The Young and the Dangerous

I daresay like many of my readers, yesterday I was enthralled by news coverage of the events taking place in Libya; to the point that, I must confess, I did not follow up on World Youth Day news until this morning. Despite what news outlets describe as a combination of temperatures around 104F/40C and some terrible wind, rain, and lighting storms (which in fact pretty well describes Washington’s weather this weekend), the final mass of the celebration still managed to attract somewhere between 1.5 and 2 million people.  Now that people are returning home, or getting back to normal, I am looking forward to hearing tell of what my family and friends saw and experienced, and their reflections.

I am particularly looking forward to hearing about what sort of verbal oil of vitriol was thrown in their faces while they were in Madrid.  I have already complained in these pages about the exaggerated amount of press coverage given to the anti-Catholic protestors who gathered in the Plaza del Sol and elsewhere in the Spanish capital.  And Thom Peters over at American Papist has also reflected on some of the photographs of the viciousness which leftists turned on the pilgrims last week, one of which I reproduce below.  It is as dramatic an image as an altarpiece showing the early martyrs about to be condemned by the pagans.

What has been most impressive however, as is always the case with the World Youth Day events, is how it is the young who continue to surprise us, with their willingness to provide public testament to their belief in Christ and His Church, even in the face of a horrible, spitting viciousness. Let not the reader be convinced, however, that more than merely shouting at Christians is impossible in the modern world. To that end I draw your attention to the life of Barcelona native Mercè Diéguez i Foguet, who was the subject of a very interesting blog post I stumbled across today. As a teacher of young people, I am certain that those who learned of their teacher’s fate must have been deeply affected by what happened to her.

Mercè was the eldest of three, living with and caring for her brother and sister in her apartment near the monastic church of Sant Pere de les Puel.les; she was well-known in the neighborhood for teaching what today we would call CCD. In July 1936, when the left began actively persecuting the Church in Barcelona, the vicar of the famous Sagrada Familia had to flee, was taken in by the family, and kept hidden. About a month later, in August 1936, the family witnessed seven Benedictine monks from the Abbey of Our Lady of Montserrat, who had been hiding in the apartment of one of their neighbors down the street, being dragged away by the leftists; the monks were subsequently executed. Then in September 1936, it was Mercè’s turn.

The leftists arrived at the apartment to find Mercè, her sister, and the priest from the Sagrada Familia. They waited for Mercè’s brother to return home, arrested Mercè, her brother, and the priest, and took them off to jail, leaving their other sister behind. All three prisoners were executed about 2-3 days later. The priest was executed for being a priest; the brother, as the one who agreed to take in the priest and hide him; and Mercè for being a CCD teacher. Indeed, when their sister who was ultimately left behind offered herself in Mercè’s place, the leftists responded that they did not want her, they wanted the catechism teacher.

It is interesting to note that a middle-aged, parochial religion teacher was considered to be so dangerous by the leftist powers ruling Spain at the time as to warrant her death. Perhaps it was because, as an instructor of young people, she was seen as someone who was a threat to the future of their regime. Kill the teacher, and the flock of students who are as yet not fully-formed adults will no longer know what to do, and will therefore be more easily controlled.

One wonders what such forces as brought about Mercè’s death would have done to people like Catholic bloggers and podcasters. Fortunately, at the present time shouting is about all those opposed to the Church can do. Though with the passage of laws that chip away at the Church’s moral teachings and the freedom of Christians to practice their religion, it is not unreasonable to fear that more than mere discord will be confronted by the young people in this photograph when they themselves reach middle age.

How very easy it is to fall into a kind of atrophied Christianity in the modern world, where we do not have to worship in catacombs, or make secret symbols to one another in order to recognize our fellow Christians. When we do not have to suffer a bit for something, we tend to want and appreciate it less. And many Christians themselves have not been doing such a spectacular job in the past several decades to actually find themselves taking a stand for Christ’s teachings, in part because I fear there have not been enough good teachers of catechetics like Mercè.

This is one of the reasons why World Youth Day comes as such a shock not only to the news media, but also to many Christians themselves, whose spark of faith has either burned down very low, or even died out a long time ago. There are people out there – young people – who are quite literally willing to drop to their knees and witness publicly to their Faith, in the face of those who despise them. Let us hope that a little bit of their faith and courage will rub off on all of us, particularly for those who have adopted a lazy, fat, and conflict-free sort of Christianity.

Anti-Catholic protestor screaming at praying pilgrims, Madrid

The Wrong End of the Telescope

Although the first newspaper I read every morning is The Daily Telegraph, which will come as no surprise to many, the reader may be surprised to learn that, yes, I do read reports and commentary from news outlets whose editorial views are generally not sympathetic to my own: by which I mean, of course, The Manchester Guardian.  So it was a pleasant surprise today to read this opinion piece in The Guardian from commentator Andrew Brown, a man who is neither Catholic nor Spanish, and to find him asking himself the same question I was asking myself last evening.  To wit: why is it that the media are so focused on those tiny numbers of people protesting the Pope and World Youth Day, and not on the stunning success thus far of the event itself, which has attracted gigantic numbers of pilgrims in a way not even the most messianic of American presidents can do?

As regular readers know, an anti-Catholic protest march was planned for Wednesday, and news reports indicate that it attracted roughly 5,000 protestors.  Keep in mind that these same media outlets estimate that somewhere between 1 to 2 million pilgrims are gathering in Madrid for the World Youth Day festivities, which culminate on Sunday. While many people will be headed to Madrid for the Sunday mass, there are already many, many pilgrims in the city.

On Thursday evening the Pope arrived at the Plaza de Cibeles, in central Madrid, to enormous crowds; numbers varied, but all media outlets agreed that the supporters, who braved evening temperatures of 95 F/35 C,  were in the hundreds of thousands.  The same evening, a group of anti-Catholic protestors gathered once again, in the Plaza del Sol, and estimates of the protestors this time ranged from 150-300 people.  News, yes, but hardly news of any great significance.  More people protest the opening of a new Wal-Mart on any given Tuesday.

The efforts by the left to protest the Pope have not had much success in Madrid, which as it happens is also true of the tiny protests mounted during the previous visits this Pope made to Santiago and to Barcelona last year. Not that the media would have you believe this, of course, because no one at the news desks of the major newspapers or television news channels seems to have sat down and thought, “Let’s look at the ratio of supporters to opponents, here, and see how we should be reporting this.” The people of Spain, and the young in particular, have now turned out in what can only be described as droves, on three separate occasions, in three different parts of the country, to see an elderly, soft-spoken German priest and theologian. These undeniable facts defy belief, at least in the mainstream media.

The headline of Mr. Brown’s piece pretty much says it all: “The pope draws 1.5 million young people to Madrid – but that’s not news?” He notes that the BBC and other news outlets have focused on those protesting the Papal visit, but not on the infinitely larger numbers of people there to support it – and particularly the fact that there are so many hundreds of thousands of young people who are celebrating their Christianity together. Mr. Brown’s thesis is that reporters simply do not “get” these young people: the pilgrims are so different, so unlike the reporters themselves, that they cannot relate to them. The reporters can, however, relate to what we might call the “condom crowd”, because the opinions of those types of people, who usually just scream louder than everyone else, make up what is fashionable to report on in the media these days.

Not being a Catholic or a Spaniard of course, Mr. Brown has a slightly different perspective from that of journalist Charo Zarzalejos, who comes from the Basque Country. Sra. Zarzalejos, in a brilliant commentary published today in many news outlets in Spain, points out that the miniscule protests, which have been characterized by, as she puts it, “coarse and vulgar” acts, surprised her, because “the protestors do not raise deeper, more serious arguments.” The protestors Madrid has seen have made, not cogent arguments about religion in general or Catholicism in particular, but “a pathetic attempt to ridicule a religion and a Church that moves thousands and millions of men and women on all continents.” She notes, as does Mr. Brown,  how strikingly unexpected it was to see the well-organized, well-behaved, and happy young people from Spain and the rest of the world, gathered together in Madrid for the celebrations.

It is in this failure to understand Catholicism, I believe, that the media is doing both Spain and the world a great disservice, by ignoring the enthusiasm of these young people, and instead focusing on those who mock them. What Spain needs now, in a very desperate way, is hope for the future, not the childish and vitriolic ravings of diseased minds unable to form cogent arguments or behave civilly.  As Sra. Zarzalejos points out, the “hundreds of thousands of young people who have met in Madrid are hopeful youths, and hope has no price nor does it fall by the taunts of others. Madrid is serving as a good example of this.”  I only wish the mainstream media would stop looking through the wrong end of the telescope, and recognize the same thing.

World Youth Day Pilgrims gathered in the Plaza de Cibeles, Madrid

The Real Adults at World Youth Day

Last evening was spent in the convivial company of several young gentlemen of this writer’s acquaintance, and the topic arose: What guy are you, when you are out socializing in a group? Are you the guy who shares tobacco with everyone? Are you the anchor or good luck charm on a pub quiz team? Are you the one who buys everyone the first round, or makes sure everyone gets home safely?

The Courtier is emphatically NOT the life of the party, as anyone who has spent any time with him knows. He is (arguably) a good public speaker, and is (also arguably) amusing in intimate groups, but the larger and louder the group gets, the more he retreats into silence. This is because there seems little to be gained from showing that you can shout above a din, or jostle for space in the madding crowd: the possibility for good conversation is generally lost when one is adrift in a great sea of unwashed humanity.

One of the benefits of age is coming to recognize not only one’s strengths, but also to accept one’s weaknesses. It involves a shifting of what one values in the self and in others. The things one might have wished for in one’s teens and twenties – athletic ability, being the center of attention, having scores of attractive young ladies trailing after you – fall by the wayside, and one wonders why such things were ever considered of great importance in the first place, when compared to things like a mature faith, intellectual curiosity, providing aid to others in need, and so on.

So it is that in reading reports about the World Youth Day celebrations, presently taking place in Madrid, one cannot help but be struck by the fact that the young people in attendance are putting aside childish things, as St. Paul says, and taking on the calling to be the future of the Church. They are being confronted and opposed by a diverse group of persons whose focus is primarily on a childish gratification of their own senses and desires, much as an infant screams for its pacifier when parents take it away. It is, ironically, the maturity of the young pilgrims that seems particularly striking.

Young Catholics are, it must be admitted, often left in the lurch during the sometimes decades-long period between their confirmation and their marriage or entry into the religious life. As my old monsignor back home used to say, unfortunately the Church oftentimes does not really know what to do with the young adults. They are not yet parents, or in Holy Orders/religious life, and they are usually not in jobs where they can be significant financial supporters of the Church’s works; they often barely scrape by. So coming back from World Youth Day, for many of these young people who will be energized by the experience, may be something of a let-down after the highs of that experience, where they are the sole focus of the Church’s attention.

This is where the issue of maturity becomes paramount. Realizing that you are not the do-all-end-all of existence, i.e. that you are part of the society in which you live, but that you and your needs and opinions do not form the central concern of it, is a necessary humility for one to become a functioning adult. It also allows you to take the world, and our present age, with its promises of fulfillment through materialism and hedonism for what it is: bunk. No matter what finances, possessions, homes, toys, romantic conquests, and so on you accumulate, ultimately you are food for worms; it is simply more difficult at times for young people to see this, because so much of their life is yet ahead of them.

Taking advantage of the connections, ideas, and reflections that are going on right now in Madrid, will no doubt help numerous parishes and local communities around the world with action on the part of these young Christians, who will try to turn into practicalities the encouragement to find a way to be active in the Faith.  We know from past experience that the seeds planted at these World Youth Day celebrations very often come to blossom and ripen into good fruits, sometimes years after they were planted. For now, however, this scrivener is impressed by what he has seen so far coming out of Spain, where the attitude towards those participating in this event is incredibly hostile in certain rather vocal quarters, and yet it does not seem to have affected the pilgrims one bit. The good will and, yes, the maturity of these young people is proving to be something exemplary for all of us.

Participants at the opening mass for the World Youth Day celebrations in Madrid