The media coverage leading up to nearly every World Youth Day follows a pretty similar trajectory. It certainly has for each of the WYD events I’ve covered (Toronto, Cologne and Sydney), and it’s happening again in the lead-up to Madrid, which begins in just seven days.
That trajectory is that the secular media trots out all of their negative stories—the clergy sexual abuse crisis, the Church’s so-called traditional teachings and how they are at odds with the culture-at-large, how the youth are disaffected and disconnected with the Church, and the costs for hosting WYD.
In the lead-in up to WYD in Sydney, I penned this observation for the Register’s Pope2008 site about the mainstream media’s struggle to understand WYD.
I predicted that once the media observed the enthusiasm, excitement, and faith of the youth, their criticisms would die away.
At the time, Australian Bishop Anthony Fisher explained.
“Some organizations in particular have used World Youth Day as a reason to bash the Church from the very beginning, when it was first announced,” said Bishop Fisher. “It’s anti-Catholicism.”
“Hopefully, as the days go on, that will change. We’re already seeing positive stories in the press. Yet, there are some organizations that would prefer to report on a single pilgrim falling off the bus rather than reporting on the 200,000 who made it safely.”
And then, within days of the Pope’s arrival, the full transformation took place, with nothing but positive headlines.
The same thing happened when Pope Benedict XVI visited Washington, D.C. and New York earlier that year.
So, it is with interest that I see the same pattern forming for WYD in Madrid. I am not covering WYD this year (and a good thing, too, as I’ve been battling pneumonia for the past three weeks), but I did see this very predictable story.
As an additional dig, the story reports that a group of 100 priests from Madrid’s poorest parishes are criticizing the visit. Some are planning to protest.
It all calls to mind Judas’ complaint when Mary Magdalene anoints Christ’s feet with costly oil.
Christ responds, “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.”
Perhaps what is most alarming to me, is how one-sided the coverage has been.
None of the articles have described what the influx of nearly a million visitors for a week or two does for the local economy. WYD officials say that the event will give the economy a 100 million Euro boost.
Also, the articles conveniently overlook the charitable work being done by WYD and its attendees. For any journalist willing to look, they would have found this press release, which highlights two social aid projects being carried out through WYD – one for families at risk in Madrid, the other for young victims of violence and poverty in Brazil.
WYD is cooperating with Caritas to build a residential complex in Madrid for families at risk of social exclusion. The complex will house 127 families. Likewise, in Brazil, opportunities are being made available for youth affected by poverty and violence. Both projects will be presented to WYD participants, encouraging them to assist through financial donations and social networking.
“The formative aspect of World Youth Day would be incomplete if we failed to remind young people that their faith remains incomplete unless they help others, unless they are generous, unless they try to do something about changing what they see is wrong,” said Yago de la Cierva, executive director of World Youth Day.
Furthermore, many of the hundreds of thousands of youth in Madrid over the course of WYD will be engaged in charitable work. Madrid’s Highland School held a fundraiser and sent 2,500 Euro to missions in Mexico. WYD’s Solidarity Fund is making it possible for those in poor countries to attend WYD.
While the press might like the controversy, it’s tremendously one-sided in reporting the actual facts about WYD.