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E-letters of Karl Keating

Thoughts on World Youth Day

E-letter of June 14, 2005

In theory I do not object to people complaining about World Youth Day. I have my own doubts about the long-term utility of such a large-scale gathering.

Do the man-hours put into arranging the event pay a sufficient dividend? Would it be better to host a much smaller but more spiritually intense gathering? Does World Youth Day put too much emphasis on rah-rahing and not enough on forming the mind?

Those are legitimate concerns, and it would not be out of bounds for a Catholic to argue that, on the whole, World Youth Day has not been worth the trouble. There is nothing improper in doing a cost-benefit analysis and concluding that the costs outweigh the benefits.

Together at camp o-ongo

But if complaints are to be levied, they should be reasonable. There are not many reasonable complaints in a long anti-World Youth Day article in the current issue of Catholic Family News, a Traditionalist monthly.

I do not have the time or the interest to counter each weakness in Marian T. Horvat's article. Let me look at just one, selected because it is representative of her approach.

She dislikes boys and girls consorting with one another at World Youth Day. She says, "It was always against Catholic morals for youth of mixed sexes to travel together like one big family for camping trips or overnight retreats." Is that so?

When I was in the sixth grade our class spent a few days at a mountain campground run by the school district. We rode up together in the buses, boys and girls. At Camp O-Ongo we stayed in separate cabins, but the daily activities were undertaken in common. We even roasted hot dogs at the same campfires. There was a problem with this?

You may recall that several times I have led readers of this E-Letter on summertime hikes in the Sierra. Each time we have had backpackers ranging from retirement age down to barely-out-of-high-school age. Many were unmarried, and at wilderness campsites we pitched tents a few yards apart. There was a problem with this?

If there was nothing amiss with my hiking companions sleeping within snoring distance of one another, why must some people jump to the conclusion that there was something amiss with young Catholics being housed in a tent city?

Overactive imagination

Horvat writes, "What happened in some of those tents can be left to the imagination of the reader." I suppose it depends on whose imagination. The tent cities are crowded, and it is hardly possible to do something without everyone around you knowing about it. If your stomach rumbles, the kids in the neighboring tents will hear it.

Could it be that, as Horvat fears, you-know-what occurred in some of those tents? With sometimes half a million teenagers and young adults present, the likelihood is that it did, somewhere - but how common would it have been, and would its occurrence be enough to damn the whole of World Youth Day?

I am asking for a sense of proportion here. Horvat lists many complaints against World Youth Day, but her argument concerning the proximity of males and females is phrased in such a way that she seems to think it sufficient, on its own, to demonstrate that the event should be scrapped. I disagree.

Maybe she never saw Frank Capra's 1934 movie "It Happened One Night," starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. This "screwball comedy" at one point had the two unmarried protagonists sharing, out of necessity, a dumpy motel room, with privacy afforded by a divider that Gable fashioned from a rope and blanket.

In an era of strict moral regulations, the movie was not given a thumbs-down by the Catholic-run Legion of Decency. Perhaps Horvat can learn from this.

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Girls and Guys within Spitting Distance at WYD

E-letter of October 18, 2005

At each World Youth Day Catholic Answers has distributed hundreds of thousands of booklets. For years this has been a major project of ours, and we have been glad for the chance to reach so many young people.

As for World Youth Day itself, I confess I am somewhat ambivalent. Part of it is that I am triple the age of the intended audience, and part of it is that I just am not one for big crowds. When I take some time off, usually it is to go on a solo hike in a wilderness, not to squeeze into a massive crowd.

Be that as it may, I have no great objections to World Youth Day, even though I think certain elements (liturgical, mainly) could be improved a lot. Some people, though, think the entire event is incorrigible. One of them is Marian Horvat, who has a web site called Tradition in Action. Under the title "Church Revolution in Pictures" she complains about what happened in Cologne by reproducing six photographs and providing a caption for each:

Church Revolution in Pictures

The first photo shows a young couple. He is holding a camcorder and has a rosary around his head. She has a knapsack with a teddy bear protruding from it. They are smooching. The caption: "A young couple kissing in an ambience of complete liberty."

I don't see anything particularly problematic about the photo. It reminds me of that famous Life magazine photo, taken in Times Square on V-J Day, showing a sailor kissing a nurse.

Horvat's second caption says: "Adolescents of both sexes sleeping close to each other without any barrier to prevent their bad instincts from developing." Sounds ominous until you look at the picture, which shows two girls and two guys sleeping on the grass.

The girls face each other. They guys are on their backs, facing the sky. Granted, they are "close to each other," but they are in the middle of tens of thousands of young folks who are taking a snooze. They would be closer if they got on a city bus together.

The third photo is captioned "a love-in manifestation in a style characteristic of Woodstock." A close look at the photo seems to show not something like Woodstock but a conga line. I used to see conga lines in old black-and-white movies, so I guess they're okay.

The fourth caption: "A smiling punk with an extravagant hairstyle looks as if he is being blessed by the billboard's Benedict XVI." Actually, it's hard to tell if it's a billboard or one of the giant video screens that were set up in Cologne. Anyway, the guy does have goofy looking hair, but at least he's a Catholic punk.

The fifth photo shows a youth with a spiked mohawk. The rest of his head is shaved, and on his scalp is inked "Köln 2005." Horvat writes: "Another punk feels at ease in the tolerant ambience of Cologne 2005." Would she be as snide, I wonder, if she discovered that the local German paper, running the photo later, had this caption:
"Kurt Holzer, 16, from Berlin, leads his parish's perpetual adoration society and plans to study for the priesthood. 'I want to be a missionary priest,' he said. He prays the rosary and attends Mass each day. At his gymnasium [high school] he leads a study group that is reading Augustine's 'Confessions.'"
That is not a real caption. I made it up. But how does Horvat know what is in this young man's heart and mind? When I was a few years older than he seems to be and in college, I wore clothing that would look pretty silly on anybody now. Despite that, I think I turned out okay. At least I turned out orthodox. (Maybe Horvat would have less of an attitude had she worn garish bell-bottoms 35 years ago.)

The sixth and last photo is a long-distance shot. The caption: "Boys without shirts and girls in shorts wade into the waters of the Rhine River to greet the boat of Benedict XVI." What is the problem here?

The last time I waded into a river I took my shirt off too - I wanted something dry to wear when I got back to shore. And wading into the water wearing shorts? Well, it would be a little awkward for gals to go wading in long skirts. Which makes me wonder: What does Horvat expect them to wear when they go swimming - a swimsuit that covers their knees?

There is more stuff like this at her web site. Check it out for yourself and see if the word "Jansenism" pops into your mind.


Blason de Charlemagne
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