Saturday, July 19, 2008

World Youth Day: Part I

A few up close impressions of World Youth Day (I flew in today):

Please God Make Them Stop Singing and Put Them to Work.
One of the big sources of buzz this week has been about how young people in public spaces are spontaneously singing and dancing. Some find the whole thing a bit ridiculous. Others think it wonderful. "Wouldn't it be nice," I've heard more than once, said wistfully, "if we all enjoyed life like that?"

I had my first taste of "Now is the time on Sprockets when we sing" on a train headed into town this morning. A group, I think, of Portuguese males from Brazil were shouting a song as we rolled along. I have to say, between its march-like/barroom cadence and the hearty-har-har quality of the men's voices, basically begging for another group of testosterone-bound creatures to compete with, I felt like I was at a soccer match or Yankees/Red Sox rather than a youth festival (let alone a religious one).

Walking with the 100000 or so pilgrims to Randwick Park (above -- click on it to get the full effect), where they are camped out for the night , a similar phenomenon: lots of flag waving and national cheers. It was the Aussies, of all people, who did most of it. I say "of all people" because many Australians that I've met do not like one bit all the American flag waving and nationalism. But like something out of a rugby match, there their young people were, yelling "Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oy! Oy! Oy! Aussie! Oy!" I was spared "USA! USA!", thanks be to God.

It all felt very male and not exactly the right spirit for the day. It isolated groups from one another, created us's and them's where the point is a strange and myriad (and miraculous) sort of we. I'd rather have had them all singing "I'd Like to Make the World to Sing in Perfect Harmony" or, God help us, "It's a Small World", than this. Group leaders, adults, where were you?

Actually, here's my real idea: get these kids to do service work. We call them pilgrims, and I'm sure that some are operating on a pretty thin budget. But I don't know, to me, you want to do the Christian thing, service has to be a part of it. It's not just liturgy. And seeing all their energy, all their positive well being and their strength -- well God, to think what they could have done for Australia this week, or maybe last week. So WYD planners, listen up. Take this thing to the next level.

You Can't Get There from Here.
If you need anything from World Youth Day (as I did today), don't speak to anyone attached to World Youth Day itself. They have no clue what is going on at their own events, and they will lead you astray. I spent four hours today walking around Sydney trying to find the right office to get a very small, simple ID just to be able to attend the WYD mass tomorrow. Four hours, with lots and lots of walking, through crowds. Even at the Randwick race track, I really didn't get anywhere until I hopped a fence, entered a restricted area, and was accosted by two police officers. It sounds bad, I know, and I was told soon after that another guy who had done a similar thing was handcuffed. But those guys were great to me, and they took me to Kathleen, an amazing young woman helping with the overall production (not a WYD person, but the group they hired to do the event). And just like that, all was well. I was taken to the accreditation trailer, which I could never have found on my own, let alone reached, as it was in this restricted area, given my proper identification, and put on a bus aimed towards home. All the support staff was just great, and if you think of it, say a prayer for them. They've been working 17 hours days all week, and they will be there with the pilgrims all night. Kathleen told me she'll be sleeping in her car. Yet they were all most helpful.

The view from inside Randwick (again, take a click for a better view).

As for the WYD staff -- well, I don't know what to say. It's definitely an impossible event, there's no doubt of that. But at the same time -- when you hear that priests, who represent just a wee part of the total number at the event, had to wait 7 or 8 hours in line to get this one bleeding piece of paper -- well, it's just buggered.

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