Sunday, 28 July 2013

A middle class Church, for the rich?

I'm constantly bombarded from by diocese, by invitations to talks and events.

The problem is, they inevitably come with a price tag attached to them, sometimes quite a substantial one, which is surely enough to deter anyone on a very low income from attending.

Pitching our events...

And events like World Youth Day to me at least have something of the same connotation - although there has been some effort to cross-subsidise pilgrims from poor countries and families, and to provide some practical help to the communities and countries of Latin America in the current one, it remains something mostly something targeted at the middle classes.

WYD for most people involves a substantial plane fare, so, despite some attempts to help poorer people to get there, it is not generally accessible to those at the margins that Pope Francis is (rightly in my view) directing our attention at.

Nothing illustrates that divide better than this story from CNA/EWTN of a teenage boy so determined to make it WYD that he walked some 1,829 miles, often going without food, to get there.  Do and and read it is a great story.  Here are a few extracts to whet your appetite:

“...I wanted to come with the people of Jujuy but I couldn’t because I would have had to pay 7,000 pesos ($1,280 U.S. dollars) and that’s a lot of money,” said Facundo.

“I kept asking them if I could come with them, but they wouldn't let me,” he told CNA July 26.

A visit to a Church on his birthday made him decide that he was going to go regardless, and so he set off, with little money, and despite the fears of his family and priest for his health and safety.  His commentary makes clear his deep commitment to a genuine notion of Christian pilgrimage - and the story nicely contrasts this with the lack of welcome he got along the way, and some fakes:

“A backpacker depends on money, but I became a real pilgrim because a pilgrim just depends on faith,” remarked Facundo.

“I would go into churches to pray and everyone would look at me, but I didn’t care because I just wanted to fill myself up with more faith.”

Facundo said that when he reached the border with Brazil, he only had 100 pesos ($20 U.S. Dollars) so he decided “to not depend on money anymore, only on prayer.”

He walked passed the statue of Our Lady of Itatí and he would then always repeat to himself “Our Lady protects me and Jesus accompanies me.”

“The biggest challenge was entering Brazil, with just $13 U.S Dollars, going hungry and not knowing the language,” said Facundo...

In fact when he reached a Franciscan school in Iguazu, they offered him a direct flight to Rio - but he decided to continue on regardless, joining up with a group of American monks"

"After two days going hungry and his toes bruised and blistered, a man traveling to Sao Paolo gave Facundo and the monks a ride.

“It was very dangerous because we didn’t have a place to sleep but I just kept praying the rosary,” he said.

He arrived the day before World Youth Day to the Marian shrine of Aparecida. “There was a festival going on and I realized how close I was so I began crying,” said Facundo.

“I met another Argentinian priest and we went hungry, but we finally made it to Rio,” he said. “I was hungry but I was happy...”

Facundo met a volunteer of World Youth Day who sent him to a convent opposite the beach in Rio to sleep for a week.

He desperately wanted to see the Pope, but couldn't get a view when the Popemobile went past.  And on a subsequent opportunity, he had to choose between seeing the Pope and Mass, so chose Mass.

The story doesn't say whether he finally got to meet, or at least see the Pope.  Let's hope so!


R J said...

Glad that somebody else has noticed the phenomenon of huge price-tags. If I had a dollar for every time I am invited via snail-mail to fork out at least $75 - and sometimes a three-figure sum - for the dubious privilege of attending a "pro-life dinner" with a guest speaker whom I've never heard of (or whose personal obnoxiousness I've spent much of the last decade trying to avoid), the event's atmosphere being aggravated by fifth-rate rock music, I could retire tomorrow. Frankly, the Jehovah's Witnesses are easier to fob off than certain Catholic fundraisers I could name. All such invitations go straight into my round filing-cabinet now, or (if sent online) into my "Trash" E-mail bin.

Kate Edwards said...

I agree with you on the seeming never ending stream of professional Catholics and the like.

But the thing I really object to is being asked to pay to hear people to speak who really should come free.

Recently in Canberra for example Francis Sullivan CEO of the Truth, Justice etc Council gave a talk - but a charge applied.

And an upcoming talk by Dr Rowland is being advertised, again at a cost.

These people have their salaries paid for by us directly or indirectly.

Some of them even live in this town, so its not like we are even paying for their airfares or accommodation.

By contrast, over at the Australian National University I can often hear talks and attend all day seminars from world renowned overseas and local academics in a wide variety of fields for free.

If you want to engage people and get the message out...

Fr Mick Mac Andrew, West Wyalong NSW said...

Facundo's story reminds me of an idea I've had about WYD.
As youth and young adults who are able, gather with the Pope in the host country, what about gatherings in every country of catholic youth and young adults for prayer and catechesis.
I fully support the concept of WYD events but we do need to make the experience available, albeit, in a more limited way, for those who cannot go overseas to the the event with the Pope.
After all, it's the community prayer, worship and learning about the faith that matters most.

R J said...

Melbourne's Caroline Chisholm Library has a pleasant idea for encouraging speakers (of whom I have been occasionally one). Its administrators can't afford to pay speakers in terms of money, but they do pay speakers in terms of secondhand books which otherwise would gather dust or else await the shredding machine.

Last time I gave a talk at the library, I was kindly presented with two enjoyable essay anthologies: one devoted to Chesterton, and the other a Sheed and Ward compendium of several authors. Two gifts that kept on giving.

Of course the Library's talks were (and presumably still are) either very inexpensive, or entirely free, to audience members. Just as the ANU events mentioned above - or, to take a Melbourne example, the events at Monash University - always are.