Hundreds of prospective World Youth Day pilgrims are being forced to watch the papal visit to Brazil in front of their television screens this week because of the financial problems of the travel company they booked with.
Catholics in the Archdiocese of Portland and the Dioceses of Green Bay, Anchorage and Juneau were upended after learning that ITC Tours were set to file for bankruptcy and that their deposits were gone.
As a result, the Archdiocese of Portland's pilgrimage to Brazil was canceled. Around 20 U.S. dioceses were affected by the bankruptcy.
Archdiocese of Portland officials were informed by an email sent four weeks before the event from the company saying it was filing for bankruptcy. Although it had received all the payments for the trip, none of the money was put towards the reservations that were made. Ten young adult pilgrims and two group leaders were affected.
"We looked at all of our options and the best one for us was to refund the money to the pilgrims and cancel the trip," said Michal Horace, director of the Youth/Young Adult Ministry office at the archdiocese.
The Diocese of Green Bay went a similar route. however, rather than reimburse travelers their lost funds, the Alaska bishops decided to make new arrangements — at an additional cost of at least $10,000 — for their pilgrims.
The Archdiocese of Washington also was planning a World Youth Day pilgrimage through ITC Tours. All 36 pilgrims received refunds and the archdiocese made no plans to reschedule a pilgrimage to Brazil. Instead, the Archdiocese of Washington is hosting "Rio in DC," a World Youth Day event for young adults.
Horace said the Archdiocese of Portland had used the company for the previous four World Youth Day events, and that there were no indications from the company of financial trouble.
"I'm very saddened about the whole thing for the pilgrims and for myself," said Horace. "Being with such a large group of Catholics — even though we don't speak the same languages or have the same culture — but just being there and seeing that we're members of the universal church is an amazing experience."
Horace says all indications are when the next World Youth Day comes around, the archdiocese will try again to take a group.