They get the quotes just right yet manage to miss the story.
How many times have we seen that from the secular media?
As World Youth Day drew to a close, many of the world's reporters were quick to quote what they regarded as the “nutshell” of the powerful message delivered by Pope John Paul II to the 800,000 young people gathered at Downsview Park: “The harm done by some priests and religious to the young and vulnerable fills us all with a deep sense of sadness and shame.”
Yes, the Holy Father said this. But is that all the reporters heard him say? What about what was going on all week among the throngs of young people?
It was as if much of the press corps had been sent all the way to Toronto to cover “what the Pope says about the sex scandals in the United States” rather than “what's going on with all those young Catholics gathering around the Pope.” Many of the reports I read and listened to could have been filed from in front of a television set.
Being a journalist at Downsview Park myself that morning, wet by the rain, burnt by the sun and as joyful to be there as any of the other attendees, I couldn't avoid resenting the omission by most of the media of the Pope's statement: “But think of the vast majority of dedicated and generous priests and religious whose only wish is to serve and do good! There are many priests, seminarians and consecrated persons here today; be close to them and support them!”
The press also ignored the standing ovation the enormous crowd gave to the good priests upon hearing those words. And what a strong showing of priests we saw, including American priests.
In fact, from the very beginning I was surprised by the large number of delegations from all the United States led or accompanied by a priest. At first I tried to keep a mental record of the places they told me they had come from: Des Moines, Omaha, Baton Rouge, Portland, Denver, El Paso, Brownsville, Hawaii. But then I realized it would be impossible to keep track. There were just too many; they numbered in the hundreds. Priests in clergy collars, cassocks or religious habits, young and not so young — all leading their vibrant flocks of teen-age boys and girls. And the boys and girls trusted them, followed them, shared their meals with them, played soccer or Frisbee with them. The priests talked to them, explained the faith to them, heard their confessions. And I realized that the kids were only there because their parents trusted the priests to lead their children on the pilgrimage.
At the sight of this, a visitor from another planet would have never figured out that there was an ongoing crisis involving priests taking advantage of young people's trust. But there is a crisis. And the standing ovation that Sunday at Downsview Park was not only a signal of the massive approval of the Pope's words, but also a way for the young people to tell the world that they know most priests have had nothing to do with scandalous behavior. Some of the kids came right out and shouted it: “Yeah! Don't mess with my priest!”
The blossoming of the ‘JPII Generation’ is getting harder to ignore every day — even for the secular media.
It would be naive and childish to pretend the event had erased the reality of the crisis, which the Pope himself acknowledged. But what happened in Downsview Park that Sunday morning now stands as a source of new hope — and more importantly, a sign of the revival of the priesthood in America.
Since the scandal broke, I have seen many of my American friends, good faithful Catholics, argue about the roots of the crisis and what the response to it should be. Each one proposes solutions ranging from changes in the leadership of the Church to a complete “re-engineering” of seminaries. Most of the proposals are commonsensical and tackle a real aspect of the problem. But as Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput said during one of his catechesis sessions at World Youth Day: “What sense does it make to change the diapers if you are not going to clean the baby?”
The kids and their priests in Toronto showed that the solution to the crisis is not a matter of just “restoring credibility.” These kids already love and believe in their shepherds, although news businesses like the Boston Globe and the New York Times will never believe these young people, no matter what they do or say. The solution, these kids know, will come down to nourishing the fruits that have quietly sprouted and are now ripening on the branch — a new breed of not only priests but also consecrated laypersons and dynamic Catholic movements. It's the blossoming of the “JPII Generation,” and it's getting harder to ignore every day. Even for the secular media.
The youth at World Youth Day love their priests. But it's not priests they place their faith in. It's God. They see holiness in their priests, they see in them an authentic witness of God's grace and they see that it points directly to the cross of Jesus Christ. There's a story you won't read in your daily paper.
Alejandro Bermùdez is based in Lima, Peru.