Sunday, 21 August 2011

World Youth Day

This time last week, before the start of the World Youth Day, I was anticipating the lack of interest by the media in the UK about the event. As the week progressed I became more annoyed at the reporting, focussing on a handful of protesters while ignoring the hundreds of thousands of young people who were gathering to see the Pope. Now I am positively peeved that the best that most mainstream news companies can manage is a short article that highlights the protests (of course) and mentions a peripheral occurrence of little importance. For example, the BBC's latest video clip of the event sees the weather as the most newsworthy item and then goes on to interview one of the protesters.

I would say that what is more newsworthy is the fact that over 1.5 million (some estimates are as high as 2 million) young people from all around the world and from many walks of life have gathered in a great show of friendship and fellowship to listen eagerly to the words of an 84-year-old man who is continually labelled as out-of-touch by the world's press. I know some people who went from the UK who may be in that picture near one of the Union Flags and I know they have been looking forward to this experience for some time. Andrew Brown of the Guardian, at least, blogged about the incongruity of the coverage of the event.

I did managed to catch the prayer vigil, not on any mainstream media but from one of a few Catholic news websites who were streaming the event. During this, a number of young people spoke to the Pope, telling him of their experiences and asking him for his advice. Amongst them was a lady from Kenya who spoke about Strathmore University's Community Outreach Programme that seeks to help suffering people in other parts of Africa, such as North Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia. The BBC would do well to find Ms Warau and interview her, thus bringing attention to a very positive effort to get relief to the victims of the recent drought. Sadly, and ironically, the inclement weather meant that the Pope had to cut short his speech in response but it it possible to read the whole thing online. Here he speaks of taking the example of Christ:

He who took upon himself our afflictions, is well acquainted with the mystery of human suffering and manifests his loving presence in those who suffer. They in their turn, united to the passion of Christ, share closely in his work of redemption. Furthermore, our disinterested attention towards the sick and the forgotten will always be a humble and warm testimony of God’s compassionate regard.
Earlier in the day he expanded on this idea when he addressed people at the Foundation of St Joseph’s Institute who, inspired by Christ, had dedicated their life to the care of the disabled.

Something else that struck me was the sudden changes in the crowd from the wild jubilation of a party atmosphere, to the attention during the prayer vigil and finally to deep reverence at the benediction at the end. We are continually told that most Catholics only give lip-service to the teachings of the Church but the 1.5 million young people in Cuatro Vientos last night say differently. I experienced the same last year in Hyde Park; it was a festival during the afternoon but as soon as the Pope arrived the atmosphere changed throughout the whole crowd and then for the benediction you could hear a pin drop.

I was at Mass myself this morning at the same time that the Pope was celebrating it in Madrid so I could not see it live. As is traditional, the Pope ends by officially announcing the location of the next World Youth Day, which will be in Rio de Janeiro in 2014.

On costs

The protests were, we were told time and again, just about the cost of the event and not directed at the Pope or ordinary Catholics. From an article from the BBC:
"I don't have anything against the Pope coming here," explained Pinar Alegre, who was herself baptised as a baby but is not a practising Catholic. "But I'm upset we are spending money we don't have, on a Catholic event when this is not a Catholic country."
Apart from pointing out yet again that the cost of the visit is being covered mainly by the participants, with the remainder coming from private donations, I expect the protesters to be out in similar force for other events that will be held at tax-payers expense. I will not be holding my breath.

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