Frank Norris risked possible imprisonment during World Youth Day in Cologne by passing out Catholic material on the streets.
As director of development for Catholic Answers, Norris and his team of eight over 2 1/2 days passed out 100,000 copies of Catholic Answers’ “Pure Love” booklet backed with the organization's extremely popular “Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth.” This was Norris’ third World Youth Day.
Over the past five World Youth Days, the organization has distributed 750,000 booklets. Norris spoke with Register staff writer Tim Drake in Cologne.
First, tell me about the booklet.
It's two booklets in one. On one side is Jason Evert's “Pure Love,” which looks at the importance of chastity before and in marriage. On the other side is “Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth,” which provides a succinct explanation of the basics of the faith. Each booklet contains four languages — English, Spanish, German and French. It is a very easy read, and I think it's what Catholic Answers does best.
I understand it is illegal to pass out pamphlets in Germany?
In preparing to come to Cologne, we were repeatedly told that it would be impossible to pass anything out. It's illegal to pass out folded paper, and we were told that Germans typically don't take things. We decided to come and see what we could do.
How did you go about passing them out?
We broke up into 3-4 teams with backpacks full of booklets, headed down near the cathedral and train station, and just began passing the books out.
How did people respond to “Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth”? Did the police give you any trouble?
At first, some leaders were ready to tell their pilgrims not to take it, but when they saw that it had an imprimatur, that made a big difference. We had been told beforehand that there would be no chance to be able to pass the booklets out, but it turned out to be quite the opposite. We were very surprised.
The police were actually friendly and helpful. We distributed most of the booklets near the cathedral while the groups were making their pilgrimages. We distributed 100,000 booklets in just 2 1/2 days, handing out our last book at about noon on Thursday, just prior to the police putting up all the barricades for the Pope's visit. We would have done more, but we didn't think we would be able to distribute at all, so we only had 100,000 of them printed. We had them printed here in Germany by a Catholic printer.
The German groups were very positive. What was interesting was that once the German groups knew that the book had an imprimatur, they would come back to get the book. The most who came back to get the book were Germans.
Did you see any anti-Catholic material being passed out?
Yes, we saw Jack Chick booklets being passed out, as well as a pink booklet that quoted Pope Benedict and the Catechism that gave the appearance of a Catholic book, but it was clearly Protestant.
One of the [dissident Catholica group] We Are Church leaders was here, just as he was in Toronto. The BBC ran into him here, and they wanted the two of us to do a discussion on-the-air. I was willing to do so, but he decided he was just too busy to do it.
Catholic Answers has passed out these booklets at every World Youth Day since Denver in 1993. Have you seen any long-term impact from distribution of the publications?
Yes, we ran into a number of teens who had taken the book at previous World Youth Days. We also had priests who took it and held it up to their pilgrims and said, “Get this, it is good.” What impressed me the most was one of the days there were pilgrims walking away from the cathedral and thousands of pilgrims had the books and were reading them.
On the Rhine, as young people were waiting for the Pope to arrive, they were sitting down reading the book.
One morning during breakfast at our hotel, there at a nearby table were three Argentinians, who were reading the booklet and discussing it.
Did you have any negative experiences with the book?
One group tore the book up and threw it at us. We suspect that they thought it was anti-Catholic. After the Pope's opening address on the river, there were pamphlets all over the ground. We sifted through some of it and found that the majority of it was everything else, but not our booklets.
Another negative was that we didn't have the book available in Italian. Since one group in 10 or 15 was Italian, the Italians got mad that we didn't have it in their language. Because of that, one Italian group burned the book in effigy.
You were on the Rhine and in town when Pope Benedict arrived. How did the young people respond to the him?
I think it was hard for many of the young people on the Rhine to see him in the boat, so the reaction along the river was a bit lukewarm. The reaction in town, however, was much more frenzied. Locals were up in their apartments giving updates about where the Pope's motorcade was. When the Pope reached the cathedral the response was tremendous. We could hear the kids’ reactions from blocks away. They were going nuts.
We saw one older German man who was crying. The Pope was concerned about his native country struggling, so he wanted to come here to energize them.
What does Catholic Answers hope the book will do for the young attending World Youth Day?
As we've seen from past World Youth Days, because it is written simply, clearly, and accurately, it gives kids the basics of why the Catholic Church is the true Church.
Kids often come back to us later and tell us how it helped them to be stronger in their faith. We hope that it becomes a seed that anchors them in their faith, rather than having them leave their faith at a later time.