Church, government, councils put Lisbon World Youth Day cost at €155M

  • Lusa
  • 31 January 2023

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

The World Youth Day (WYD) in Lisbon in August 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 will take place between August 1 and 6 in Lisbon by the choice of Pope Francis, who is participating in the meeting. The main ceremonies will take place in the Tagus Park, north of Parque das Nações, on the riverside, on land owned by the municipalities of Lisbon and Loures.

The investment forecasts began to be known as early as 2022, with the memorandum of understanding with the respective responsibilities defined at the end of the year.

In July, Lisbon city council announced in a statement its willingness to invest “up to €35 million in the demanding creation of conditions for the different events” as part of WYD, a figure confirmed last week by the mayor of Lisbon, 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, the 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 Cabinet 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.

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

According to the statement released, commitments may 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 the Portuguese infrastructure company Infraestruturas de Portugal for the relocation of the container terminal,” as part of the requalification of the Bobadela riverside area.

“The State will also participate through support, namely in the area of health, safety, rescue and mobility,” it is referred.

Also in October, the mayor of Loures, Ricardo Leão (PS), estimated the council’s investment at between nine and 10 million euros, and on Thursday, the mayor maintained the forecast of a budget of around ten million euros, which includes mainly the landscaping, the construction of a cyclopedestrian bridge (Loures-Lisbon), the drainage plan and the execution of hydraulic crossings and accesses and mobility.

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.

Following the controversy, 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 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 the entities involved to justify the investment.

The auxiliary bishop of Lisbon said that the value of the altar-stage “hurts everyone”, admitting possible corrections if necessary, and the president of Portugal 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), the 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 followed by criticism from Lisbon mayor, Carlos Moedas: “I think that 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.”

The mayor 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”, but showed himself available to review projects and costs and said he will do “the will of the president of Portugal and the Church”.

The municipality of Lisbon is also responsible, among others, for the creation of some 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.

The city council will also build a stage in Parque Eduardo VII and another one in Terreiro do Paço for the ceremonies.

The Vatican has already disclosed that it has not taken part in any decision on the construction of the altar-stagee, with the director of the press office, Matteo Bruni, stating that “the organisation of the event is local” and therefore the decision on the cost falls to the Lisbon municipality.

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

Lusa tried to contact Mota-Engil, but the company 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.