I was pointed towards this reflection on WYD in the Melbourne Herald, and since it takes a pot shot at my favourite acatholica hero, can't resist sharing some of it with you:
July 20, 2008 12:00am
"GOD moves in mysterious ways. And He seems to be fond of irony. At the recent launch of his book, former priest turned historian Paul Collins claimed the Catholic Church was out of step with young Australians. A week later, an international survey concluded Australia was one of the least religious nations on the planet. Our youth were largely indifferent to religion, the survey found.
Days later, a far different reality emerged. At the six-day event dubbed “Catholic Woodstock”, a powerful religious spirit was in evidence, inspired by hundreds of thousands of young, over-the-moon, wide-eyed Christians who flocked to Australia’s Sin City. They came for the biggest youth event on Earth – World Youth Day. They transformed themselves and, in turn, they transformed us all with their unrehearsed, infectious happiness.
You did not have to be Catholic to sense the magic. But there was something other-worldly about it all. Raging hormones and teenage rebellion seemingly under control, the youngsters listened intently as their leader – an old-fashioned 81-year-old man – articulated the Catholic view on premarital chastity, violence on TV, sexual ethics, abortion and euthanasia.
Many of those raised on hi-tech gadgetry reverently participated in traditional rituals of the Catholic Church – practices the young are not supposed to appreciate. And oceans of Gen-Y youngsters – the so-called tough pragmatists of the world – regularly shed tears.
Every time the Pope appeared in public, there was a rapturous ovation from young pilgrims. Thousands subscribed to daily papal SMS messages, in which he referred to himself as “BXVI”. By the end of the week, police were describing the no-drugs and no-booze pilgrims as the best-behaved group of youngsters they had encountered.
“The surveys say this country is one of world’s least godly, but you can sense something amazing happening with this bunch of young people,” a senior Catholic Church source said. “It’s as if the young are spontaneously and joyfully showing a desire to return to traditional values. It’s not something we expected and I don’t think it’s a flash in the pan.
“One young woman told me, ‘Our parents’ generation comes across as selfish. We want more. We want to be committed to something real’.”
For many young Catholics, WYD was a transcendent experience. Street-side stands and a “vocation expo”, aimed at recruiting pilgrims to the priesthood, brotherhood and sisterhood, were far busier than expected. Recruitment booths manned by Catholic orders as diverse as the 800-year-old Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia (based in Nashville) and the the 21-year-old Missionaries of God’s Love drew many pilgrims.
Some stands even offered free coffee and internet access. One had an iPod raffle. The Sisters of Nazareth booth served jelly beans. “We’ve been getting a lot of attention,” said Brother Mark McKeon, director of vocations for the De La Salle order. “We’ve had 12,000 hits on our website since we started our recruiting campaign a few weeks ago. That’s unheard of. “Obviously, a vocation like this is not for everyone, but we have noticed that young people seem to want a cause they can commit to.”
Brother McKeon said many young Australian Catholics were seriously thinking about faith, even if they did not attend church in droves. “Our research and focus groups told us that unlike generations before them, Gen-X and Y very much live their religious beliefs through unique life experiences,” he said.
A priest at WYD said the visitors fell into three general categories – those committed to faith and perhaps considering vocations to religious life, those marginally involved in churches and those who used WYD as an excuse for international travel. “The last lot are easy to pick because you see them chatting and eating ice creams during the prayer sessions,” the priest said. “But it’s revealing that during the daily catechesis (teaching) sessions, there have been few pilgrims out on the streets of Sydney. They are a pretty dedicated bunch.”
A De La Salle nationwide survey found 28 per cent of youth Catholics said God played an important role in their lives. When asked what the most important way to live out their religious beliefs, 49 per cent said it was through helping others. Only 9 per cent said that the best way to live out religious beliefs was to go to church.
More than 57 per cent believed World Youth Day was as important as other world events, such as the Olympics. More than half surveyed by the De La Salle Brothers said they would be happy if their best friend decided to be a priest or nun.
An estimated 100,000 young Catholic pilgrims from overseas joined 100,000 Australians in Sydney for World Youth Day, culminating in the high theatre of a papal mass this morning. By the end of this week, this extraordinary festival of peace, love and Christianity in Sydney had served up 3.5 million meals, lit 232,000 candles and given out a million communion wafers.
The pilgrims unrolled their sleeping bags in 400 schools and churches across the city. They sang in the streets, danced, studied their Bibles, preached and prayed openly. About 5.7 million Australians – 27.5 per cent of the population – are Catholic. But less than 15 per cent of Catholics attend church regularly. More than a decade ago, Western Catholic churches reported a drop in the number of people going to confessional booths.
As sex abuse scandals rock the church, it seems thousands of Catholics in Australia, the US and Europe rarely, if at all, go to confession. They clearly do not believe Father knows best. Some Catholics are angry about the way their cardinals and bishops have handled sex abuse cases. The faithful’s values have diverged on issues such as birth control, women’s rights, celibacy and homosexuality.
But the WYD pilgrims crowded into churches during the week...."