When we were in Mardid for World Youth Day last summer one of our group wanted to leave for the final Mass as early as we could so that we could get a spot near the front and close to the Pope. The old cynics in the group quickly told him that there was very little point. For one thing, the front blocks would be full of Italians who had barged their way in (a little racist, but probably true!) and for another thing, there really isn't much point trying to get right to the front at huge events. Unless you're right at the front, I pointed out, the issue is how close you are to one of the giant TV screens.
These thoughts re-entered my head a few months back when I was first told about 'World Youth Day at Home' - WYD @ Home, for short - and they're part of the reason why I think this initiative taking place at Aylesford next July is such a brilliant idea.
For those who haven't heard yet, WYD @ Home is next year's incarnation of the amazing Brightlights festival. It's being timed to coincide with the final Mass of World Youth Day, and the plan is to stream the vigil and Final Mass from Rio on a large screen. The aim, of course, is to help those who can't get out to Rio to still feel like they're a part of things.
This is a thoroughly brilliant idea. Not only for 2013, but perhaps also as a potential pattern for World Youth Days of the future. As with all WYD related discussions, this will no doubt draw some criticism, but let me explain...
The fact is that not many people from the western world will be in Rio next summer for WYD. There's not much point reigniting the debates around this. If you want to swot up, then check out what we wrote a few months back. The fact is that the uptake is going to be low, and the fact is that we need to think about how to respond to this in more constructive ways than just moaning!
The WYD @ Home idea will allow thousands of young people to get a large chunk of the WYD experience. Not all of it, of course, but a large chunk. They won't get to see the Church in another part of the world, or be in a city with millions of other young Catholics, but they will get to say that they went to a large Catholic event with thousands of other young people, that they took part in the Vigil and Final Mass with the Pope, that they had catechesis and entered into numerous other events and activities, and that they had a chance to deepen their faith and to bond together with others from their area while on pilgrimage as a group.
I also think that the experience of the Vigil and Final Mass will actually be a very similar one, and in some ways maybe even a better one. As I noted above, recalling Madrid, WYD final Mass is really about how close you are to a big screen! The idea of being gathered with the Pope is a lovely one and an important one, but it bares a little more scrutiny. I have been to two WYD Final Masses. In 2005, I didn't see the Pope with the naked eye once. In Madrid, I could see him, but he was only really a small dot on the horizon. I took part in a Mass which he celebrated, and that's important, but the reality is that my WYD experience was really just about a big TV screen. And so, I wonder how much difference there really is between watching a big TV in Rio next summer and watching one in Aylesford? You will see what's going on just as well and you will have a sense of being gathered with others around the Holy Father. Of course, in the UK you would take part in a different Mass (I believe the plan is to follow Rio up until the end of the Homily and then begin a Mass at the Liturgy of the Eucharist in Aylesford, but I might be wrong) but aren't all Masses meant to be the re-presentation of Calvary anyway? Doesn't the idea of anemnesis tell us that there is one sacrifice, one host etc? Okay, okay I know that's a very brief explanation of a complex idea, but it's basically correct, and it makes the point that we don't need to be gathered around the same altar to be reminded and strengthened in our communion as Catholics around the Successor of Peter.
Let's make no mistake, being in Rio is better than not being in Rio. We're talking here about alternatives for those who can't rather than about better ideas. But as alternatives go, this is a seriously good one. And it may even yield a few advantages over Rio. There won't be any safety concerns, less time away from home, no disruption to the school term, no language or cultural difficulties, and above all - the big one - it won't cost two thousand pounds!
So many people are trying to play down the cost of Rio, as if it's a simple problem to solve. It's not. It's a big problem (among others) which will stop the vast majority of would-be pilgrims from getting there. We need other options, and this is a really, really good one.I have no doubt that there will still be those who don't like this idea. They will say that if we can't get people out to Rio then our response should be to whinge about the fact and do little else. Inevitably though, we live in an imperfect world and we often find ourselves having to look for good alternatives, and this is most definitely one of those. A phrase I love is 'don't make the perfect the enemy of the good.' It's very apt here.
So, that's that. WYD @ Home is going to be great, and the strong encouragement - which CatholicYouthWork.com will add it's weight to - is to get behind it and get involved.
I'd like to think though, that this idea isn't just a good idea for this time around, but might make a great pattern for World Youth Day events for years to come.
A very senior person I was chatting to in Madrid told me that in his view WYD had become too big. This isn't a majority view by any means, but it's certainly a viewpoint that's gaining traction, and I strongly suspect that there will come a day when the amount of people wanting to go to WYD will exceed the amount that the organisers are willing to take. In fact, the decision of the authorities at Cuatro Vientos (Madrid 2011) to close the door on a lot of later arrivals would seem to indicate that this point has already been reached.
So, picture this...
How would it be if in future World Youth Day was celebrated by having one central event and a number of other, smaller events in each region? For instance, let's say that WYD 2015 were in Krakow (which you can pretty much bet on) and that each area of the World held a smaller gathering which had its own unique flavour, but which linked with the larger gathering a crucial moments - especially the Vigil and Final Mass. Those in Eastern Europe could go to Krakow and then, let's say, Paris could host an event for Western Europe, Dallas could host one for North America, Buenos Aries could host one for South American, Auckland for the South Pacific, Seoul for Asia, Dar-es-Salaam for Africa and so on... The aim could be to ensure that everyone in the world had somewhere they could get to for no more than, say, eight hundred US dollars.
And if US$800 were a little steep, there could even be more, smaller regional events. How would it be, for instance, if Liverpool held an event for the British Isles and then Barcelona held one for France, Spain and Portugal? I doubt that would cost too much for a week.
With either format, the scope would still exist to organise massive events with many thousands of people - perhaps even hundreds of thousands. The events could link together ar key moments - perhaps with each region chipping in - and at other times local organisers could create some seriously good, focused content for their own young people. After all, in Madrid - as with every other WYD - so much of the time was spent split into regional groups. Catechesis was in different language groups - which for many languages would have just meant one or two countries - and vocations services for one, even flew all the way out there just to target people from their own country.
So how would it be if all of this regional stuff was actually done in the regions themselves? It would be far easier to organise and would reach far more people. It would give a strong sense of Catholicity and a great chance for local, focused participation with a huge amount of people too.
The more I think about this, the more I am convinced that there are a ton of advantages. Translation would be easier, travel would be easier, there would be more host cities to be invigorated, there would be less hassle (and debt) for the main host city. There are so many plus points to this idea. The main one though, of course, is that millions more young people would be able to take part, and that's why it's an idea I hope the Church takes a serious look at.