Sydney has never seen anything like it since the Olympics. Not even that event, however, could match the spectacle of a papal ‘boatacade’ gliding past the bridge and the opera house to deliver Pope Benedict into the cheering embrace of 200,000 young people from around the world.
The Pope’s arrival at World Youth Day had a theatrical quality worthy of the media world in which today’s young people live. By contrast, his message to them was delivered in a self-effacing, direct manner, making clear that the Pope refuses to cast himself as a rock star; he is a teacher and he set about teaching. The young listened with great respect, some closing their eyes, concentrating deeply on his words. He commended to them the care of the planet that he had flown over, inviting them to live by the values of truth, beauty and goodness as the way to heal the scars not only of our planet but also of our souls. Cries of delight erupted as the Pope concluded by greeting the different language groups. The final singing of the World Youth Day anthem, Receive the Power of the Holy Spirit, had the crowd in full voice, hands lifted high and swaying gently in time with the simple alleluia of the chorus, all nationalities united in one word and one gesture.
You would have to be hard hearted not to be moved by so many young people singing their hearts out affirming their acceptance of the Pope’s demanding invitation to follow Christ. Yet hard hearted is exactly the quality that has characterised the Australian media coverage leading up to the event. The city’s leading daily, the Sydney Morning Herald, has for weeks been pursuing an agenda highlighting the civic disruption, the cost to the taxpayer and a whole host of local concerns summed up in the headline ‘The Stations of the Very Cross.’ In parallel, the national TV channel, ABC, led a concerted attack on Cardinal Pell, with ‘Lateline’ (think Newsnight) running negative stories about his alleged mishandling of cases of clerical abuse. All the perpetrators had gone to jail but the Cardinal was still in the firing line from the victims or their families. Insensitive remarks by church spokesmen prolonged the agony. This coverage had become so negative by the weekend before the Pope’s arrival, that The Australian ran a leading article saying that the Sydney Morning Herald and the ABC were guilty of ‘squalid myopia’, urging Australians to be proud of hosting WYD in Sydney. Surprisingly, the BBC correspondent in Australia appears to be following the ABC agenda, so BBC reports are heavily weighted towards the clerical abuse agenda. Stunning images of joyful young people lining Sydney harbour were accompanied by a commentary on clerical abuse.
The Sydneysiders themselves have greeted the young with warmth and delight, so eventually the Sydney Morning Herald has run feel good headlines. But the experience of those of us simultaneously watching the events and the media is not just how different the reports are to the event. Rather, I am left with a feeling that while the young are full of energetic hope, bringing soul to one of the world’s great cities, the Australian hierarchy is struggling to cope with its detractors. The Pope will sail through this but how will the local church be when the Pope and the pilgrims have left? The youth will have been deeply affirmed in their faith, for sure, and I pray that the same will be true for the Australian Catholic Church.
The media in Australia, hate what they cannot control and influence. Media, the world over, know the press gives power. That is why the rich own papers and T.V stations. The press lose control when the faityhful gather at events like WYD. They press don’t set the adenda, and so they attack.
Seems no one wants to hear “good news” these days. Maybe because the “Good News” is counter-cultural.