandum of understanding signed last year provides that the Church will be responsible for the costs of everything related to the reception of pilgrims, he explained, noting that, “in the end, it will assume the losses,” if any. Any profits will be given to the municipalities of Lisbon and Loures for projects related to youth.

The characteristics of the event and its economic return (currently being accounted by the University of Lisbon), the specific features of the Tagus Park land and its requalification and future use (including the stage) have been pointed out by all the entities involved to justify this massive investment.

Auxiliary bishop of Lisbon Aguiar said the cost of the altar-stage “hurts everyone”, admitting possible corrections if necessary; president of the Republic Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said he was unaware of this cost and welcomed the fact that the president of the WYD Foundation was “sensitive to the compatibility of two objectives: first, that the WYD is a projection of Portugal in the world; second, that it takes into account the economic and social circumstances experienced at this time”.

For his part, the coordinator of the WYD project group (appointed by the government), and former Lisbon city councillor José Sá Fernandes, said he was surprised with the cost of the stage, assuring that there were “cheaper” solutions, and expressed doubts about the feasibility of future reuse of the structure for other events, due to its size.

These statements were given short-shrift by Lisbon’s mayor. Carlos Moedas said: “I think this gentleman is not informed and is very detached from reality. I don’t know this project, nor am I going to get into controversies, but I think it is very sad when someone responsible comes to present wrong figures.”

Moedas has since assumed “all the responsibilities for the organization of WYD, stating that he gives his ‘body to the bullets’ in the planning of “a unique event for Lisbon”, albeit he pronounced himself “available to review projects and costs”, pledging to d respect “the will of the president of Portugal and the Church”.

Lisbon City Council is also responsible, among others, for the creation of certain basic infrastructures, namely water, electricity and mobile phone network, as well as a pedestrian bridge (EMEL), and for assuming half the cost of the placement of a military bridge, which will connect the banks of the Trancão River.

It has also committed to building a secondary stage in Parque Eduardo VII and another one in Terreiro do Paço. (President Marcelo has since said he can’t see why a second stage is needed…)

And while the media has been full of the stories of who is doing what, and who is paying (or not) for what, the Vatican has stressed it did not taken part in any of the decision-making over the construction of the lavish altar-stage, with director of Vatican press office, Matteo Bruni, stating that “the organisation of the event is local” and therefore the decision on costs falls to the Lisbon municipality.

The WYD organizing committee meets this week with technicians from the Lisbon City Council and the urban regeneration society “to review the project”.

Lusa reports that it has tried to contact Mota-Engil, but the company has this far declined to comment.

More than 420,000 pilgrims have already pre-registered for WYD, but around 1.5 million people are expected in the capital.

And what is most surprising, given the scale of this project, is that right now, six months from ‘opening day’, very little in the way of construction work has begun.

Source material: Lusa