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After the storm ceased, the Pope thanked the two million for their ‘joy and resistance’. Then they knelt in the mud before the Blessed Sacrament. That’s the meaning of the Catholic faith

Those two million young Catholics are just so unfashionable. Long may it remain so

By on Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Benedict XVI beams during the freak storm at Cuatros Vientos airfield on Saturday night (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

Benedict XVI beams during the freak storm at Cuatros Vientos airfield on Saturday night (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

I begin with an email I received this morning from a priest who has just returned from the World Youth Day:

Just back from WYD – amazing joy and colour swamped Madrid. Yet the Pope’s Saturday night attack on Spanish hedonism was stopped by a freak and frightening gale, sand storm, thunder and dramatic lightning.

We were in the sandy, dirty, barbed wire overflow area, itself overfull, which meant we couldn’t even properly see the screens for this area but did have quite a good view of the site and the horizon. During the storm we watched mounted police appearing like the four horsemen of the apocalypse as lights and screens went out and entrance gates and tented chapels were ripped up – injuring people, sending lots home and, it seems, separating quite a few children from their parents. Lighting and the screens went out. Clearly not of God, I’d say.

But all the same, the abiding reflection left in the mind by that frightening gale, perhaps not of all those who were there (especially if they couldn’t see anything much) but certainly of many – and even of some at least of those who could not be there, of those who were sitting comfortably at home at the time – will surely be that though itself perhaps not of God, the occasion this great tempest presented for God’s grace to manifest itself (obstacles are so often occasions of grace) was very striking. As an act of witness, the spectacle in the mind’s eye of over a million (some said as many as two million) young people kneeling in the mud, in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, could hardly be more impressive.

The Holy Father himself, despite being urged during the storm to leave by those whose job it is to look after him, replied that his place was with all those who had come. He took shelter from the wind and rain beneath a large white umbrella, held over him by Mgr Guido Marini, his master of ceremonies. He remained, according to one eyewitness, “remarkably serene amid the howling gales, although his hair was repeatedly buffeted by the wind”. His prepared text had to be abandoned. The pope’s serenity and steadfastness wasn’t something, of course, that would surprise anyone who witnessed his amazing stamina during the papal visit to England and Scotland. But the young people who were there is another matter. According to one account:

… the storm didn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm of young pilgrims, as many simply chose to dance and sing in the downpour.

And …. as the repeated chant of “We are the Pope’s Children” went up to the heavens, the rain ceased.

“The storm? Wow. It was a blast,” said a very wet 17-year-old Matt Horn, originally from Florida, to CNA. He added: “I guess it’s a sign from God to wash away our sins and now that it’s cleared we’re clear of our sins for now – and hopefully that means that we’ll now listen to the Pope and be his children as the chant says.”

“Thank you for your joy and resistance. Your strength is bigger than the rain,” said Pope Benedict as the rain let up. “The Lord sends you lots of blessings with the rain.”

In a shortened speech, the Pope went on to urge the young people to use tonight’s prayer vigil to grow closer to Jesus Christ as they discern their paths.

“Dear young people, in these moments of silence before the Blessed Sacrament, let us raise our minds and hearts to Jesus Christ, the Lord of our lives and of the future,” said the Pope to English speaking pilgrims.

“May he pour out his Spirit upon us and upon the whole Church, that we may be a beacon of freedom, reconciliation and peace for the whole world.”

A sense of peace descended on the crowd as the Mass choir sang Mozart’s Eucharistic hymn “Ave Verum Corpus,” before Pope Benedict led all present in the service of Benediction.

Movingly, most of the million-strong congregation chose to kneel in the mud before the Blessed Sacrament.

But though for Catholics this was an occasion of grace, it was not, one might have supposed, the act of witness to the secular world it might have been. It was not mentioned at all in the Today programme’s report, as Milo Yiannopoulos pointed out in his rightly indignant blog this week (“The BBC’s coverage of World Youth Day has been a disgrace”), even though the mere 5,000-6,000 (0.3 per cent of the two million pilgrims) militant anti-Catholics who attempted to disrupt events in Madrid itself were mentioned, as though their demonstration and not the WYD to which they took such exception was for the Today programme the only newsworthy episode. As Mr Yiannopoulos pointed out, even Andrew Brown (hardly a fervent pro-Catholic) objected in his Guardian blog that the BBC

… did not once mention World Youth Day, the extraordinary global Catholic gathering that the pope is also visiting. That has brought something like 1.5 million young people from around the world to the Spanish capital to greet him. Whether or not you approve of this, it is important and – above all – newsworthy simply because it is unexpected and goes against the grain of what the media tell us. So why is it not reported?

His answer was simply that “The kind of young people who go on organised pilgrimages … are quintessentially unfashionable.”

Well, so they are; and in such a world, long may they remain so. But the point about young people is that they don’t necessarily like being fashionable: they tend to rebel against fashions, especially the fashions decreed by their elders in a society such as the one their elders have created.

That is the whole point of World Youth Day. What could be more unfashionable, more counter-cultural, than an old, frail man in a white cassock? It has become fashionable to say that this Pope is not “charismatic”. But what does “charismatic” mean? According to the Oxford Dictionary it means “exercising a compelling charm that inspires devotion in others …. (of a power or talent) divinely conferred”. Well, quite. When the rain stopped and finally he could be heard, the Pope’s first words were to thank his hearers for their “joy and resistance”. Could any two words more powerfully sum up qualities needful for the Christian journey? That frightening storm may not have been of God; but its fruits surely were.

  • Anonymous

    I watched proceedings on EWTN. The whole thing was fantastic. It’s also very striking how it produced such explosions of anger from a presumably very frustrated secular lobby
    Well done to the Guardian’s Andrew Brown; I just hope he keeps his job.

  • Jeannine

    The media covers “newsworthy” events related to destruction and mayhem. I sort of glad that WYD was not in their limelight. 

    Thank goodness for the internet. WYD may not have been reported by the popular media but information is still out there. I found a videotape on Youtube reporting on the storm & the aftereffects mentioned in Dr Oddie’s article. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a48jsJm-jiA&NR=1. It moved me very much seeing all those youngsters kneeling for Adoration. 

  • ms catholic state

    Is it just my computer…..but I haven’t been able to access Andrew Brown’s blog piece in the Guardian.  It says the server can’t find it….or something like that.

    Has it by any chance been removed….or is it just me?!

  • ms catholic state

    Apparently it is still available online…..but the link to it here doesn’t appear to be working.

  • Anonymous

    The enthusiasm of these young Catholics is an example to us all. I sometimes hear older Catholics being pessimistic about the future, or getting sidetracked into petty issues and squabbles about church matters, but knowing that these young people will carry on the faith and probably attract many more to it makes me very optimistic.

  • Rory Pengel

    The whole event was so inspiring! I hope that bitter hearts were converted through the actions of the wonderful young people…and our beautiful pope.

    Great photo!

  • Michael McManus

    Might the reason why the mainstream media never reported the wyd, Is because their tired of listening to some one claiming to be some thing hes not, Example  christian,  Hes had a number of chances to show he understands what a christian should do , In a given situation , And his actions tell every one he has no understanding of what being a christian is

  • Stephen

    To use the link in this article, you need to remove the extra characters on the end. When you select the link, you will see it ends with “”. Just remove this part and it will bring up Andrew Brown’s blog entry.

  • Stephen

    The comment method couldn’t display the characters. The link ends with <br /> and it is necessary to remove these characters to see the blog entry.

  • ms catholic state

    Thanks :)

  • Michael McManus

    Beautiful pope , Hes moraly bankrupt , He like you say its fine to cover up child abuse, child rape , experiments on babies and the slavery of women and children, Because of things like this A leader who wished to end the crisis would sack Cardinal Bernard Law

  • https://openid.org/locutus LocutusOP

    I’m glad that commentors on this piece have decided to give the silent treatment to posters who have no other intention than insulting and belittling the Christian faith and the mother church without making any thoughtful contribution on the subject at hand.

    You all know who I mean…Let’s make this a permanent arrangement.

  • Parasum

    “…Then they knelt in the mud…”

    ## It’s a safe guess none of them was wearing £450 suits, or £800 *haute couture*. A reason for dressing in civvies at Mass, maybe ?

    “Well, so they are; and in such a world, long may they remain so. But the
    point about young people is that they don’t necessarily like
    being fashionable: they tend to rebel against fashions, especially the
    fashions decreed by their elders in a society such as the one their
    elders have created.”

    This is quite worrying, from one POV. It’s all very well wanting an “unfashionable” Liturgy, & “unfashionable” “tone” of devotion, and fighting a certain type of worldliness; a minority can do that: they are swimming against the tide, and everyone knows that. They are not likely to smothered by the flattery of others, but to be severely criticised instead. But when they have won what they were fighting for, and their “tone” becomes the approved one, there is a serious danger that the Christians will become worldly in a different way: by adopting a conformist attitude to what others have fought for. “Going along with” the pre-1962 Missal because it’s “fashionable” & even *de rigueur* is very different from striving to have it offered whike it is opposed or neglected & far from “fashionable”. One hopes there is something better here & more durable than adolescent stroppiness.

    The young can “afford” to be “idealistic” – will they be so idealistic once they have to pay their mortgages ?

    “…the mere 5,000-6,000 (0.3 per cent of the two million pilgrims) militant
    anti-Catholics who attempted to disrupt events in Madrid…”

    ##  Were they all “anti-Catholic” – or might some of them have been Catholics who objected to some of the more conspicuous failures of this Papacy ? It is hard to see anything very Catholic or Christian in the failure of the Vatican to stop being the kind of institution that presides over clerical cover-ups that harm the faithful. Criticising the Pope for the more notorious failings of the Vatican executive is hardly a denial of the Kingship of Christ. Criticisms of a Pope or the Papacy do not imply rejection of Christ Who is the “Great Shepherd of the sheep” – if they did, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Maiolus, St. Paul, Blessed Robert Grossteste, Saint Irenaeus, Jesus Himself, would all have to be written off as Christ-haters. A Pope is not impeccable; & Catholics keep denying Papal impeccability, quite rightly: which means they allow that Popes are capable of doing wrong. But why should a Pope not be criticised when his omissions of good or their bad acts affect others ? Defending the Papacy no matter what is not even good ethics – it’s a form of ecclesiastical jingoism; which is secular & relativist attitude to the Church.  “*Non tali auxilio, nec defensoribus istis*…”

    Numbers do not constitute rightness – there are far more heathens than Catholics, & always have been; it would be perverse to say that heathenism is therefore true, & Catholicism false. Whether a protest is morally justified is not dependent on numbers, otherwise the Apostles would have been wrong.

  • Parasum

    If you can find one of  the first sentences or phrases, use that as a search term – that almost always works for me. Failing that, make a search term out of significant phrases – such as:

    Andrew Brown Guardian World Youth Day 2011

    It returned this:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/andrewbrown/2011/aug/18/pope-madrid-world-youth-day

    The pope draws 1.5 million young people to Madrid – but that’s not news?

    Hope that helps.

  • https://openid.org/locutus LocutusOP

    The World Youth Day event was an unqualified success in virtually all quantifiable ways. I was very impressed with the enthusiasm that those attending showed for the faith and the respect shown at mass and other religious ceremonies. In many ways it was a carnivore atmosphere, but in a respectful and joyous way rather than the usual scandalous and debauched behaviour seen at secular festivities.

    I’ll have to side with EditorCT’s pessimism/realism, however, and agree that for the event to bear fruit, the attendees will have to make the prerequisite choices in life . It’s all well and good celebrating the Catholic faith in the midst of nuns, priests and bishops and the pope, but the true test will come when it’s time for these youths to start families and choose professions and policies.

    We’ve been having World Youth Days for 26 years now – which came as a bit of a surprise for me – and I’ll have to admit that the enthusiasm shown by the participants at these events has not been translated into concrete action, otherwise the Catholic community would not be in the disarray in which we find ourselves. Those early participants seem not to have passed on the zeal they showed for the faith to their children.

    As Christians we live in hope, however, and I certainly saw enough to keep that hope burning.

  • Joxxer

    Your comments are so full of errors, but go ahead and rant– if it makes you feel better. You said you didn’t belong to a religion so you add these comments because something is wrong in your life.
    Maybe it is your problem with the English language, poor man. 

  • Joxxer

    Obviously you don’t know much about the Christian thing either. Try history–and see who founded the various Christian “denominations”. Who founded that one the one that goes back 2,000 years (hint: it has Popes).

  • Anonymous

    The pilgrims were happy. The protestors were angry and nasty. Happy vs nasty. Sane people can tell the difference.

    Most of us  (including these young people ) go to churches filled with joy and peace.

    Maybe you’re in the wrong place, surrounded by bitter people.

    The crisis of every age is the crisis of saints. Jesus will protect his church.

  • Oconnordamien17

    I really hope you meant carnival rather carnivore.

  • Joxxer

    We have a wonderful Pope– may he continue to inspire the young and do all that Our Lord wants him to do. Thanks be to God for Pope Benedict. I was thrilled the day he was chosen to be our Pope and I remain so.

  • Honeybadger

    The well-to-do lady who sat next to me at Cofton Park in Birmingham last year knealt down in the mud during the concecration wearing her Sunday Best.

    Haven’t you heard of dry cleaners or Ariel with Actilift?

  • Honeybadger

    Long live being unfashionable!

  • Michael McManus

    A little story that might explain why youth of early events no longer go to church, A seven year old was being analy raped by a priest , The lad told his father, His father battered him, The fathers two other sons were also raped by that priest , Years later two of the sons killed them selves , This story came out in a court case because it turned out , Those in charge of the diocese knew the priest was abusing children years before the three brothers, And they allowed it to happen, Then you have the pope promoting some one like those in the diocese, What message does it send , It sends this message priests are more inportant than the welfare of children

  • Anonymous

    I was at Cuatro Vientos with my wife on Saturday night and having arrived early, we were fortunate enought to bag a space between a group of Argentine school girls, some Italians and a Polish parish group.  The pin prick figures on the alter were just visible and there was a screen to amplify the images.  The heat on arrival was almost unbearable.  The convergence of such a vast crowd was like an army pitching camp before a campaign, each with its national, regional and parish flags.  It was truly breathtaking to see so many young people gathering in peace with the single minded aim of praising God in the presence of His earthly leader.  The fire brigade did a good job of dousing the multitudes with their hoses, the crowd baying to the tenders for more water.  As the army settled down to pray after the Holy Father´s arrival, the storm of truely Biblical proportions arrived and frankly, for anyone who had been out in the sun since two O´Clock, it came as welcome relief to our sunburnt limbs and parched throats.  I don´t consider myself to be over emotional, but I just welled up when the chanting started.  We didn´t really know that the sound system had failed or that the Pope had been advised to leave, we just carried on chanting “Esta es la juventud del Papa!”.  The Neocatecumenales near us started to sing and dance and we all joined in.  Most people arrived with a foam sleeping mat, a few sandwiches, their catechesis and little else, but all thoughts of personal comfort evaporated as the wind and rain whipped up the dust and turned it to mud, which covered everything.  The storm only lasted about ten minutes and the rain probably another twenty.  Then a warm breeze dried and calmed the atmosphere.  The Pope continued to speak, please read his words.  After a life time of half listening to sermons, his simple words struck home right to the heart.  Suddenly, all Catholic doctrine became clear to me – penence, giving thanks, charity, moral code is all for one reason; to LOVE GOD.  This is the unifying purpose that has evaded me for 48 years until Saturday night.  As for the negative or non reporting of this divine event, don´t let it worry you. WYD is not a PR event, I don´t care what other people think – the fruits of Madrid will be harvested in the coming months and years.  Anyone who is disappointed by what a few ignorant journalists did or didn´t say would not give it a second thought if they´d been in Madrid last week, not just at Cuarto Vientos, but in the Retiro Park where 200 confessionals were in constant use for five days, at the vocation fair, in each city parish where catechesis were given each day and just on the streets and in the metro where ordinary Madrileños were swept up by the singing, chanting and sheer joy.

  • Anonymous

    What a beautiful reflection – thank you for that.

  • https://openid.org/locutus LocutusOP

    So do I!

    I don’t think I’ve used the word carnivore for over 15 years so I don’t know how that slipped in there…

  • W Oddie

    I agree. Ever since I said I wouldn’t be reacting to this person’s (note the gender-neutral usage) provocations any more, this person hasn’t infected my posts with bitter anti-papal (and I don’t mean protestant) negativity. On my blog, that is indeed a permanent arrangement.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for making me think before replying to posts. I’ll join your permanent arrangement too!

  • http://twitter.com/darylslimshady Daryl Zamora

    Thanks for this article! The fruits of WYD will surely ripen silently — but ripen they will! :D

  • Buster

    I’am one of those OLDER catholic’s and I agree with you but we need ALL of our bishops and priests in the USA behind us. Sadly we don’t.

    Buster

  • ms catholic state

    Thanks a lot :)

  • Anonymous

    It’s a process.  What makes you think that seeds planted 26 years ago are not still germinating?

  • Anonymous

    I’m also an OLDER catholic, and I know the answer is in our prayers for ALL of them.

  • Anonymous

    “Ripen they will” !  I LOVE that statement and am in total agreement.