WYD Sydney: “deathly retail silence”

You might remember that I posted a video about the economic impact, or lack thereof, on Sydney during the World Youth Day events.

Over at Faith and Theology there is an interesting piece:

A miracle on World Youth Day

When Benedict XVI addressed an inner-Sydney congregation on Friday night, he spoke against the worship of the “false gods” of “material possessions, possessive love, or power.” And he asked: “How many voices in our materialist society tell us that happiness is to be found by acquiring as many possessions and luxuries as we can? But this is to make possessions into a false god. Instead of bringing life, they bring death.”

And according to a report in The Weekend Australian, the hundreds of thousands of Catholic pilgrims have been a major economic disappointment: “The deathly retail silence contrasts with optimistic predictions of a ‘bumper week’ of trade by the state Government and the local chambers of commerce. A jewellery shop reported one sale in the week: a cross. New South Wales Business Chamber chief executive Kevin MacDonald had predicted a $231 million boost for business, or $1155 per expected visitor. But traders reported pilgrims unwilling to spend, even haggling over the price of one banana. Clothing store John Serafino said the Pope’s visit was ‘a disaster’.”

Here in Australia, talk about the economy tends to be the only talk that is taken seriously; the sound of the cash register is the only sound we really respond to. Our public life revolves around the assumption that everything is finally reducible to economic considerations. So thanks be to God for the strange miracle of a “deathly retail silence” in Sydney this week.

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36 Responses to WYD Sydney: “deathly retail silence”

  1. Father, this is great news. I know the Aussie retailers don’t like it, but it’s truly amazing to hear this.

  2. Dominic says:

    Fantastic news indeed!

  3. Paul Quist says:

    What else would you expect? Many of the WYD pilgrims were poor kids, who at great sacrifice spent all they had so that they could be with the Holy Father. They wanted to be with Bendidict XVI and worshipping the Lord Jesus, not wasting their time browsing in shops. Pilgrims aren’t the same thing as tourists, a fact overlooked by the local chamber of commerce.

  4. Dave says:

    I’m glad to hear this, but might this news discourage other cities from hosting large religious events in the future?

  5. Lurker says:

    I suppose that means a fast from the Amazon wish list?

  6. Hidden One says:

    WAHOO! Death to materialism!

  7. TerryC says:

    Not surprised. I put round trip airfare to Sydney at about a grand from the U.S. I can’t imagine how much more it is from Europe. Add food and even hostel level accommodations to this and expect at least $300 more. Considering that WYD recommended ages are 16-30 we’re not talking about a group with a lot of disposable cash (though in some cases their parents might have a lot of disposable cash.) These aren’t people that are going to rent cars, stay in hotel rooms, go to tourist class expensive restaurants, etc.
    As I said I’m not surprised they didn’t drop a lot of coin in Sydney.

  8. Jack Regan says:

    Much as I would like to think that this was the death of materialism, and much as I loved the Holy Father’s words, I rather think this is a common phenomenon to Christian festivals.

    I used to be well acquainted with the Keswick Convention – a Protestant festival attracting many tens of thousands. The town of Keswick hates them with a passion because, apart from food and accommodation, they spend virtually nothing. The same story is told by the shopkeepers around Walsingham, and I am sure many other pilgrimage places too.

  9. Breier says:

    I don’t see why this is news for celebration. I also think this concern about “materialism” is overblown. Most people who support free enterprise tend to be more spiritual. Economic prosperity is a good, alebeit a leser one than spiritual goods. Sydney had to bear a cost for WYD, just as parishes bear a cost for providing for the spiritual needs of parishoners. Would one rejoice because collection plates turned up empty? Rejoice at retailers misfortune strikes me as uncharitable.

  10. Rose says:

    With respect, I think we should not be too cavalier about the “retail silence”…for many real people, small scale retail is a livelihood (for many women and those who have little education). But on the positive side, for host governments, the exposure the city gets may be of great value although not immediately measurable…Expo and the Olympics were economic disasters for Montreal (I think they were still paying for it a few years ago) but they made Montreal a world famous, desirable destination. Maybe that is how the host governments view WYD to a certain extent. But the problem for this past WYD may have been the exorbitant price extracted by the Randwick Racecourse.

  11. Did you read the AFP note that the Pope´ visit should give Sydney brothels business a leg-up?
    (http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5jiYcdOGio2S0jQntJo-WPf36gIwA)One owner interviewed said she had doubled her business. However, the article could not explain why the AFP-reporter visited so many brothels, or how many other journalists that were there…

  12. DJY says:

    My first thought was: I thought that those faithful Catholics with their huge families were the ones tearing up the world’s resources!

  13. joan says:

    With that thought, could everyone please go over to FR.Z’s wish list! Thanks!

  14. Matt says:

    What exactly were they expecting people to buy? If I had gone I would have bought food, some post cards, and maybe few nights in a hotel. What else? Not much. The comment about a Jewelry store selling a cross strikes me as odd because how many people travel to a geographically isolated place like Sydney only to make a big purchase. And if you think about this, 18-35s are even less likely to be able to afford such a thing. To think that the $$$$$$ would just poor in is a bit overly optimistic.

  15. dymphna says:

    I’m delighted that most of the pilgrims apparently
    came for WYD and not a vacation.

  16. Aaron says:

    Well, I’m not so sure. Sydney was very weird especially from Thurs-Sunday.

    The streets were packed but the shops were empty. But at the same time, most
    of the serious talks for the week were attended overwhelmingly by Australians, ‘
    the overseas guests, it appears, were sight-seeing during the day.

    I was disappointed that more were enjoying the delights of Australian beer
    with me on Friday night!

  17. aalex1 says:

    While we witness the great achievement of the Church in Sydney, back in LALA land, Cardinal Mahony is getting the faithful ready for ( from the LA Diocese web site):

    A Community Event for Downtown Los Angeles Dogs of All Faiths… and Their Humans!
    Tuesday, July 29th, 6pm–9pm

  18. Coletta says:

    My thought on what the Holy Father said is that one of the clearest witnesses to an unbelieving society is that of not worshiping money and materialism. I am thinking St. Francis and St. Dominic have a lot to say to this period of history (ours) and especially to religious orders.

    If they are not interested in what keeps us out of the clubs and movie theaters, they still do notice it. Detachment from materialism baffles them and makes them curious about how we tick.

    With the struggling economy and possible trials coming in the future- it makes since that everyone, not just religious, learn to lived detached and simple lives. Perhaps God is giving us a period of time to prepare for what we know is to come.

    Our resources now should be spent on restoring the Sacred Liturgy and all that entails, and on books. :) (See Fr. Z’s wishlist)

  19. cathguy says:

    I am amazed at the ignorance out there.

    Most of the pilgrims were college kids who had to beg their way to Sidney in the first place. Some made rosaries and sold them, some held fundraisers. They went to hear the Holy Father, not go on a materialist spending spree. Where would they store the stuff they bought anyway? The cosy hotel rooms?

    It seems the secular press, and secular people, cannot understand the Catholic Church at all.

  20. “…Most people who support free enterprise tend to be more spiritual. Economic prosperity is a good, alebeit a leser one than spiritual goods…”

    Direct quote from the Baltimore Evangelical Catechisms of 1964 or was that Benny Hinn, 1996?

  21. Maureen says:

    A lot of organizations feeding pilgrims bought a lot of food. One of the nun blogs said they bought 30 lbs. of cookies, for example.

  22. Matt Q says:

    Maureen wrote:

    “A lot of organizations feeding pilgrims bought a lot of food. One of the nun blogs said they bought 30 lbs. of cookies, for example.”

    )(

    See, that’s why such reporting as above is misleading. Why would people think going to an event like WYD equates going shopping for stuff they can get at home? What the article didn’t report on was food and lodging. Did anyone survey the restaurants, cafes and other eateries? How about lodging? The visitors had to eat and sleep somewhere? Then again maybe a lot of schools opened their gyms and whatever for them to camp out in. None of this side of the story gets reported.

  23. Hiberniensis says:

    “haggling over the price of one banana”

    Haha, good for them. Bring back more haggling in general, I say.

  24. Padre Steve says:

    Most of these pilgrims were young adults and teens who spend a good deal of money just to get to Sydney. They went to Australia for WYD not for typical tourist reasons. I’m sure they didn’t have much time for malls this week!

  25. Luke says:

    Hilarious! Glory to God!

  26. Melody says:

    Hm… Indeed what were they expecting? Young people don’t have much to spend after airfare and hotels. What they do have to spend goes to food and perhaps a few things sold at the convention grounds. That’s just what a convention is like. I went the quite secular Anime Expo last month and spent almost nothing outside of the exhibit hall.

  27. Hidden One says:

    As a veteran of Protestant youth conferences, as well as a couple such Catholic events, I contend that, while the 231 million estimate should have been cut in about 3, the ‘deathly retail silence’ is abnormal.

  28. L says:

    This would have been fine had the airlines and travel agents not gouged pilgrims so much this time around.If anybody wants to blme somebody, they can look to the travel industry.

  29. Matthew says:

    Having never been to a WYD, this is second-hand information. A friend of mine said that when she went, there was a lot of trading. Many people traded stuff that they had brought for souvenirs from other pilgrims.

  30. GCC Catholic says:

    I caught this post while briefy browsing and checking email before leaving Sydney. Some of my observations:

    - That is an absurd amount to factor in considering that a fair number of (even first-world) pilgrims don’t come from great means.

    - They didn’t have what we might have wanted anyways. For some reason, there were virtually no religious vendors, even AT WYD. I saw one place where we could purchase items like medals and rosaries. Frankly, those are the sorts of items I care to bring back as gifts; not random trinkets, books that I can buy at home (that make my luggage heavy anyways), nor even WYD t-shirts and the like. That even the WYD merchandise was lacking in that respect still baffles me.

    - Buying “stuff” isn’t part of the nature of pilgrimage anyways. We were pilgrims and not tourists (even though some did sightseeing before or after WYD). The retailers don’t understand that.

    - Even the food expenses (though an excellent point) wouldn’t be as much for pilgrims as for tourists. The pilgrimage meals were bought in bulk, so they should not have been as expensive as even an inexpensive restaurant meal.

    I think they were expecting the sort of reaction they had at the Olympics a few years back. I’m just sorry they can’t grasp the difference with this.

  31. Ben says:

    I think GCC Catholic is right. Also to add that Australia is a Protestant Country that has no large Catholic Tradtion. They do not understand how to sell religious items. Places like Italy, Spain, France, etc. make tons of money off of religious items from the pilgrims and tourists. When I was in Rome I bought a few things at the Vatican because it was from the Vatican. I did not have a lot of money but I wanted something to remember the trip. Plus it was from the Vatican!

  32. AJP says:

    Thank you Breier and Rose for your posts.
    I also find the rejoicing over retailer misfortunes
    to be uncharitable and unCatholic. Furthermore, as others
    have already pointed out, this seems to be less a case of
    the “death of materialism” and more a case of Syndey’s retail
    community seriously misjudging the demographics of WYD attendees,
    and also the point of a pilgrimage. Had WYD been held in a
    traditionally Catholic country like Italy or Spain, I’m sure
    retailers would have prepared more appropriately and been more
    successful.

    Christopher Mandzok,

    That was really unnecessary. Breier wasn’t quoting anyone, he was
    describing his personal experience. Equating belief in the compatibility
    of the free market and Catholicism with a heretical criminal like
    Benny Hinn is ridiculous. Such sloppy thinking and false dichotomies would
    be expected at a leftist website – but not on an orthodox
    Catholic blog.

    My personal experience mirrors Breier’s. I have known a handful of
    people who I’d say were obsessed with acquiring material wealth and things.
    They ran the gamut from Opus Dei members to atheist limosuine liberals, with
    persons in between who were entirely apathetic to political and religious
    issues.

    Meanwhile there seems to be, in my experience, a lot of overlap between
    folks who support the free market (NOT THE SAME AS MATERIALISM) and folks
    who are religious. This is due to a lot of political, social, and religious
    factors, many of them unique to the USA. I don’t think it’s the case that
    being pro-economic freedom makes one religious or vice versa. Perhaps it is
    because religious people and pro-free market people tend value simliar things:
    justice, respect for the rule of law, respect for the rights of individuals,
    respect for the property of others, prudent management of one’s resources,
    delaying immediate gratification for a greater long-term good, personal
    responsibility for one’s actions, not shifting the consequences of one’s
    bad behavior onto others, and valuing the role and power of traditiaonl
    social institutions.

    Meanwhile, due to many historical, political, and social factors, most unique
    to the USA, there is an even greater overlap between folks who oppose the free
    market and folks who oppose Catholicism, religion in general, and traditional
    morality of any type. Look beneath the surface of the persons and groups
    that agitate the most against the market, eeeevil corporations, and capitalism,
    and 99 times out of 100 you will find views that are utterly opposed to the
    Gospel (and usually anti-Semitic to boot). We see this on a mild scale in
    our own Church – think about how many of the “peace and justice” type Catholics
    (such as Fr. Pfleger, Sr. Chittister, Pax Christi, various un-habited nuns, many
    Jesuits, etc) also oppose the all-male priesthood, the Church’s teachings on
    homosexuality, the Church’s teachings on life, reverence in the Mass, respect
    for the Real Presence, the Church’s teaching on the uniqueness and
    necessity of Jesus Christ, and the Church’s teaching on the reality of sin,
    judgment, and salvation?

    While it is indeed sad state of affairs and it didn’t have to be this way,
    the fact is that nowadays in the USA the default anti-free-market position
    is, ultimately, Marxism. Whether you intend to or not, when you agitate
    against economic freedom, you throw your hat in with forces that are
    anti-Catholic, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, anti-religion, anti-marriage,
    anti-life, anti-family, anti-freedom, anti-American, anti-tradition,
    anti-morality, anti-truth, anti-intellectual, anti-beauty, anti-human, and
    anti-everything else you hold dear as a Catholic!

    There is a reason that
    the Church has unequivocally condemend Communism. While the Church has
    criticized certain aspects of captialism, it has never condemned it to
    the extent that it has condemned communism. And while private
    revelations aren’t binding, I do think it is interesting that Our Lady
    at Fatima warned against Russia spreading its errors (communism) throughout
    the world, yet said nothing about America which at the time was robustly
    capitalistic and very Protestant to boot.

    In short, don’t let yourself be played by Marxism. Don’t fall for the
    claim that materialism and supporting the free market are one and the same.
    They aren’t. Just as courage is not the same as recklessness, capitalism
    is not the same as obsession with material wealth.

    I apologize if this comes out in a weird format. I am new to this blog, being
    a former poster at the defunct Cafeteria is Closed.

  33. Larry says:

    My personal experience last week was that there *was* some money being dropped, but it was in the WYD merchandise tents. Of course, many were trading things (pins, articles of clothing with national flags, country names, or symbols), but many bought WYD-logo themed merchandise.

    Of course, with all the activities, there wasn’t much time at all for shopping.

    I’d bet that, when all the bean-counters are done counting, they’ll find that a reasonable up-tick in food and drink was turned (even though registered pilgrims had three meals a day taken care of), and WYD merchandise vendors made a pretty penny, but other than that, not much more was spent.

    At a 1-to-1 exchange rate, this American found Aussie prices to be somewhat high, compared to U.S. prices, and not at all reasonable enough to warrant separating me from my U.S. dollars!

  34. jaykay says:

    Those who wre predicting a retail bonanza would appear to have got it seriously wrong ab initio. Just what sort of people did they think were coming? What a triumph of market research that was!!

    In the case of one young person I know from our parish, who was going only for 10 days and then returning to his (low-paid) summer job, his total budget after airfare from Ireland (for which he’s been saving for the past year) was something like between €20-€30 per day. His accommodation was largely taken care of with friends/ relatives/whatevers, although he certainly did have to make a contribution, and given that he was travelling with a small 80-litre backpack, he wouldn’t have had room to bring stuff back, even if he could have afforded it. Extra bagggage charges would have totally sunk him. I haven’t seen him since he came back but I’ll be keen to ask him about what he thinks of the “retail disaster”.