Walking back from Cibeles yesterday night, I felt like I was witnessing a mass exodus from a Spanish Glastonbury. Thousands of people crawled along the streets: hot, sweaty and some covered with dirt, but dancing, chanting, singing and banging drums.
My hero, Bruce Springsteen, headlined Glastonbury a few years ago, but after contemplating festival living I decided I wouldn’t give up my creature comforts, even for Bruce. Yet there I was, with dirty knees and smudged mascara like everyone else, staring up at the face of an 83-year-old man, beaming at him, wide-eyed, like a doting mother at her child’s Nativity play.
Pilgrims pushed past me with cameras and iPhones eagerly awaiting a glimpse of the Pontiff as he drove by in his famous Popemobile. Some giggled hysterically. Others waited in contemplative, quiet dignity, fingering rosary beads and praying in the silence of their hearts.
A few hours after the King of Spain had greeted the Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Cibeles, and we watched the mayor of Madrid hand the keys of the city to him, indicating trust and respect. The King was to become one of the many heads of state to speak of their excitement and awe at meeting the Pope. (President Obama is a recent example.)
What grates on so many opponents of Pope Benedict is that for a man of such humility he effortlessly commands respect from the mighty and the lowly. Why? Because he is a natural-born leader. From the moment Pope Benedict stepped on Spanish soil, he used unique and bold language, appealing to the young not to be ashamed of their faith and daring them to celebrate the existence of an objective moral truth.
History books will show that Benedict is not afraid to acknowledge crisis, or to implement solutions, which is the mark of a true leader. From his handling of the clerical abuse crisis since 2001 to his pragmatic response to rifts within the Church of England, Benedict is a meek man of mighty action. While the rest of the world plays trust exercises in their bunkers, Benedict tells it like it is and, more importantly, is prepared to act.
Yesterday’s scenes of devotion to Pope Benedict XVI comprehensively challenge the conventional wisdom about how to command attention and respect from young people. The youth of today are crying out for boundaries, not fluffy relativism; they are reaching out for the firm hand of a loving father, not the reassuring shoulder squeeze of the simpering life coach.
Last night, a young member of the Personal Ordinariate sang the Gospel beautifully and his presence was a powerful demonstration of the fruits of Benedict’s leadership. The young people who have joined the Personal Ordinariate demonstrate Pope Benedict’s fidelity to the Catholic Church, his sincerity in trying to promote truth and ability to grasp the level of compromise necessary and conducive to its promotion. That’s what makes this Pontiff so deeply revered.
I imagine this strong leader will continue to refer to ‘truth’ throughout his time in Spain to the young people gathered in Madrid. In doing so, he is teaching us that truth doesn’t hurt, as the saying goes. Rather, it invites and inspires.