Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What the Pope Could Have Done to Feel More Welcome

By Ken Briggs

Editor's Note: This commentary was first published August 23 by the National Catholic Reporter.

Not long ago, Spanish Catholics were among the staunchest opponents of much of what Vatican II proposed to renew the church.

Last week the Spanish people, most of them probably still Catholic in some sense, took to the streets to protest the cost of Pope Benedict's visit to the World Youth Day festivities – an estimated $72 million.

Not long ago, the public would have no doubt given silent support to a papal visit regardless of cost. Catholicism was the state religion, a partner in governing with Gen. Franco, a guarantor of the old order under-girded by unquestionable certainties. It had given birth to Opus Dei and rejected freedom of religious conscience.

Today, under democratic rule and economic disaster, a sizable portion of the Spanish public denounced the cost of the pope's visit as scandalous in the face of more pressing social needs. Spain has an overall unemployment rate of 21 percent; 46 percent of young people are without jobs.

It's ironic, of course, that the church's youth festival should be activated in this climate of youth misfortune. Most protesters seemed to agree that there was something terribly wrong with this picture.

Backers of the pope's visit argue that the week-long event will bring in more than $200 million in tourist money. Where those revenues end up is another question entirely. Profits don't trickle down or generally contribute to lasting economic progress.

The hostility sparked by the visit has cast a shadow over the entire event. A quarter century from now, the marchers in the streets are likely to be remembered more than the orderly crowd of Youth Day attendees, for better or worse. The point is that the Vatican harmed itself by insisting on going ahead with an event that contradicted its own social justice teaching.

They could have avoided it altogether by taking a page from those teachings. Imagine if the Pope had offered to cover the Spanish government's trip expenses and set up a fund specifically to help relieve the poor and unemployed. Even giving a healthy fraction of those expenses would have been in keeping with the church's own call for sacrifice and compassion.

Such a move, done sincerely and with conviction, could have turned a disaster into a sign of hope, that the church meant what it said and heard the appeals of the needy.

During his papacy, Benedict has been in tension with the Spanish government and decried what he sees as its secularism. Spain allows gay marriage, has relaxed abortion regulations and discontinued required religious education in public schools. To the pope, this is breaking faith with its Catholic heritage.

But reaching out to help those who disagree would be even more meaningful and noteworthy. There is nothing to indicate that the pope was less willing to respond to the protesters because they were dissenters. But whatever the reason, Benedict and his advisers made a regrettable decision with negative consequences that could last a long time.

Related Off-site Links:
World Youth Day – Money and Mana – Cathleen Kaveny (Commonweal, August 23, 2011).
Why Was There Very Little Mentioned About the Resurrection at WYD? – Colleen Kochivar-Baker (Enlightened Catholicism, August 21, 2011).

1 comment:

  1. As a former Youth leader or as I like to say as a former Youth with the Youths, I agree with this text, but have something more to say about this WYD that isn't in this text.

    1 - 1.5 milion attendees was a great number... But 300.000 less than the last one in Germany 6 years ago or 600.000 less than the ones in Rome 2000. The detail is that registered Youths doubled the average being nearly all the attendees and spontaneous attendees likely disappeared. Brazil will be anothe story, but even there the Church is struggling and hemorraging to the Pentecostal Protestants...

    2 - By personal experience, not on WYD just because it wasn't launched 20 years ago, but on other similar national events, the majority of tose who usually go to that kind of events go more for the show and friendlyness that those events appeal for than for faith reasons. As an honorable Church we have to avoid that kind of "event Church" that is not more than a false demonstration of force. To have an idea, from my Counthry, Portugal, there went 15.000 Youths who, divided to the 4.000 parishes that we have here were only less than 4 youths per parish!... Unfortunatly Pope B16 and the Vatican have another ideas and agendas...

    3 - The world is changing quickly and if the Church doesn't change with the world, it will likely die. Mainline Protestants are likely to decline now in the US, but just searching Youtube is sufficient to see that there are signs of hope that they will have an easier survival than our Church. It is just a question of time and some methodological changes that some of them just realised to be need and they are implementing now.

    Have a good evening!...