And thus, one of the biggest stories on the planet right now. Certainly, the most positive and hopeful one at the moment.
Where are all the social commentaries now? After weeklong rioting and violence in London by hostile youth mobs seized world media attention in continuous news cycles filled with political and social analysis, we have a weeklong ‘event’ in another European capital with a million young people pouring in from all over the globe and it’s largely and intentionally ignored by big media.
Never mind them. Here’s the story.
On the eve of Pope Benedict XVI’s arrival in Madrid, the young people of the world gathered to welcome their Holy Father to the third World Youth Day he has presided over since his election in 2005.
This started with the ‘John Paul II Generation,’ but the Cardinal Archbishop of Madrid designated this WYD as a turning point, marked by new realities young people are facing and answering in the ‘Benedict Generation.’
A massive Festival of Reconciliation, where confessions were heard in more than 10 languages, was inaugurated in Retiro Park — Madrid’s equivalent of New York’s Central Park — all fulfilling Pope Benedict’s desire that this World Youth Day be marked by a dedication to the formation of the young in the truths of the Catholic faith.
(more on that point in a moment…)
Prior to the Holy Father’s arrival, the night of Aug. 16 belonged to both Pope John Paul II, the great friend of the world’s young people, and the Catholic faith of Spain…
It was marked by recalling the past and continuing spiritual presence of Blessed Pope John Paul II in the lives of young Catholics throughout the world. Cardinal Ruoco also called his fellow citizens of Spain to remember their Catholic roots and to see the week ahead as an opportunity to renew and strengthen their ancient faith.
(again, hold that thought…)
In his homily during the “Mass of Blessed Pope John Paul II,” the newly approved liturgy since the late Pope’s beatification in May, the 74-year-old cardinal invoked the name of the Polish Pope more than a dozen times…
I’m talking about the unforgettable, venerable and beloved John Paul II — the Pope of youth! With John Paul II begins a new historical period, unprecedented, with respect to the Successor of Peter’s relationship with the youth, and, consequently, a relationship that until then did not exist between the Church and her young: direct, immediate, heart to heart, imbued with a faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, enthusiastic, hopeful, joyful, contagious.”
With these words, a spontaneous and lengthy applause broke out across the plaza, and hundreds of national flags were waved in the steamy, 90-degree evening air, including two flags representing communist China, flags which are not normally seen at large Catholic gatherings.
Get that? This is a hugely important human event. Benedict is talking to them about ‘the full measure of what it means to be human’, about totalitarianism, lack of reference to God, utilitarian ideologies closed to reason, and the authentic idea of a university and the search for truth. He quoted Plato: ‘Seek truth while you are young, for if you don’t it will later escape your grasp.’
And much more….
So about those references to calling these young people to renew and strengthen their heritage in an ancient faith, John Allen sketches out this early but accurate and finely detailed ‘big picture’ of what’s happening in Madrid this week.
This is an important analysis.
The big picture is the following: World Youth Day offers the clearest possible proof that the Evangelical movement coursing through Catholicism today is not simply a “top-down” phenomenon, but also a strong “bottom-up” force.
“Evangelical Catholicism” is a term being used to capture the Catholic version of a 21st century politics of identity, reflecting the long-term historical transition in the West from Christianity as a culture-shaping majority to Christianity as a subculture, albeit a large and influential one…
Historically speaking, Evangelical Catholicism isn’t really “conservative,” because there’s precious little cultural Catholicism these days left to conserve. For the same reason, it’s not traditionalist, even though it places a premium upon tradition. If liberals want to dialogue with post-modernity, Evangelicals want to convert it – but neither seeks a return to a status quo ante. Many Evangelical Catholics actually welcome secularization, because it forces religion to be a conscious choice rather than a passive inheritance. As the late Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger of Paris, the dictionary definition of an Evangelical Catholic, once put it, “We’re really at the dawn of Christianity.”
Paradoxically, this eagerness to pitch orthodox Catholicism as the most satisfying entrée on the post-modern spiritual smorgasbord, using the tools and tactics of a media-saturated global village, makes Evangelical Catholicism both traditional and contemporary all at once.
This is a most incisive piece, to be taken seriously.
You’ll get Evangelical Catholicism badly wrong, however, if you think of it exclusively as a top-down movement. There’s also a strong bottom-up component, which is most palpable among a certain segment of the younger Catholic population.
We’re not talking about the broad mass of twenty- and thirty-something Catholics, who are all over the map in terms of beliefs and values. Instead, we’re talking about that inner core of actively practicing young Catholics who are most likely to discern a vocation to the priesthood or religious life, most likely to enroll in graduate programs of theology, and most likely to pursue a career in the church as a lay person — youth ministers, parish life coordinators, liturgical ministers, diocesan officials, and so on. In that sub-segment of today’s younger Catholic population, there’s an Evangelical energy so thick you can cut it with a knife.
Needless to say, the groups I’ve just described constitute the church’s future leadership.
For the most part, it’s a mistake to diagnose this trend in ideological terms, as if it’s about the politics of left vs. right. For today’s younger Catholics, it’s more a matter of generational experience. They didn’t grow up in a stuffy, all-controlling church, so they’re not rebelling against it. Instead, they’re rebelling against a rootless secular world, making them eager to embrace clear markers of identity and sources of meaning.
It’s not that this is utterly fascinating writing, it’s that Allen has so deftly studied, analyzed and correctly explained the church today, at this moment in history, its role in the world and its future in the hands of this young generation in the midst of the world.
World Youth Day is perhaps the lone international venue where being faithfully, energetically Catholic amounts to the “hip” choice of lifestyle. To be clear, this passion isn’t artificially manufactured by party ideologues and foisted on impressionable youth, like the Nuremberg rallies or Mao’s Red Guard brigades; it’s something these young believers already feel, and WYD simply provides an outlet.
In that sense, World Youth Day is the premier reminder of a fundamental truth about Catholicism in the early 21st century. Given the double whammy of Evangelical Catholicism as both the idée fixe of the church’s leadership class, and a driving force among the inner core of younger believers, it’s destined to shape the culture of the church (especially in the global north, i.e., Europe and the United States) for the foreseeable future. One can debate its merits, but not its staying power.
Nor its power to communicate, through the new ‘gatekeeper media’. No wonder the old guard don’t want to give them attention.
More than 1 million Catholic kids from across the world are converging on Madrid, Spain, for World Youth Day 2011, and every one of them seems to be tweeting, texting and Facebooking home…
The official World Youth Day website has more than 400,000 members. Facebook is hosting national World Youth Day sites in 21 different languages. There fans who are not able to attend the event in person will be able to light a virtual candle.
“The whole world is online, the church and the Internet, belong together,”…