APEC echoes in World Youth Day idealism


World Youth Day CrossAs the symbols of the Catholic Church's World Youth Day youth event were paraded in his diocese, one Bishop likened the Cross and Icon to the Olympic torch. The comparison is interesting. The Bishop noted that both WYD and the Olympics had the power to connect people, and that their symbols represent the hope the world places in young people to promote a peaceful future.

In both international movements — one peaking in July, the other in August — mainly young people seek to advance ideals that should benefit everyone around the world. While some WYD objectives are relevant only to the Catholic Church, if the day succeeds in its aim to to 'build bridges of friendship and hope', then the cause of world peace should be advanced.

Both supporters and critics of WYD have compared its likely impact on Sydney with that of the 2000 Olympic Games. Unlike those inside the Church, who stress spiritual benefits, the general community is entitled to assess the potential economic impact.

While supporters argue that pilgrims are tourists who will inject large amounts of cash into industries such as accommodation and hospitality, critics suggest the costs are being socialised and borne by the state on behalf of the community. Critics have also pointed to the enormous costs involved in hosting the Pope, and the security crackdown, which many citizens will find inconvenient and some will regard as insulting.

The Olympic Games also involve huge security operations, and not just because of the presence of heads of state. All world media events provide great opportunities for political protest, whether peaceful or violent.

When the Olympic flame left the 2004 host country Greece to head towards Beijing, international news agencies revealed the presence of protestors, who used the torch event to draw attention to human rights issues in China and in particular to the lack of political freedom and autonomy in Tibet.

The images arising from those demonstrations suggest that the protestors were mainly young people and that they hailed from many countries. It would be interesting to know whether there is a common membership among WYD pilgrims and Olympic protestors. It should not surprise if people who are committed to international understanding are also committed to universal human rights.

While the 2000 Olympics is usually cited as the forerunner of WYD, last year's Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum provides a more challenging comparison. When Sydney hosted APEC the security precautions were immense. Huge fences were erected around Sydney in a display that must have delighted the enemies of open government, and the police force acquired a water cannon allegedly for use against violent crowds.

The only knowledge most Australians have of such devices is the television footage from dictatorial regimes where they are used to suppress political dissent.

APEC demonstrators were also young and idealistic. They believe 'free trade', as mooted by the agents of globalisation, is a means of diverting attention from the concentration of wealth in the hands of elites. They point to the irony of a rhetoric of freedom for multinational corporations existing beside international political anarchy and domestic repression.

On the institutional level, religion and politics should remain separate. On a more personal level, an individual's religion can lead to engagement with politics or isolation from it. In the early 21st century, politics intrudes more deeply in personal affairs than ever before, and people who proclaim their faith publicly are challenged to respond to matters political.

Observers in the broader community will make a range of responses to WYD. Perhaps they will be impressed by the pilgrims' faith and wonder why it so strong. What seems more likely is that they will search for signs of social responsibility and wonder whether the Church is an agent for social progress or yet another institution demanding obedience rather than giving fearless leadership towards justice for the world's have-nots. Somehow the pilgrims need to demonstrate their passion for this ideal.

World Youth Day

Tony SmithTony Smith holds a PhD in political science. He has taught at several universities, most recently at the University of Sydney.
Flickr image by i.say



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Existing comments

Interesting comparisons ... But to me the deeper interest is the underlying suggestion that these events are the appropriate way for people (of any age) to demonstrate idealism. I have 4 children in the WYD age group. Two are weekly attenders at Mass. Neither would have the remotest interest in attending WYD. Does this make them less committed to witnessing to their faith in all areas of life and to making the world a better place? I believe not.

margaret | 18 April 2008  

Why is it that we cannot as a Church accept joy, and witness in the country that sees binge drinking as a sainthood, and greed as a gift we as Catholics cannot celebrate our Faith.

Many a time I have been inconvenienced by protests or parades of any ilk, I have not like many people complained, we see the universal good as being a greater power than individual can't catch my train today exactly as I want.

Have you thought about the young coming from Pacific nations being sponsored the out reach, the opportunity of a break.

It is brutal enough hearing the secular press taking our joy away but you would expect better from your publication.

And no Margaret, no-one has suggested your children are not good witnesses to their faith. Let them enjoy what they wish to do during this week and allow the many thousands of our young people enjoy their time.

eileenkirwin@optusnet.com.au | 23 June 2008  

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