Rounding up Madrid’s ‘Popestock’

I’m often amazed by anything that can get a million or so young people to do anything or gather anywhere in one location. The Roman Catholic Church managed to do that at World Youth Day (or, what Rocco Palmo calls “Popestock”), which concluded in Madrid yesterday.

“The pope draws 1.5 million young people to Madrid – but that’s not news?” Andrew Brown writes for The Guardian. He notes how German broadcaster Deutsche Welle ran with this angle:

Pope Benedict XVI urged Spain to preserve its Christian heritage during a visit to the Spanish capital Thursday as part of the World Youth Day celebrations. Spain’s Christian identity was a “great treasure” which should be “cared for constructively,” the pontiff said.But the pope’s taxpayer-funded trip to Madrid has stirred much anger in a country where the economy is floundering and 40 percent of youth have no jobs.

Around 5,000 people turned out on Madrid’s streets late Wednesday to protest the pope’s arrival for the six-day youth festival. The demonstrators included members of secularist, feminist, gay and lesbian, alternative Christian and leftist groups.

Brown argues the following over at The Guardian.

Of course this demonstration is news. But the ability of mainstream Christianity to attract a crowd of 1.5 million young people seems to me a damn sight more newsworthy, since we expect people to protest against the pope, and we do not expect them to turn out in large numbers to support or see him.

Numbers don’t prove truth, of course. But they are measures of commitment, and of political importance. Three hundred times as many people have travelled to Madrid to see the pope as have travelled to protests against him. Which group is more important to know about?

As Laura commented in Mollie’s earlier post, the New York Times noted at the end of their story that the event might offer a financial advantage to Spain’s struggling economy.

The organizers of the pope’s visit, however, have strongly defended its cost, 50 million euros, or about $71 million, insisting that it has been covered by pilgrims’ registration fees and corporate sponsorship. On Wednesday, José Blanco, spokesman for the government and one of Mr. Zapatero’s most senior ministers, added his support, saying that the government’s calculations showed that the event would yield a financial benefit for the Spanish economy.

This paragraph, however, ends an article that mostly focuses on the protests. Commenter Passing By noted that many outlets focused on the economic side of the event. Christopher Stefanick thinks that the concept of mainstream media is changing anyway. How many Catholic youth are looking for CNN or New York Times articles about the event, compared to those reading their Facebook feeds?

Along those lines, it could well be that this article is your first wind of any bad press at all about World Youth Day. That’s understandable. If you Google “World Youth Day,” there’s so much Catholic news, positive press, and so many youth group websites that it takes several pages to find a negative story from mainstream media.

Maybe what constitutes “mainstream” is changing. A million youth that just got home from Spain probably think so.

This tends to be the argument people use when they don’t like media coverage, but it’s difficult to ignore the mainstream media’s influence on how others perceive World Youth Day. The pope announced at the end of Mass on Sunday that the next international event would be in Rio de Janeiro in 2013. Let us know if you found particularly good or bad angles from this year’s event.

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  • Mike Hickerson

    Why does the Catholic Church have to “insist” that registration fees covered their costs? Does the media have evidence to the contrary? I’m so used to “economic impact studies” for, well, virtually every conceivable event that I’m surprised that this is the area of controversy. If 50,000 locals showing up for an NFL game 8 days a year has an economic benefit for a city, surely 1.5 million tourists have an even bigger one.

  • http://catholicecology.blogspot.com/ Bill P.

    My own paper (The Providence Journal) ran an unflattering AP photo of a lonely looking Holy Father seated at Mass. The brief accompanying text, probably culled from wire reports, did mention the 1.5 million (although I believe the number was closer to 2), and it referred to the event as “glitch-marred.” I don’t know what that means, unless the reference was to hot weather and a thunderstorm, or that more Spanish teens came than registered, or maybe the protests when B16 arrived. (I read elsewhere that one protest had some 20,000 people, but is that a big number is a metropolitan area with a population of some 6 or 7 million? And I never heard if there were any protests over the weekend.)

    I did post and email clips, mostly from Rome Reports and similar outlets, that showed the crowds. One friend responded, “Why haven’t I heard about this?”

    Damian Thompson of The Telegraph posted a nice detail on the deacon who chanted the Gospel at the opening Mass.

    John Allen had a good summary in NCR that, I think, explains a lot—including why so many were choosing to either protest or ignore WYD.

    But it seems hard to ignore two million kids that aren’t rioting but praying, singing, cheering Pope Benedict XVI and lining up for Confession.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    With 1.5 million youth at the event over almost a week surely there must have been thousands of human interest stories the mainstream media could have reported on and played up.
    I saw more featured up-front and personal interviews with looters and rioters (“Why are you here?? What is your motivation??”) in London than I saw decent young people in Madrid asked the same thing.
    Oh well! more and more people are catching on to the big media’s biases and radical leftism. Our neighborhood and family used to be big Globe subscribers back to the days their editorials were signed by Uncle Dudley in the 1950′s. Now I can’t find anyone that subscribes–and, sadly, most are not going to cable or internet news to keep up on a regular basis.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    To be accurate, Mollie, I found only one article with a clear estimate of fiscal impact, that being the in the CS Monitor. The other articles I linked caught my eye for other reasons, honestly subjective. The NYT follow up article (decent, overall) allowed that there might have been one, but didn’t venture a number.

    Another story is starting to get chatter, though not mainstream coverage in the west, that being the way protesters treated Catholic youth. Hint: it wasn’t nice. Whether there were two hundred protesters, two thousand, twenty thousand protesters (I’ve seen all three numbers), their behavior seems to be an untold story.

    I kind of like this picture of the pope. :-)

  • Julia

    Here’s an interesting video of protesters vs. pilgrims.
    It’s in Spanish. If you are looking at it via Chrome, you can get an English translation of sorts. Looks like the protesters are claiming a particular square, the sol, as their own turf. The pilgrims are from all over the world and don’t get why they are claiming that piece of Madrid. The pilgrims are staying at various places all over the city and don’t get why this spot is off limits to them. I believe this square is where the protesters have been raising H— with the government over the past several months and think of it as their territory.

    Lots of insulting calls about the Pope being a Nazi and a pederast. I didn’t see any of this in the regular media. It doesn’t seem to have much to do with govt funds supposedly used for security for the event.

    Have the months of protesting require extra security, anyway?

  • Julia
  • John

    The Huffington Post, VERY SURPRISINGLY, posted an article written by a Jesuit who was there that were quite positive of the experience in their Religion section. I say surprising because the HuffPo is usually a reliable source of anti-Catholic lefty bile…of course the comments after the article in question followed the usual Pope-Ratzi-is-a-Nazi-pedophile-enabler-religion-is-evil-Christianity-is-evil-Catholicism-is-VERY-evil…some things never change.

    Which beg the question, what exactly is mainstream media these days? Because from where I’m standing, it seems to be the same thing as the opinions of a very small number of secular elites in New York and LA…Fox News included….


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