I discovered this while working for the WYD2002 office. I have said on numerous occasions that this amazing experience was a great blessing for me and for my family. One of the blessings is that I got to see the best of the Church. At the same time, I got to see the worst of the Church.
Maybe that’s what the parable of the weeds and the wheat is all about: in order for the best to be best, the worst has to grow alongside it. And maybe that’s what being Church is.
At WYD2002 I was in charge of all the artistic programming. The largest component of this was the Youth Festival. We dealt with hundreds of groups, thousands of artists, from over 30 countries and in 8 different languages.
The main task was to select the groups that would participate. This was no easy task. There are many thousands of wonderful individuals, groups, music ministers, lay associations and movements, and communities that are doing great work for the Church. It was very hard to narrow the long list down to the 200 or so who would make the final cut.
One way to do this is to ask for a letter of support from the local Bishop or from the Episcopal Conference. I cannot begin to tell you the number of times that we had to rely on that reference, to be sure. And still, we had some potential problems. Lastly, the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the Vatican department that oversees World Youth Days, had to approve the final list.
It meant that some did not get selected.
Another problem that we had was dealing with groups for whom World Youth Day is an opportunity to do their own thing. It’s simple logic: “This is the chance that we have to gather all our members from around the world. They’re going to WYD anyway, so why not have our own event at the same time?” Or, “There will be lots of Catholics there, so why not run our event at the same time?” I am not saying that these groups are taking advantage of WYD or out to divide WYD – but inadvertently, when one creates an event that is parallel to WYD, that’s the danger. And that does not contribute to the unity of the Church.
And this has been the case with every World Youth Day. Everyone thinks that their event is important. Everyone wants to promote their event (and they should, since they’re spending a lot of money and resources to put on the event). But we can’t lose sight of the larger event, the real reason for World Youth Day.
And so, when the Madrid WYD office put out a statement earlier this week titled “U.S. Based Media Producer Not Approved by WYD 2011
”, I was not surprised.
If the organizers of that event are surprised at the statement, it’s not surprising – again, why would they think that this is a problem? But it can be. There is so much happening in Madrid during August 16-21 that all pilgrims will be overwhelmed with the choices. It will mean that some events will not be very well attended – especially those immediately following all the main events.
And when someone advertises that they will be at World Youth Day and says that their event is open to all World Youth Day pilgrims, it is hard not to see that event as an official Youth Festival event, or not to be confused by it.
Part of our job at the WYD2002 programming office was to clear some of the confusion. There are official WYD events and there are some events that are not official.
The official ones have all been approved by local bishops, Episcopal Conferences, and the Pontifical Council for the Laity. Hopefully that means that they will promote the authentic teaching and unity of the Roman Catholic Church. The Bishops are the authentic teachers of the Church in communion with the Pope. It is the Pope who teaches at World Youth Day in communion with the bishops of the world. Any group that sets itself to "teach" in the midst of WYD is giving a very mixed message--as if the other teaching is deficient or incorrect.
I'm not commenting one way or the other on the event in question. I am not saying that it is unorthodox or that the organisers of that event are out to create division in the Church. I am merely trying to understand where the WYD National Office is coming from when releasing such a statement. If an event is not official, it doesn’t mean that it will not promote the authentic teaching and unity of the Roman Catholic Church, but, there is no guarantee.