While many Catholics are regaling in the afterglow of the much-touted and “highly successful” World Youth Day (WYD) 2013 in Rio, there are signs that papal spectacles like these—“circuses” some might say—should be reassessed for their ultimate value in evangelizing Catholic youth.
One young Catholic—sincere and searching for the truth but not quite sure what truth is—recently told me that young people are leaving the Church in droves because they “don’t feel the Church loves us…present company excepted, of course.”
It was for this purpose—to reach out to evangelize youth, demonstrating Mother Church’s love for them and their salvation—that Blessed John Paul II established WYD. Over the decades, the media’s images of all of those young people—millions in some instances—traveling to distant locales to unite in prayer, to be catechized, and to participate in the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist—has been edifying for many Catholics and especially members the Curia who are already preparing for the next WYD in Poland.
But, there’s another aspect of WYD that isn’t being reported and discussed, one that casts a shadow over WYDs, in general, and raising the question “Should WYD be held?”, in particular.
In “The Downside of World Youth Day,” Connor Malloy describes some of what’s not being reported. For example, large group sessions dedicated to catechesis—two featuring Cardinals O’Malley and Dolan—didn’t have their desired effect upon the audience. The problem? Everything else competing for the audience’s attention. At the opening Mass, Malloy notes:
…hordes of pilgrims were wandering around, popping in at food tents and taking pictures of Copacabana Palace during the Consecration. It was beyond easy to take one’s eyes off the ball, and this identity crisis—between being a pilgrim and being a tourist—presented a constant struggle.
This is nothing new. Malloy tells of an author who related that, following WYD 2000 in Rome, “mounds of used condoms were reportedly found scattered on the grounds—a most eloquent monument to relativism.”
For Malloy, this detachment, those distractions, and the immoral behavior raise two questions: Are we serious about the faith? And, what faith are we spreading? He answers:
When contemplating the emerging Catholic youth, the target audience of WYD 2013, one has to ask, with what they have already witnessed in their lives from cultural, domestic, economic, and social perspectives—from Hollywood, secularism, capitalism, and the iPhone—how much of a role does Catholicism really play in their everyday lives? And what kind of Catholicism is it, anyway? Because from what I saw in Rio, for many there is a wink-wink, “do as I say not as I do” mentality about the Catholic faith.
Looking with an unvarnished eye at these papal spectacles and what they have become in some ways, have they outlived their purpose? Arguably, there may be better ways to evangelize Catholic youth.
More substantively, are those outdoor liturgies a disservice to the Eucharist? Is Mass to be a spectacle—pulsating with dyathrambic rhythms to which the congregants bump and grind while slurping down a latté—or is the Mass a sacrament—an encounter with the Living God?
“Why can’t it be both?” some may ask.
That young pilgrims may have confused WYD with a rock concert is understandable. The question is, can we trust them to see the substance beyond the fluff, the Incarnation beyond the entertainment? Chances are these pilgrims love challenges; we must challenge them to swim against the tide of relativism that exists even within the Church itself, and to surrender themselves to Christ’s redeeming love.
Time will tell when many in that crowd—the “sheep” Pope Francis wants to bring “home” to the Church—return to their dioceses and parishes and “shake things up,” as the Pope instructed them. What will happen when these young people discover that the Church’s teaching hasn’t changed? Then, too, should they be allowed to turn liturgy in their parishes into mini-Copacabanas? Will they once again leave, and this time, for good?
If young people are leaving Church in droves because they don’t “feel the Church loves us,” one wonders what kind of mother they are looking for.
To read Connor Malloy’s article, click on the following link: