If the planners of World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid had wanted better coverage in the international news media, they might have known that mid- to late August is when many newsrooms are depleted because of vacationing staffers.
Yet even so, the coverage given the event — arguably one of the biggest international news stories of the month, even if strictly from a human interest vantage point — was grievously scant. If American media consumers heard anything about Pope Benedict XVI’s multi-day gathering with 1.5 million young people from around the world, it was primarily about the several hundred people protesting the Church’s stance on various moral issues or (inaccurately, it turns out) the costs of the trip in a country facing difficult budgetary cuts and austerity measures.
|Three times as many young people turned out for the final Mass with the pontiff than showed up at the famed rock festival Woodstock.
Consider that three times as many young people turned out for the final Mass with the pontiff than showed up at the famed rock festival Woodstock. World Youth Day was filled with the same sort of youthful hope and idealism, albeit of a more wholesome stripe, and it was particularly striking against the backdrop of a global economic downturn and relentless news of wars, famine and human misery. “May no adversity paralyze you,” the pontiff exhorted the young people at a prayer vigil. “Be afraid neither of the world, nor of the future, nor of your weakness. The Lord has allowed you to live in this moment of history so that, by your faith, his name will continue to resound throughout the world.”
Turning a traditional media narrative about a disconnected Catholic hierarchy on its head, this elderly, elegantly vested, soft-spoken German pope was cheered raucously by sweaty young T-shirt-clad Catholics from every part of the globe, including 30,000 from the United States.
There was an important story here worth pursuing. At least in the English-language secular media, it didn’t get told.
This critique isn’t just Catholic chauvinism. A non-Catholic columnist on the website of the British newspaper, the Guardian, agreed that while the small clusters of demonstrators were worth media coverage, “the ability of mainstream Christianity to attract a crowd of 1.5 million young people seems to me a damn sight more newsworthy, since we expect people to protest against the pope, and we do not expect them to turn out in large numbers to support or see him.”
But the most important lesson is that “for reliable news and intelligent discussion about your Catholic faith,” as newly-named Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia told one gathering of young people in Madrid, Catholic information media are indispensable.
“We make a very serious mistake,” he said, “if we rely on media like The New York Times, Newsweek, CNN, or MSNBC for reliable news about religion. These news media simply don’t provide trustworthy information about religious faith — and sometimes they can’t provide it, either because of limited resources or because of their own editorial prejudices. These are secular operations focused on making a profit. They have very little sympathy for the Catholic faith, and quite a lot of aggressive skepticism toward any religious community that claims to preach and teach God’s truth.”
Among the “outstanding” Catholic media choices he recommended was Our Sunday Visitor. “These excellent media sources will nourish and deepen your faith in ways that the mainstream public media can never provide,” he said.
That you’re reading this is a sign you agree. Thank you for your loyalty and generous support.