Aleteia Experts say World Youth Day was a big success, but not because of the aspects of the event the media focused on. Despite his celebrity power, WYD wasn't about Pope Francis - but about Jesus Christ.
The 14th World Youth Day (WYD) celebration concluded last weekend (see all of Aleteia's WYD coverage). A reported 3 million people attended the closing Mass on the Copacabana waterfront in Rio de Janeiro. We asked our Aleteia Experts what they thought of the event.
"I am amazed by the crowds," musician John Michael Talbot told Aleteia, "the enthusiasm of the people, and the quality of the faith through music, drama, and testimony."
Fr. Paul Sullins, Associate Professor of Sociology at Catholic University of America, sees WYD as a thoroughly modern event. "WYD is a quintessentially modern event expressing the most ancient of human impulses for meaning and transcendence."
"The media calls those attending it 'pilgrims', but they are not pilgrims to any particular place or even person, but to an event which is itself constituted by the pilgrims. In the 60s the medium was the message; today the audience is the message. And the message of WYD is that the Catholic faith, venerable in its long history and tradition, is also young and vibrant."
But youth isn't always about age, says Sullins. "Perhaps the youngest person at WYD is the new septagenarian Pope. He speaks with the energy and hope of the mystery of Christ, which is, as Augustine said, ever ancient, ever new."
Talbot also thinks highly of Pope Francis. "Once more, I am overjoyed by the charismatic presence of Pope Francis, who so successfully integrates a genuine orthodoxy with ease, humor, spontaneity, and grace in the Spirit of Christ. It again makes me humbly proud to be Catholic!"
But Sullins cautions against focusing too much on Pope Francis. "The media seem to hype Francis, and have no clue that the real star of WYD is not Pope Francis, but Jesus Christ. Francis would be the first to say so."
"He has said, repeatedly, that faith is not about doctrines and ideas, but about persons and relationships; about the experience or presence of Jesus in one's life and community. In the images and reports from Rio, it is evident that millions of young persons are discovering and growing closer to Jesus."
"This is the greatest success of WYD, and in this lies great hope for the Catholic Church–and for the world."
The following Aleteia Experts contribtued to this article:
Fr. Paul Sullins is Associate Professor of Sociology at Catholic University of America. Formerly Episcopalian, Fr. Sullins is a married Catholic priest with an inter-racial family of three children, two adopted.
John Michael Talbot is an American Roman Catholic singer-songwriter-guitarist who is founder of a monastic community, the Brothers and Sisters of Charity