By focusing on the glitz of the Pope’s visit and sex scandals, secular media missed the point completely, a pilgrim says.
By Sophie Caldecott
OXFORD, England, (Zenit.org) – A couple of weeks ago, more than 223,000 Catholics gathered together in Sydney to celebrate their common faith in the largest event Australia has ever hosted – World Youth Day.
Despite the fact that a representative from almost every corner of the world could be found at this dynamic event, despite the atmosphere of elation, energy and love, and despite many interesting talks, the main – perhaps only – interest of the English media was the relatively small group of protesters who wanted to make sure that their objections to the Catholic Church didn’t go unheard.
The angle the media was trying to spin on the story seems absurd to someone who was there, singing and dancing in the brightly coloured crowd. This was not just any crowd – when else and for what other reason in the world would that many young people get together and be so considerate and friendly toward each other, so joyful and excited and unselfconscious without being drunk or on drugs? There was clearly something else going on at that gathering, something unique and fascinating that the media completely failed to pick up on, and it had nothing to do with protesters.
The protesters who made their presence felt around the events surrounding World Youth Day can be broken down into several main groups: representatives from the gay community, people angry about cases of sexual abuse in the Church, atheists trying to “educate ignorant believers,” Protestants who believe that the Catholic Church is the “whore of Babylon” and people who believe that condoms are the solution to AIDS.
The smattering of various protesters holding signs and watching thousands of young Catholics pass by probably weren’t sure what reaction to expect, but I would imagine they were prepared for the worst. Far from receiving abuse, however, the people holding the rainbow flag sporting the message “Gay, Free, Happy” received cheery waves and smiles, while many people assumed that the protesters holding the signs saying “Think: Don’t Be a Sheep” were actually Catholic, and part of the World Youth Day crowd.
It took us a while to figure out that the leaflets handed to us as we walked out of the train station – about how we are saved by God’s grace and not by our own works – were not actually from fellow Catholics, but from Baptists who were concerned for our souls.
Contrary to the expectations of the general public and, perhaps, the people who instated the “annoyance” laws, many World Youth Day goers relished the opportunity for some friendly discussion in the street with people who, on the whole, had little accurate knowledge and understanding of the Church and Catholic teaching.
“I became convinced that I am called, along with all the people of the Church, to witness to Christ by addressing this ache that the world is feeling.”
I only wish we had had more time to talk to the protesters, getting to the root of their anger and sharing our point of view with them. Unfortunately, reducing an opinion down to a slogan on a T-shirt or a sign is rarely an adequate means of expressing an opinion.
One speaker, Christopher West, delivered a series of talks on Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body during the week in Sydney, and listening, I couldn’t help but be brought close to tears, wishing that the Church’s critics could hear this teaching.
This teaching is not the authoritarian, repressive set of rules that it is so widely believed to be. It is teaching of freedom, love and logic. This is the Truth that the whole world is searching for, thirsting for desperately, whether or not they fully acknowledge it.
John Paul II exposed the flaws of modern thinking about sexuality, answering the deep ache for love that we all experience by pointing us back to the constant teaching of the Church throughout history – the teaching that the human person has an inherent dignity, that we are created in God’s image, and as men and women are described by him as being “very good.”
I became deeply convinced that I am called, along with all the people of the Church, to witness to Christ by addressing this ache that the world is feeling. As West put it, there is only so long that you can eat out of the dumpster before getting sick. This world has been eating out of the dumpster for far too long, and it desperately needs to be shown the way to the wedding feast. Benedict XVI commissioned us young people to be bold witnesses of Christ to the ends of the earth, praying for a new Pentecost and an outpouring of the Spirit. I for one am convinced that John Paul II’s Theology of the Body holds a vital key for doing this.
Being part of World Youth Day is to experience the Church in all her varied glory and youthful energy. The various flags seen in Sydney that week pointed to the universality of the Church, her children being fed by the sacraments and living and breathing as one body, in Christ.
Perhaps the reason that the secular world was inevitably bound to miss the point of WYD is because without Christ there is no way that humanity can be united in truth and love. The great joy with which the young Catholics of the world greeted Benedict XVI proved that the Church is not only alive and growing, but ready to listen to the Holy Spirit speaking through Peter’s successor.
The secular media focused on the protesters, missing the real point of WYD, because they didn’t know what to make of the Pope’s powerful words to the expectant youth of the Church: “Our world has grown weary of greed, exploitation and division, of the tedium of false idols and piecemeal responses, and the pain of false promises. Our hearts and minds are yearning for a vision of life where love endures, where gifts are shared, where unity is built, where freedom finds meaning in truth, and where identity is found in respectful communion.
“This is the work of the Holy Spirit! This is the hope held out by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is to bear witness to this reality that you were created anew at baptism and strengthened through the gifts of the Spirit at confirmation. Let this be the message that you bring from Sydney to the world!” (Address at Sydney Harbour, July 17).
Sophie Caldecott, a student of English literature at Durham University, participated in the WYD pilgrim group from the Oxford Oratory