MSM stumbles around World Youth Day

BenedictAtWYDThe biggest news out of World Youth Day’s grand finale was the Pope’s announcement that Sydney will be the next World Youth Day host.

Analysis on World Youth Day contained the expected comparisons between Pope Benedict and John Paul II. Here is Matt Moore of Canadian Press:

During Benedict’s visit to the church’s World Youth Day festival, the German-born Pope showed a public style more subdued than that of his charismatic predecessor, John Paul II, who died April 2.

Benedict, who was elected April 19, avoided some of John Paul’s exuberant habits, such as kissing the ground on arrival and swaying to the music during public appearances. He read his speeches in a soft voice that was sometimes inaudible to the crowd, smiled shyly and waved as if in amazement at all the attention.

The faithful, however, seemed to love him all the more for his reticent ways and cheered him wildly every time he appeared in public.

Focusing on the Pope’s interfaith efforts, many reporters stuck to the facts of what he said, which is key because his remarks will be examined over and over again for months as people look for insights into the new Pope’s leadership style and beliefs. Moore continues:

The Pope also found warm applause during his visit to Cologne’s synagogue, where he warned of rising anti-Semitism and stressed the shared inheritance of Jews and Christians. It was only the second papal visit to a Jewish house of worship, after John Paul’s groundbreaking visit to a Rome synagogue in 1986.

His remarks to Muslims, while friendly, were blunter, as he condemned the “cruel fanaticism” of terrorism and stressed Muslim elders’ responsibility to educate the younger generation in the ways of peace.

He differed from his predecessor by not stressing the church’s teaching against premarital sex and condom use, two themes frequently mentioned by John Paul to young people but missing from Benedict’s speeches and sermons at the festival — even though he agrees with John Paul’s conservative views on the topic. He also did not commit to attending the next World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, in 2008.

Those paying attention might be surprised to read that Benedict did not promise to attend the Sydney event. Could this mean he is concerned for his age/health in two years? According to most MSM accounts, it’s more likely an attempt by Benedict to distance himself from John Paul II’s traditional promise to attend the next event after announcing its location. But is this really more intentional distancing from JP2, or Benedict just being himself?

The focus of the trip for Benedict was his effort to encourage a continent that has largely turned its back on religion.

The New York Times did not disappoint by finding a way to lead negatively and continuing to do so throughout most of the story. Apparently he’s less “extroverted” and “more cerebral” than John Paul II:

COLOGNE, Germany, Aug. 21 — Gerrit Meents, 25, from Germany, loved the sea of winking candles, the music from around the world, the communion with hundreds of thousands of young Roman Catholics like himself at a vigil on Saturday night in a mushy field here. Even the cold overnight outside, he said, “wasn’t too bad.”

What did not touch him deeply was the speech of his new pope, Benedict XVI. “Actually it didn’t really have an impact on me,” he said, still in his sleeping bag on Sunday morning, waiting for the huge culminating Mass of World Youth Day. “I think he’s still learning how to address young people. As we were saying yesterday, half a year ago he was just running around Rome, and now he’s pope.

The Washington Times’ website led Sunday with the Pope’s urging Muslim leaders to combat terrorism. The Washington Post delegated an AP story to page A10 on Monday.

It’s notable that the Sunday Post put its WYD story on page A20, while finding space on page A3 for a blowout article on Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Until this guy killed himself, I was relatively unaware of the man other than references in my journalism history classes (tmatt probably won’t be pleased with my ignorance). What did he do to deserve a half-page feature on A3 with two photos and two maps detailing where the event took place?

I digress. The news of World Youth Day is far more important than Thompson’s exclusive, massive fireworks display.

The National Catholic Reporter‘s John Allen had a relatively brief chat on the Post‘s website, and very thorough WYD coverage by Allen others is on NCR’s website. Having access to multiple media over the Internet is a lifesaver. Even in a two-newspaper town (is it three now?) like Washington, D.C., one is limited in what is available on the newsstand (and it’s cheaper).

Alert reader John Kane mentioned via email that’s in inaccurate to say the Pope’s synagogue visit was the second in history:

The Pope’s conciliatory message, delivered to an unprecedented audience of cardinals and rabbis, suggested that he was keen to build on recently improved relations between the Vatican and the Jewish community. Pope Benedict is only the second Pope to step inside a synagogue. His predecessor, John Paul II, was the first.

As Kane observed astutely, “Not counting Peter, obviously.”

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  • Avram

    Hold on a minute. Your very own opening line says that the biggest news to come out of World Youth Day’s finale was that they’ve chosen the venue for the next one. How important could it have been?

    And I’d never heard of World Youth Day till just a few days ago. And now that I’ve read a bit about it, I fail to see why this event should be at all interesting outside of Catholic circles.

  • ralphg

    Most media outlets talked about a million attending this event. CNN’s headline consistently used a much smaller number: “Thousands.”

  • Jill

    I’m not Roman Catholic and I found it quite interesting, especially the music and readings done in various languages. (Watched the rebroadcast of some of it last night on EWTN.) Just the fact that an estimated million (mostly youth and young adults) from all over the world were in attendance for the closing Mass in “post Christian” Germany is more than newsworthy.

  • David

    I’m amused at Avram’s comment about this not being of interest “outside of Catholic circles.” Catholic circles number about 1.2 billion people. I would think Evangelicals and Orthodox might also be interested in Catholic events.

  • dpt

    Many events–large and small, local or international–receive press coverage. WYD also presented opportunities to discuss human relations beyond the greater Catholic community.

    Even one person asking for a meeting with the President of the U.S. can receive vast media coverage.

  • Avram

    David, DPT, remember: We’re not talking about the media ignoring World Youth Day. We’re talking about the Washington Post not giving it as much coverage as Daniel Pulliam wants them to.

    And I have a hard time believing that, even among Catholics, this is all that important an event. None of my Catholic friends seem interested in it.

  • David


    Daniel Pulliam happens to be right. A gathering of between 1 and 2 million people anywhere deserves big press coverage–remember the front page treatment given to big anti-Iraq war protests that were not as big as this? What about the Billy Graham crusade in New York? Whether your Catholic friends are interested in it or not is really irrelevant. They probably don’t constitute a plurality of Catholics.


  • Lucas

    I’m with Daniel and David on this one. They had a huge spread on Hunter Thompson who died months ago, but they can’t give much space to one of the largest events (numbers wise) of the world’s largest organized religion?

    The fact is that the pope made a lot of important statements and took a lot of important positions which affect the entire world. He’s pushing Muslims to change their method of education, to fight terrorism? You don’t think that’s news, Avram?

    He’s signaled that he will continue ecumenicism with the Jews, a position unseen before JP2… you don’t think that’s news, Avram?

    The fact is that the media eats up controversy, but they are blind when their are significant events which aren’t at the center of a conflict.

  • Ruth

    What do you consider mainstream media? The Los Angeles Times put their article about the event on the front page and covered it very positively.,1,5814623.story

  • Stephen A.

    Lucas: Apparently, Hunter S. Thompson’s drug- and alcohol-fueled life and lonely suicide is far more newsorthy than the Pope’s message to millions of youth about life and faith and hope.

    That should be painfully obvious to all religious media watchers by now.