VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News) — World Youth Day organizers announced today that 440,000 young people have already signed up for the international gathering set for this August, a record enrollment figure this far out from the event.

“World Youth Day is an extraordinary experience for a Church, which is a friend to the young, sharing their problems; a Church which is at the service of the younger generations,” said Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, at a June 28 Vatican press conference.

“It is an epiphany of the Christian faith on a truly global scale. And young people — especially in our old Europe, deeply secular and secularizing — have a special need for all this,” he said.

Cardinal Rylko went on to give some of the highlights for the six-day event that will take place in the Spanish capital from Aug. 16-21.

The Pope will arrive on the evening of Thursday, Aug. 18. Over the next four days, he will preside at a total of nine events with young people.

This includes a meeting on Aug. 19 with young female religious, followed by a gathering with young academics. Pope Benedict will also join young people for the Way of the Cross through the streets of Madrid that day.

On Aug. 20 the Pope will hear confessions at Madrid’s Jardines del Buen Retiro before going to the city’s cathedral to offer Mass for seminarians.

The highpoint of his visit, though, will be the Sunday morning Mass at Cuatro Vientos Airport with hundreds of thousands of young pilgrims on Aug. 21. So far, 745 bishops, 13,455 priests and 4,585 seminarians have committed to attending.

Journalists at the press conference also heard about the logistics involved in World Youth Day from a young Spanish volunteer, Jose Antonio Martinez Fuentes.

“We have done it all in light of our commitment to a job well done,” said Martinez, who has been working in the information office in Madrid for the past year.
His office, and others helping around the world, have answered more than 25,000 queries in the past 12 months.

“What has been the foundation of our work is the fact that we consider each pilgrim that contacts us as Christ himself,” he said.

Such information centers have helped more than 10,000 groups register and aided pilgrims with specific needs such as dietary requirements and disability issues, as well as accommodation and visa requests. In collaboration with the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, pilgrim groups can obtain entry visas free of charge.

Madrid will be Pope Benedict’s third World Youth Day. His first two gatherings were in Cologne, Germany, in 2005 and then in Sydney, Australia, in 2008.