There’s a fantastic get-together going on in Madrid right now between Pope Benedict XVI and hordes of young Catholics from around Spain and the world, but you would hardly know it from the mainstream media. The news outlets have condescendingly left the best lines to their bloggers.
At the Guardian Andrew Brown took a potshot at a BBC news bulletin for reporting protests against the Pope’s visit -- ostensibly because of its cost -- but never once mentioning World Youth Day itself, which has brought an estimated 1.5 million young people to greet and listen to their spiritual father.
The ability of mainstream Christianity to attract a youthful crowd of that size was “a damn sight more newsworthy”, said Brown, than a predictable demonstration of a few thousand secularists, feminists, gays and others against the Pope. The Huffington Post, to its credit, has a young Jesuit, Michael Rossman, blogging enthusiastically on events in Madrid.
Happily, no-one depends these days on commercial media to find the good stuff that is happening around the world -- nor the bad, as the use of Facebook and Twitter in the British riots two weeks ago showed. This week those iconic social networking brands are showing their worth by facilitating a great faith-inspired love-in that has given birth to countless FB pages, Tweets and blogs. It even has its own smartphone app that keeps users up-to-date with all of the events during the week and provides access to news, online TV, weather reports and the website Twitter.
“There's even a virtual bell that users are encouraged to activate, that will chime in unison with church bells that will herald the pope's arrival in Madrid,” reports Deutsche Welle.
Over the next couple of days I shall tune into the Catholic television network EWTN to follow WYD events. In the meantime, a visit to the TV news agency Rome Reports gives a tantalising taste of what’s happened so far in the Spanish capital.
The beautiful old city provides a stunning setting for the unfolding drama of youth and age gathered in mutual respect and affection. More a festival than a drama, really. The heat of the early afternoon of the Pope’s arrival must have been intense -- most of the locals take off for the beaches and mountains at this time of year -- but the bright sun only served to heighten the vibrancy of the colours in which the young have decked themselves -- notably the official red and gold, the bright green of wardens, and striking patterns of national costumes.
Welcomed at the airport by an official party led by King Juan Carlos, and attended by 60 children dressed as Swiss Guards, Pope Benedict immediately set the tone of his visit and indirectly, perhaps, responded to the protests, but even more to the aggressive secularisation of Spanish public life led by the Zapatero government:
I say again to young people, with all the strength of my heart: let no one take away your peace, don't be ashamed of Christ. He had no qualms about becoming one of us and experiencing our anguish to bring us to God, and by doing this he saved us.
Already on the plane he had talked to the 56 journalists (plenty of reports to come) about Spain's deep economic crisis, which has seen unemployment among young adults rise to nearly 45 per cent. The Pope said that part of the solution lies in gearing economic policy to the common good of society and not just economic growth.
In Madrid, after receiving the keys of the city and walking through the Puerta de Alcalá, the Pope was treated to a display of dressage by Spanish horse riders and was then serenaded by a troupe of traditional Spanish musicians, Las Tunas, as he made his way to the Plaza de Cibeles for his first formal meeting with the youth. He told them:
Through your presence and your participation in these celebrations, the name of Christ will echo throughout this great City. Let us pray that his message of hope and love will also resound in the hearts of those who are not believers or who have grown distant from the Church.
Benedict XVI also noted the importance of implementing the teachings of Jesus:
Dear young people, listen to the words of the Lord that you are in 'spirit and life,' roots that nourish your being, behaviour patterns from which we resemble the person of Christ, being poor in spirit, hungering for righteousness, merciful, pure of heart, peace-loving. Do it frequently every day, as with the only friend that does not disappoint and with him, we share the road of life.
The pope said that God never leaves us and is always willing to give a helping hand. He added that Christ is the bedrock that allows a solid and stable life.
Dear friends, be prudent and wise, build your lives on the firm foundation that is Christ. This wisdom and prudence will guide your steps, nothing will make you tremble and your heart will be at peace.
Madrid has done Pope Benedict and its young pilgrim throng proud. There is a wonderful festival of faith and culture going on that will do more to give young people hope and confidence than all the moral indignation being shouted from the sidelines. It goes on till Sunday, so keep an eye out for the odd 10-second update on your local television network.
Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet. The quotations from Pope Benedict's speeches are from Rome Reports.
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