There’s a fantastic get-together going on in Madrid right
now between Pope Benedict XVI and hordes of young Catholics from around Spain
and the world, but you would hardly know it from the mainstream media. The news
outlets have condescendingly left the best lines to their bloggers.
At the Guardian Andrew
Brown took a potshot at a BBC news bulletin for reporting protests against
the Pope’s visit — ostensibly because of its cost — but never once mentioning
World Youth Day itself, which has brought an estimated 1.5 million young people
to greet and listen to their spiritual father.
The ability of mainstream Christianity to attract a youthful
crowd of that size was “a damn sight more newsworthy”, said Brown, than a
predictable demonstration of a few thousand secularists, feminists, gays and others
against the Pope. The Huffington Post, to its credit, has a young Jesuit, Michael
Rossman, blogging enthusiastically on events in Madrid.
Happily, no-one depends these days on commercial media to
find the good stuff that is happening around the world — nor the bad, as the
use of Facebook and Twitter in the British riots two weeks ago showed. This
week those iconic social networking brands are showing their worth by facilitating
a great faith-inspired love-in that has given birth to countless FB pages,
Tweets and blogs. It even has its own smartphone app that keeps users up-to-date
with all of the events during the week and provides access to news, online TV,
weather reports and the website Twitter.
“There’s even a virtual bell that users are encouraged to
activate, that will chime in unison with church bells that will herald the
pope’s arrival in Madrid,” reports
Over the next couple of days I shall tune into the Catholic
television network EWTN to follow WYD events. In the meantime, a visit to the TV news agency Rome Reports gives a
tantalising taste of what’s happened so far in the Spanish capital.
The beautiful old city provides a stunning setting for the unfolding
drama of youth and age gathered in mutual respect and affection. More a festival
than a drama, really. The heat of the early afternoon of the Pope’s arrival must
have been intense — most of the locals take off for the beaches and mountains
at this time of year — but the bright sun only served to heighten the vibrancy
of the colours in which the young have decked themselves — notably the official
red and gold, the bright green of wardens, and striking patterns of national
Welcomed at the airport by an official party led by King
Juan Carlos, and attended by 60 children dressed as Swiss Guards, Pope
Benedict immediately set the tone of his visit and indirectly, perhaps,
responded to the protests, but even more to the aggressive secularisation of
Spanish public life led by the Zapatero government:
I say again to young people, with all the strength of my
heart: let no one take away your peace, don’t be ashamed of Christ. He had no
qualms about becoming one of us and experiencing our anguish to bring us to
God, and by doing this he saved us.
Already on the plane he had talked to the 56 journalists (plenty
of reports to come) about Spain’s deep economic crisis, which has seen
unemployment among young adults rise to nearly 45 per cent. The Pope said that
part of the solution lies in gearing economic policy to the common good of society
and not just economic growth.
In Madrid, after receiving the keys of the city and walking
through the Puerta de Alcalá, the Pope was treated to a display of dressage by
Spanish horse riders and was then serenaded by a troupe of traditional Spanish
musicians, Las Tunas, as he made his way to the Plaza de Cibeles for his first
formal meeting with the youth. He told them:
Through your presence and your participation in these
celebrations, the name of Christ will echo throughout this great City. Let us
pray that his message of hope and love will also resound in the hearts of those
who are not believers or who have grown distant from the Church.
Benedict XVI also noted the importance of implementing the
teachings of Jesus:
Dear young people, listen to the words of the Lord that you
are in ‘spirit and life,’ roots that nourish your being, behaviour patterns
from which we resemble the person of Christ, being poor in spirit, hungering
for righteousness, merciful, pure of heart, peace-loving. Do it frequently
every day, as with the only friend that does not disappoint and with him, we
share the road of life.
The pope said that God never leaves us and is always willing
to give a helping hand. He added that Christ is the bedrock that allows a solid
and stable life.
Dear friends, be prudent and wise, build your lives on the
firm foundation that is Christ. This wisdom and prudence will guide your steps,
nothing will make you tremble and your heart will be at peace.
Madrid has done Pope Benedict and its young pilgrim throng
proud. There is a wonderful festival of faith and culture going on that will do
more to give young people hope and confidence than all the moral indignation
being shouted from the sidelines. It goes on till Sunday, so keep an eye out for the odd 10-second update on your local television network.
Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet. The quotations from Pope Benedict’s speeches are from Rome Reports.