Friday, August 26, 2011

World Youth Day: Listening to Alternative Voices

For those who want a corrective to the official party-line "evangelical Catholic" meme that National Catholic Reporter Vaticanologist John Allen has been seeding for some years now, Ken Briggs and Nicole Sotelo offer interesting alternative perspectives on World Youth Day in the same publication.  These contributions open the conversation to more voices than the authority-centered one Allen represents, though, of course, his views regarding Catholic this and that have always been given a prominence by NCR's editors not accorded to the views of their other columnists.

Briggs wonders what Pope Benedict might have done to feel more welcome in Spain.  He notes the large protests that greeted WYD (protests under-reported by much of the mainstream media).  He also notes that a "sizable proportion" of the Spanish people denounced the cost of the pope's visit as "scandalous."

And then he proposes this:

The hostility sparked by the visit has cast a shadow over the entire event. A quarter century from now, the marchers in the streets are likely to be remembered more than the orderly crowd of Youth Day attendees, for better or worse. The point is that the Vatican harmed itself by insisting on going ahead with an event that contradicted its own social justice teaching.

They could have avoided it altogether by taking a page from those teachings. Imagine if the Pope had offered to cover the Spanish government's trip expenses and set up a fund specifically to help relieve the poor and unemployed. Even giving a healthy fraction of those expenses would have been in keeping with the church's own call for sacrifice and compassion.

Such a move, done sincerely and with conviction, could have turned a disaster into a sign of hope, that the church meant what it said and heard the appeals of the needy.

Briggs also suggests that, rather than turning his back on those protesting his visit, Benedict might have reached out to them.  Imagine that: a Catholicism whose chief pastoral leader reaches out to those who are alienated and embraces them, and offers to subvent the cost of a lavish spectacle by setting up a fund to help the poor and unemployed.

Any Catholicism that seeks to be authentically evangelical--to demonstrate to the culture at large, through its actions more than its words, that the redemptive love of God has entered the world in Christ--would, it goes without saying, move along such tracks.  Not along the hunkered-down authoritarian track with which John Allen misleadingly equates evangelical Catholicism.

Nicole Sotelo offers what liberation theology calls a view "from below": literally so, since her report about WYD was written from beneath the stage on which the Mass concluding WYD events was held.  She notes that, though a wind toppled the tents holding the Communion wafers for that Mass and there were not, therefore, wafers enough to give communion to many of the WYD pilgrims, she and others experienced "the real communion that comes when the global church is gathered together. And it was communion enough."

And if you're looking for a slice of real-life, honest-to-God American Catholicism A.D. 2011, have a look at the thread following Sotelo's column, where some respondents accuse her and other gay and lesbian young Catholics of "infiltrating World Youth Day to corrupt innocent Catholic youth," and another points out that, despite the dearth of communion wafers, all the clerics at the Mass still communed.  That is, they communed as in receiving the Eucharist that the lack of wafers made unavailable to the hoi polloi pilgrims. . . . 

Two alternative views that I'm happy to receive, after having read Mr. Allen's "official" spin on WYD.  Happy to receive, because what goes on at events like this is too important to be communicated to the public only through the official, authoritarian, and, ultimately, exceptionally stultifying optic of the center alone. 

And as you look for those alternative views, don't overlook Terry Weldon's deliciously wry take at Queering the Church on those windstorms that blew up during WYD.  Apparently one of these knocked off the papal hat just as Benedict had launched into one of his anti-gay rants. 

Strangely enough, those who--like Rabbi Yehuda Levin--want to read natural events as signs and wonders affirming their anti-gay view of things never seem to realize that, when they open that door to interpreting natural events as signs of God's pleasure or displeasure, the very folks they're castigating might walk through the same door and see an alternative set of signposts in the weather and other acts of God.

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