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World Youth Day: Between faith and criticism

Madrid played host to the 26th World Youth Day (WYD) in a political, economic and social atmosphere overshadowed by the economic and employment crisis. Though the Catholic Church in Spain argues that WYD is an apostolic event, it cannot ignore the fact that certain voices, both inside and outside of the Church, are critical of the strategies used by the organization.


The most serious criticism is not aimed at the young pilgrims who came to the Spanish capital to “display their faith” but rather at the planning, organization and financing of a “mass religious event” which could have been done at lower cost, with less religious aims, with less participation of the public sector, without the presence of ethically questionable companies and with the aim of addressing more closely the problems that affect Spanish society and the world today. Although the degree of self-financing of the event was significant it is sensible to ask the Catholic organizations involved to think about how they organize such gatherings. In most cases, there are things that could be improved and such events should not mask some of the ideas of the Pope with which many probably agree, even non-Catholics.

Benedict XVI used politically correct language throughout his visit, without alluding directly to the ideas that have caused conflict with the current Spanish government. Less defensible were the personal opinions he voiced during his prior visit to Barcelona, which generated an atmosphere little given to promoting dialogue. At WYD there were other publics to address: the pilgrims and the Catholics who were closely following news of the event.

It is should also be noted that, in the midst of an economic crisis in which the financial sector has a lot to answer for, WYD received support from banks and companies, including members of Madrid Vivo, a foundation that seeks to promote universal cultural values. Though it may seem to some sectors of the Church that this is an issue of little importance, they should understand that those who have been evicted from their homes by the banks, who are looking for jobs or are simply hoping in these troubled times to build a better future for themselves would like a few scraps from the millions of euros pumped into organizing the event, which was billed, after all, as being of “exceptional public interest.”

For non-believers, WYD is a mass gathering that brings together a lot of supporters of the Church – an image reinforced by marketing and merchandise that made reference to the event and to Benedict XVI. However, we should not forget that Spaniards’ experiences of the Catholic Church in the past affect their opinions. It is certainly not the best strategy to try to cast off criticism by comparing WYD to other non-religious events or using “in the word of God” to address people who have different opinions. It would be better to listen to them. The communications strategy that should be followed by such institutions is to accept the reality and realize that there may be some logic in what other people are saying.

One of the aims of WYD was to give young people the responsibility of renewing, rejuvenating and strengthening the Church. But is the Church really ready for young people to take on that responsibility? The key lies in the level of commitment and the real acts, not words, of religious communities. The next WYD will be in Rio de Janeiro in a country deeply afflicted by poverty and social conflicts. It will be an opportunity to see whether the event simply marks a new world record for the number of participants or whether the time has really come for the renovation and rejuvenation of the Church.

This article has been translated from Spanish with the author’s permission. Read the original Spanish version here.

Este artículo ha sido traducido del español con el permiso del autor. Lea el original aquí.

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Published: Aug 30 2011
Category: Iberoblog
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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