Thoughts on World Youth Day


Written on 10:20 PM by Jack B.

Take a look at the pictures below. See those people? See that pope? Don't they look solemn and happy and prayerful at the same time? Don't they look like they're enjoying themselves? Doesn't it make you wish (just a little) you could have been there too even if for just the experience? I know reading Stef's and Tim Drake's blogs from WYD and listening to Father Roderick's Catholic Insider podcasts and watching the coverage on EWTN, I can tell you I'm jealous I wasn't there.

Yet if you were to go by the media coverage (which in the US was barely a few seconds on the TV networks) the "Jesus" part of World Youth Day didn't exist. The reason that a million people turned out wasn't exactly clear. Look at the pictures and ask yourselves if anyone in the MSM understands what's going on.

It seems to me that no matter how WYD turned out, the media had their "angle" all written out already. Tim Drake reported on the early line that if too few Germans turned out then THAT would be the story (and this was before the Pope had arrived). Obviously this story turned out to be a no-go because a million people turned out for the final Mass (hard to say the crowds were that low if you can get a million young people under 35 to show up in de-Christianized non-churchgoing Europe). This was also an early line in WYD Paris (where over a million turned out in the most secular state in Western Europe) and WYD Toronto (where they said the sex abuse scandal would make turn out low - it didn't). Having failed in that line they went two ways - one is that Pope Benedict doesn't have the late JP2's "charisma" or "actor's style" and might not be able to connect with the young people (what do you expect from a guy the press was calling a ultra-conservative "Rottweiler" and "Inquisitor" right after his election). This turned out not be to be the case - even someone watching on TV could hear the calls of "Benedetto!" from the young faithful.

In the end the media went with the old tried and true. The old line that "Hundreds of thousands of youth came out to see the pope, but the majority don't agree with him on issues, especially on sex". I saw this exact thing (almost exactly as written above) on EuroNews after the final Mass. I also saw this line of thought on the BBC reporting on WYD. How they know the "majority" of those at WYD don't agree with the Pope, I don't know. Did they interview/poll everyone there? Of course not. They just think the young people don't agree with the Pope because the media doesn't and so that becomes the story. It was the story in every WYD under JP2 (and when he visited the US) and it became the story again. The media only want to talk about women's ordination, contraception, homosexuality and abortion. Tim Drake calls this the WOCHA mantra and how the networks are only interested in interviewing people who disagree with Pope. Notice how we always seem to get a quote from someone who thinks the Church is out of touch and rarely someone who agrees with the Pope? Think that's an accident? GetReligion wrote about this kind of reporting (and underreporting of WYD as a whole) after the event was over. The NY Times (big surprise) ran the headline "Mixed Reviews from Young Catholics for New Pope and led off with someone who "wasn't sure" about Benedict, several quotes from young people who disagreed with him on sexual and theological issues followed, those who were with the Pope were saved for the very end of the piece (literally). Take a look:

As with John Paul, who often spoke to young people about abstaining from sex, not everyone here agrees on specific issues with Benedict, known for his conservative views during his years as defender of the faith. Some Africans, for example, disagreed with the church position against condom use, a ban even in countries where the prevalence of AIDS is high.

"My own opinion is that condoms are a way to be safe because AIDS makes problems in Africa," said Divingu Dimelvic, 25, a student from Gabon. "But with time, maybe the position of the pope will change."

And at least one of Benedict's favorite topics - though he did not discuss it here in Cologne - had no resonance at all with two young women from Houston.
"Relativism - what do you mean by that?" asked Joni Magill, 18.

When it was explained that Benedict has often condemned the notion that all religious beliefs are equal, a 19-year-old friend who did not give her name, said, "We try not to judge others."

For many, though, Benedict's appeal lay in two key facts: that he is conservative and that he is following very much the same program as John Paul, who emphasized the role of youth in the church.
Melizza Mina, 29, a teacher from the Philippines who has attended four World Youth Day festivals, said that young people especially needed to hear a strict message. "We have more issues about sex, contraceptives," she said. "So this is the right time for him to address young people about their responsibility to be a role model to others."

A. J. Lara, 20, from San Diego, said he found another idea of Benedict's appealing: Benedict has spoken often about the shrinking of the church in developed countries and the need for Catholicism to cultivate a committed core of believers, a "creative minority." Mr. Lara said he saw that seed of belief in the hundreds of thousands of young people who came together to pray in Cologne, even if talking about religion back home would make them outcasts. "We have our teen-aged angst," he said. "A lot of adolescents don't feel like they have a voice. But the fact that the pope is focusing on a small group will allow our voice to grow."

And this in the wake of a million people sitting in a field cheering a 78 year old guy who the media has told them holds archaic and dangerous views and in one of the most secular areas of the world. This should be treated as a success for the Church, as a happy event for the youth of the world who got together and shared their faith with each other and a triumph for Benedict XVI in his first trip abroad. But for the NY Times the headline the very next day is about "Mixed Reviews". The media just doesn't get it. Colleen Carroll Campbell had a column in National Review Online which basically says "It's the message, stupid" but the Mainstream Media of the world seems obsessed with that WOCHA mantra instead. For them thats all the Catholic Church is about. Jesus? Who's he?

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