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World Youth Days are not debauched rock festivals, but joyful encounters with Christ

Let’s cease the jeremiads

By on Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Pope Benedict XVI leads Benediction at World Youth Day in Sydney (CNS photo)

Pope Benedict XVI leads Benediction at World Youth Day in Sydney (CNS photo)

When I blogged a few months ago about the enduring legacy of Blessed John Paul II, in particular the World Youth Day (WYD) that he began to hold every three years around the world during his pontificate, several posts that followed were severely critical. Was I not aware that these were simply youth rock festivals with the Pope as the main celebrity, places where all sorts of dodgy liturgical experiments and wholesale immorality took place? Actually, no I wasn’t.

It is always easier to be negative rather than positive – especially when it comes to the Church. I have a tendency to be like this myself, so I know this cast of mind well. But having known personally of several young people who have attended WYDs in the past and whose faith has been shaped by the experience, I share the mindset of the late pope and now of his successor, Benedict XVI, who see these occasions as a joyful public celebration of faith, capable of inspiring young people with memories that last the rest of their lives.

Three of my children were at the WYD in Rome in the year 2000 and were very moved to listen to the aged John Paul II and to witness his own strong faith. Now my grandson, aged 16, has gone to Spain with a party from the Oxford Oratory, led by several Oratorian priests, to attend the WYD in Madrid. My hope is that he will make lasting friends there and come to know and love his faith better. What more could a grandmother want?

Those who hoped that Pope Benedict would quietly drop the WYDs as not being part of his more low-key pontifical “style”, compared to his predecessor, have been disappointed. The Holy Father, in a recent speech, addressed such critics head-on: referring to the WYD in Sydney in 2008, he said: “Although fears were expressed beforehand that this mass influx of young people might create some problems for public order – clogging traffic, disrupting daily life, sparking violence and drug abuse – all these fears proved unfounded. The event was a celebration of joy, a joy that in the end spread even to the doubtful…”

The Pope then asked: “What really happens at a World Youth Day?… Popular analyses tend to view these days as a variant of contemporary youth culture, a sort of rock festival in an ecclesial key, with the Pope as its main attraction. Such analyses presume that, with or without faith, these festivals would be basically the same… Even some Catholics would seem to agree, seeing the whole event as a huge spectacle… [which] would really change nothing, nor have any deeper effect on life”.

The Holy Father then spoke of the spiritual preparation that preceded this event; the WYD Cross, carried by relays of young people “which becomes an interior encounter with the One who died for us on the Cross”; his own position, not as the star attraction, but as “a Vicar [who] points beyond himself to the Other who is in our midst”. Finally, he emphasised the “solemn liturgy [which] is the centre of the whole event: “Christ is present. He comes into our midst. The heavens are rent and the earth filled with light.” The “joy” of experiencing a WYD “cannot be compared to the ecstasy of a rock festival,” he said. The Pope concluded with pointing out that at WYDs “friendships are formed which encourage a different way of life and which give it deep support”.

The Holy Father’s words are spot on. Let’s cease the jeremiads then, and trying to ferret out anecdotes of youthful debauchery, and pray to Our Lady – as the Pope requests – “to bring the expected fruits to this meeting”.

  • Anonymous


    I quote your esteemed friend EditorCT, when speaking of a priest in good standing, on the Catholic Truth website: 

    “I would have to say that it does not seem to match the sheer delight with which the likes of Loftus himself mocks pre-VII liturgy and everything else.”

    Is she ‘most uncharitable’?

  • Joan


    Have you ever read any of Monsignor Loftus’s columns?  He really does mock the Church before Vatican II and he obviously takes delight in mocking it, rubbishing the old Mass, the Latin etc.  How is it uncharitable to make that observation?  It would be different if it wasn’t true but I’m one of those who finds his Catholic Times column really objectionable.  He  writes as if the Holy Spirit has only come into the Church at Vatican II and that is completely ridiculous.

    This is just another example of you trying to get one up on  EditorCT.  I really wish you’d stop it because you are really being extremely uncharitable.

  • Anonymous


    Petrus said, ” Most uncharitable simply call a priest in good standing by his surname.  THAT is something Catholic Truth has never done.”

    The CT DOES do that, as I have just pointed out. Whether you agree with Mgr Loftus or not, he is a priest in good standing. I was just emphasising very clearly the hypocrisy of Petrus and CT in general. They have double standards.

  • Joan

    I see what you mean.  I had misunderstood your point, sorry about that.

    But EditorCT hasn’t said that they don’t call priests by their surname.  That was Petrus and it could be that he isn’t thinking of Monsignor Loftus as a priest in good standing although technically he is, if you see what I mean.  Personally, I don’t think it matters when writing about dissenters like Mgr Loftus. The  modern habit of calling priests by their first names sort of reduces the impact anyway. Also I think I remember Mgr Loftus himself saying he doesn’t agree with titles, even though he has one, and the reason I  remember that is because someone wrote a letter in saying was he going to give up his title which he has not done, so double standards there.

    It would be interesting to know if EditorCT has a view on this because I always thought Catholic Truth respects the priesthood although critical of dissenting priests, and rightly so of course.

  • Anonymous


    To be frank, I can think of a million things  that are much more important than showing respect by using titles for dissenting priests.  If all our enemies can come up  with is that we use surnames  (a literary convention) instead of titles, then we can rest easy in our beds at night.

    I suspect that Petrus notes that I  do, consciously, try to remember to put “Cardinal/Archbishop/Bishop” when reporting on the hierarchy but if I don’t, who cares?  Using their titles, believe me, does not mean I respect them, any  more than referring to Prince William  makes me a royalist. All depends on space available. I’m certainly not going to cut short an important report if removing titles would make a difference. Editors of  the mainstream Catholic press have published surnames, including episcopal surnames without titles, so what’s the big deal.

    The “big deal” is that some people (no names, no pack drill) are scraping the barrel looking for ammunition to use  against Catholic Truth.  Idiot(s).  Leave them to it and don’t waste a second of your time in discussion with them. 

    Thought for the Day: it is important to always distinguish between  a priest who is “in good standing” with a modernist or apostate bishop and one who is in good standing with God.  Loftus (to whom I sometimes  refer as “Leftus” because he falls into the former category) is a public dissenter and I simply cannot respect any priest who uses his position as an ordained man to  make money out of attacking the Church. As well as his obvious lack of faith and obedience to the whole of Tradition, Loftus/Leftus lacks the  elementary integrity that would prevent any other professional person from accepting payment to undermine and attack his profession.  

  • Anonymous


    I was just trying to point out that Petrus was wrong, and to point out the hypocrisy of Petrus and Catholic Truth in general. Nothing more.

    Calling those who disagree with you ‘idiots’ does nothing to enhance your argument.

  • Anonymous


    Who are you to decide who is in good standing with God. Does he consult you?

  • D Stables

    I wrote this article based on WYD 2011. Please leave feedback! Thank you.

  • paula

    Francis Phillips, if you want to know how ordinary young people feel about WYD in WYD, go to and look out for the 60 second interviews that I conducted at random pilgrims.