When the Pope Comes to Town
Martin O'Malley CBC News Online

It's a big deal when the Pope comes to town and nobody knows this better than the nuns at three religious communities in Quebec and Ontario who are making communion hosts for the masses that will be said at World Youth Day observances. They have been preparing for the event since last October. Their task is to prepare a mere three million hosts – quarter-sized wafers of unleavened bread – in time for Pope John Paul's arrival in Toronto on July 23.

The Pope will celebrate an open-air mass on July 28, when 750,000 people from around the world are expected to attend. There could be more, but it won't come close to being the biggest papal mass ever. That happened in Manila in the Philippines in 1995 when nearly five million attended a World Youth Day papal mass.

The cloistered nuns are the Adorers of the Precious Blood in Hamilton, Ont.; the Moniales Bénédictines de Joliette of Quebec; and the Dominicaines of Berthierville, Quebec. Each of the three religious communities made a million hosts.

"It was a challenge that we were happy to have," said Sister Mariette Lussier of the Dominicaines, who normally make three million hosts a year. "It was our way of participating in World Youth Day." The communion hosts are only a small part of the preparations. The hosts have to be distributed to the 750,000 people at the mass. This will require 3,000 eucharistic ministers (priests, deacons, lay people). The Pope will distribute communion only to a few of those at the mass, perhaps only a handful, as the 82-year-old pontiff is frail and suffers from Parkinson's disease. The logistics of distributing communion to 750,000 people are daunting.

  • The papal mass will be celebrated at Downsview Lands, on the northwestern outskirts of Toronto.
  • There will be 14 sections, each designated "a communion centre," each with a special tent.
  • Two days before the papal mass, cartons containing a dozen ciboria (vessels containing the hosts) will be delivered to each tent. Each ciboria can hold 250 communion hosts. Each tent will have from 225 to 450 ciboria.
  • 4,000 ciboria are required for all World Youth Day masses, as well as 400 chalices (the vessel that holds the sacramental wine). There will be 40 special chalices made of gold-plated nickel on the altar at the papal mass July 28.
  • The ciboria and chalices are ceramic, with a glazed finish in beige, brown and blue. Sisters Christine Boudreau and Marie Carla Silva of the Soeurs Disciples du Divin Maître worked from January to June to make all the ciboria and chalices.
  • The mass wine is white sacramental wine, ordered from Broughton's Liturgical Supplies in Toronto. World Youth Day organizers ordered 752 litres of wine. This amounts to 47 cases of 4-litre jugs. The wine was made in California by Cribari Sacramental Wines.
  • The altar for the papal mass and the lectern are made of Canadian maple.
  • There will be 2,000 priests and 500 bishops – including 60 cardinals – for all the masses at World Youth Day events.
  • There will be five field hospitals and 12 first aid units at Downsview Lands (another field hospital and four first aid units at Exhibition Place in Toronto)

When not on public display, the Pope will stay at a special retreat on an island in Lake Simcoe called Strawberry Island, about 10 kilometres from the shore near Orillia. He will stay in a two-storey cottage. His meals will be prepared by an unnamed Eastern European woman – the Pope is from Poland – who knows the Pope enjoys simple fare: bacon, eggs, pasta, perogies, apple pie.

Pope John Paul initiated the World Youth Day conference in 1984, when he invited youth around the world to join him to pray for peace and reconciliation. World Youth Day conferences are held every two years. For the purposes of World Youth Day "youth" is loosely defined as between 16 and 35 years of age.

A year ago, on July 25, 2001, the Pope delivered a message to the youth of the world from his summer retreat at Castel Gandolfo. "Come and make the great avenues of Toronto resound with the joyful tidings that Christ loves every person and brings to fulfillment every trace of goodness, beauty and truth found in the city of man," the Pope said in his invitation.

This will be the 17th World Youth Day. Its theme is, "You are the salt of the earth….You are the light of the world."