As the Holy Father woke up on the morning after his return to Castel Gandolfo, volunteers manning the phones at the Catholic Enquiry Office in London were beginning to cope with hundreds of calls asking about the Catholic faith. Among those phoning was a Sikh woman, who wanted to know how she could convert.
Already, on the Pope’s final afternoon in Britain, Cardinal Keith O’Brien had told him that this would be the effect: “Be assured, Holy Father,” he said at Oscott, “that we are bouncing back.”
The least that can be said is that he has detoxified the Catholic brand after many months of vilification and hatred. Now, when the British think of the Church, they think of a wholly benign, gentle, and at the same time powerful figure, blessing, consecrating, teaching, in his iconic person exemplifying the faith.
Above all, he left in the mind the image of a religion to which young people can respond: this is what needs to be built on now. Not, please God, by youth officers in diocesan bureaucracies, but by organisations like Youth 2000, which doesn’t focus on any jazzy new theology or gimmicks, but on an authentic rediscovery of the basics: Mass, confession, prayer, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
This has little to do with the clerical bureaucracies that plague the Church and sap its vitality. The point is, as the Newman scholar Fr Ian Ker has written of the new movements in the Church (and writing with particular reference to Youth 2000): “It is this apostolic and charismatic rather than clerical-lay institutional Church which the movements have succeeded in recovering for the next millennium.”
Youth is the key: which brings me to the World Youth Days through the years. Browsing through the Herald’s debate on the Benedict bounce, I was intrigued by the suggestion that the next step for us could be to bring the WYD to Britain. “Britain” writes M J Carroll, “is the only major European country never to have hosted the event. The sight of 2 million young people descending on London in 2012 or 2013 would be an eye opener to both non-Catholics & Non-believers alike”. To which he might have added the focus on the Church that a year or two’s anticipation of such a major event would bring.
Just as I was agreeing strongly with this suggestion, I was startled to see my own name mentioned: uncanny or what, I thought. Mr Carroll suggests that I should give the link, which I willingly do here, to a film on the World Youth Days there have already been. Watch it and you will see that the millions who have come to Pope Benedict’s WYDs are no less stirred by him than they were, even in the days of his youth and vigour, by Pope John Paul. That’s the next thing, then: World Youth Day. Here. Soon.