This morning the U.S. Bishops celebrated mass outdoors for American Youth at The Domain—a first at World Youth Day. It was a vibrant mass with superb music and great preaching by the Cardinal-Archbishop of Chicago Francis Cardinal George, who is also the President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Since I’m traveling with Chicagoians I got to meet the Cardinal after mass and gave him a copy of my book, Googling God. He was a very gracious man and spent a good deal of time with the folks from his Archdiocese and engaged almost all of us in conversation. Considering that he’s still recovering from cancer and that his legs aren’t strong to begin with (he had polio as a child) this was no small task for him. He looks a bit weary from the travel but is plugging along nonetheless.
We then hiked from the Domain to Randwick Racetrack for a few miles where the evening vigil was to be held with the Pope. Young people sleep out under the stars after a prayer service with Pope Benedict and then they awaken to celebrate mass with the Pope the next morning. The place is jammed. It’s difficult to step in and out without trampling some poor teen-ager in a sleeping bag or kicking someone in the skull accidentally.
Here’s a bit of the set up for tonight:
Lauren Gaffey from Charis Ministries in Chicago discusses the good and badapsects of her World Youth Day experience:
This was usually Pope John Paul II’s “rock star” moment at past World Youth Days. Even more than when he celebrated mass, the evening vigil would be a huge opportunity for him to connect with all the different cultures of the world and give a brief spiritual message alongside playing up to the crowd with the various chants. Lexi, a young woman I’m traveling with recalled the chants of “JP2—We love you” at World Youth Day in Rome, even when the former pontiff would be trying to deliver his message to the youth. Instead of getting angry at the constant interruptions, he’d simply stop his address, pause as if he were annoyed and then bellow, “John Paul II loves you too!” Much to the delight of the crowd.
If—as many commentators have noted—John Paul II created the role of Pope as Rock Star, I think of Benedict more in terms of Pope as Audiobook. He offers really challenging theological discourse that is difficult to listen to in the freezing cold with 150,000 noisy pilgrims. One of the problems with World Youth Day is that it provides great emotional resonance especially for teens and helps people fall in love with the Pope (and hopefully Jesus)—much like a Promise Keepers revival stirs up the same kinds of emotions. However, these high emotional, high energy rallies do little for the intellect. Even the Catechetical sessions with the Bishops just skim the surface of a very deep theology.
Pope Benedict, however, comes in to these types of events with a strong theological bent. He’s a teacher, always ready to lecture—and tonight was no exception. He gave a glowing exhortation on the Holy Spirit—and enumerated much of what Catholic teaching has to say about the third person of the blessed trinity—from Augustine right up to the present day in the Pope’s own encyclical Deus Caritas Est. It was profound theology at its best—however, I doubt that any of the teens or even the young adults there could state much of what the Pope said. It was cold and noisy and hard to pay attention to the depth of his message. Teens started breaking out card games and minds started wandering in the Australian cold.
These rock concert rallies might be great for teen-agers, they seem more like emotional manipulation to sophisticated young adults. To attract more people in their 20s and 30s to connect intellectually and foster engagement with their faith, I would propose that Pope Benedict offer a one week course on a topic of his choosing to teach to young adults online. A relatively small group of 250 young adults would travel to Rome to sit in the Pope’s classroom and 50 would have lunch with him each day and celebrate a mass with him in a more intimate setting.
Nevertheless, this was a sight to behold. 150,000 young people—candles lit and held aloft while praying with the Leader of the Catholic Church and I’m certain that theological insights were shared with the crowd. Rocco Palmo gives you the text of the Vigil homily. Worth reading every word.
A good night to all who sleep outdoors. I’m in my nice warm hotel bed because I’m a wuss.