National Catholic Register


10 Ways Sydney Is No Rock Concert

BY The Editors

July 20-26, 2008 Issue | Posted 7/15/08 at 12:37 PM


Is Pope Benedict a “rock star”? The question came up recently in Tim Drake’s coverage of World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, at the Register’s weblog,, where we are following World Youth Day activities. He found two stories in the the Sydney media comparing World Youth Day to a rock concert and calling Pope Benedict XVI the concert’s “headliner.”

It’s a good question to ask, because there are superficial similarities between the weeklong World Youth Day and rock-’n’-roll festivals that have attracted young people since Woodstock. But we can think of at least 10 significant differences.

1. Public Safety.

Police routinely bring riot gear to large rock festivals. They expect trouble, and they usually find plenty of it. But police have always said they are amazed at how, at World Youth Day events, the crime rate in the area actually goes down. In Cologne, Drake saw police sitting at cafes with their riot gear on the ground beside them when they realized they weren’t needed.

2. Unity.

The audience members at a rock concert have one thing in common: They like the band they are paying to see. But the unity only seems to last while the music is actually playing. At World Youth Day, the audience members from different countries and diverse cultures have very few superficial things in common. But it is their relationship with Christ that unites them, and that unity is unfading.

3. Profundity.

Audiences at rock concerts often are seeking a kind of inner fulfillment. But what they find, even from a band like U2 that aims for seriousness, is different in kind from what they receive from the Holy Father. U2 packages deep-sounding phrases in lilting tunes and driving rhythms. But look at the lyrics more closely and you come up with mush. At World Youth Day, the Pope’s words won’t come in a package that caters to an inattentive audience. But people will study his words for years to come, and find clarity that pays reading and re-reading.

4. Before and After.

Ask a rock-concert audience what the worst part of the event was, and they’re likely to talk about what came before and after. It was a hassle parking and getting into the stadium, and it was a long, tedious process getting out and getting home. But World Youth Day pilgrims often say they appreciate the “before and after” as much as the event itself. They meet other pilgrims and form friendships that change their lives, while moving toward and away from the “the main event.” That’s because …

5. Ends and Beginnings.

A rock concert is the ending point of a process. After the concert, the concert is done. World Youth Day is the starting point of a process. It isn’t a place where pilgrims reach their goal, it’s a place where pilgrims find out what their goal is. And the World Youth Day event is only as successful as its pilgrims are faithful — after it’s over.

6. Supply and Demand.

Why is World Youth Day such a big success? After all, a rock concert exists to please the audience. World Youth Day exists to teach young people about the faith. The demand for pleasure is far greater than the demand for learning about the faith. But the supply of truth — of adults willing to tell young people the unvarnished truth about the world — is extremely limited. The Church doesn’t have a monopoly on the truth, but it’s the clear market leader. And Pope Benedict XVI is one of the few adults willing to tell young people the truth about the world, its great darkness and great hope. As we can see, kids will travel from the other side of the world for that.

8. Causes vs. Conversion.

At a rock concert, you would be likely to hear plenty of exhortations to help others (or to tolerate others, at any rate) and to help the environment. But Pope Benedict and the other speakers at World Youth Day will be calling pilgrims not to do something new so much as to be someone new. “What is God whispering to you?” he asked young people in his U.S. visit. “Nourished by personal prayer, prompted in silence, shaped by the Church’s liturgy you will discover the particular vocation God has for you. Embrace it with joy.”

9. Rock Star vs. the Rock.

At a rock concert, young people come to see and hear a celebrity. The desire to see a celebrity is no doubt also part of the attraction at World Youth Day. But at World Youth Day, the young people are not coming to see a particular personality. That was made clear when they flocked to the side of the ailing Pope John Paul II, who no longer could exhibit much of his personality, and then at Cologne flocked to the side of Pope Benedict XVI, who was unknown to many of them. They go not to see any particular “star” but to see Peter’s successor, no matter who he is, or in what condition.

10. Christ is the Main Attraction.

It’s not just Peter they come to see. World Youth Day offers the young something no rock concert can offer: a deeper relationship with the great Lord who created, sustains and saves them: God-made-man, Jesus Christ. He has attracted droves of people to his side for 2,000 years. And even what we see in Sydney is nothing compared to what he has in store for us next.