The massive turnout for a world youth day with Pope John Paul II signaled to many observers an unexpected and growing religious hunger among French young adults for religious faith.
But such yearnings appear to be far from strictly Catholic devotion, writes Alain Woodrow in The Tablet (Aug. 30), a British Catholic magazine. More than one million young people attended the final meeting of the event, far exceeding the expectations of church officials as well as secular critics.
Woodrow writes that behind the extraordinary success of such collective forms of worship is a “diffuse religiosity, often bordering on superstition . . . Whereas few teenagers set foot in their parish church to attend Sunday Mass, they will happily spend Easter at the Protestant ecumenical monastery at Taizè, Whitsun at Paray-le-Monial to pray with the charismatics, or their summer holidays in Lourdes tending the sick. They prefer emotional mass meetings to individual devotion; they identify more readily with charismatic figures like Mother Teresa, Abbè Pierre of John Paul II than with priests or theologians, and they are more at home with the school chaplains, whom they know and admire, than parish priests or local bishops, representatives of an institutional Church they have rejected.”
The pope’s “courage and sincerity make him a role model for a young generation who are disillusioned by politicians, teachers and parents and who have coined the slogan `no future.'” But Woodrow sees an undercurrent of conflict between the organizers and many of the attendees of such events (which have taken place around the world). The world youth days are part of the pope’s strategy for the re-evangelization of Europe. “The pope believes in a powerful, visible and obedient Church.
The large assemblies of Catholics who congregate during his pastoral visits are the best expression of this muscular Christianity…It is interesting to note that those who organize the youth days are the trusted `Pope’s legions’: Opus Dei, the Focolare, Communione e Liberazione, charismatics and the rest, while those who attend are often the vast mass of drifters, of semi-believers, those who seek the warmth and emotion of a mass meeting, whether it be Woodstock, a Billy Graham rally or St. Peter’s Square.”
(The Tablet, 1 King St., Clifton Walk, London, W6 0Q2 England).