I came across this transcript of a radio programme, from ABC local radio in Australia, concerning World Youth Day and have been thinking about it quite a lot since then. The ex-priest says that many young Catholics have grown up with a greater emphasis on social justice than with the cult of relics. This may well be true. Is this what happens? I suppose it is easier to speak to young people`s idealism in terms of social change in trying to keep them interested in the faith but why do they need necessarily to be a Catholic to have a strong concern for social justice? If that is all the faith is presented to them as being then I think that approach lacks depth. They must also learn it is about eternal life and the forgiveness of sins. Anyway I`m still mulling this over but here is the transcript.
Old Catholic traditions could repel youth
PM - Wednesday, 9 July , 2008 18:33:00
Reporter: Paula Kruger
EDMOND ROY: As the Catholic Church's leadership attempts to deal with modern day problems, the upcoming World Youth Day celebrations has highlighted the revival of some of the Church's older traditions.
One of the more unusual practices has involved the bones of long-deceased Italian saints that are now on display for pilgrims at two Sydney churches.
While some Catholics are revelling in the presence of these relics, others are raising concerns the emphasis on older traditions could repel younger Catholics from the Church.
Paula Kruger reports.
PAULA KRUGER: World Youth Day is embracing a range of festivities, whether it be a dramatisation of the Stations of the Cross around the streets of Sydney or the Papal Cup soccer tournament.
But there are some events that are surprising local Catholics who aren't used to some of the religion's more macabre rituals.
A church in the inner-west is drawing in worshippers who want to pray at the bones of three Italian saints. Another church in the inner city is hosting the remains of an Italian blessed who died in 1925.
Bernie Quinn is a young musician and a member of the Opus Dei organisation. She says there isn't anything strange about visiting the relics of long dead Italian saints and blesseds.
BERNIE QUINN: The relics of Pierre Frassati, who's coming over from Italy. It's very exciting and I think they're relevant because he is a young person who died when he was 24 and I think the saints are an inspiration for us to help love Jesus more, really.
So I think no matter when in the Church's history, I think they'll always be relevant for people.
PAULA KRUGER: The worshipping of relics has surprised Rod Blackhurst, a lecturer in philosophy and religious studies at La Trobe University.
ROD BLACKHURST: The cult of relics and so forth is very specifically Catholic, and many people thought that the second Vatican Council had effectively marginalised or done away with a lot of that, but there seems to be revival of those things.
PAULA KRUGER: Why would that be making a comeback in this day and age?
ROD BLACKHURST: Yeah, that's an interesting problem and an interesting question. I'm really not sure. But, one thing is certain is that contemporary religion seems to be very polarised between liberal elements and a return to more conservative and traditional elements.
And so we are seeing a return to those more traditional forms of worship, what you would effectively call medieval forms of worship, side by side with more liberal and modernising elements.
PAULA KRUGER: The Second Vatican Council or Vatican II was an attempt to modernise the Church and move away from the biblical literalism of the past. So the young Catholics of today may not be aware of some of the older traditions that existed before the 1960s.
Dr Paul Collins is a former priest and author of Believers: Does Australian Catholicism have a Future?
He says many Catholics have grown up with a greater emphasis on social justice than saintly relics.
PAUL COLLINS: Well, they certainly haven't seen them I'd say, especially if they went to Catholic schools where the emphases would be quite different. I do think to some extent that this reflects much more the kind of religiosity of the organisers of World Youth Day, rather than the mainstream Catholic Church.
They would claim, you know, in their defence, that they were doing … that they were kind of maintaining the emphases that came through from Pope John Paul II, who I suppose is essentially the founder of World Youth Day.
But nevertheless, I think for Australian Catholics, and I think for Australians generally, these are kind of, you know, odd things that are different that people find a little hard to fit into any context and don't make much sense to them.
PAULA KRUGER: But Rod Blackhurst says the resurgence of relic worship and more pious ceremony may be what some Christians feel they need.
ROD BLACKHURST: The liberal agenda of the Second Vatican Council was very successful at taking apart and exposing the limitations of that old 1950s Catholicism that people from that generation would know.
But they weren't particularly good at replacing it with things. And so that there's a yearning amongst young people to go back and experience those things which they felt that had been lost and that perhaps were valuable.
PAULA KRUGER: So, a kind of spiritual element or a mystic element?
ROD BLACKHURST: Yeah, certainly a mystic element and a less of an emphasis on sociological and political religion. More mystical as you say and more devotional, yeah.
PAULA KRUGER: The relics of the Italians saints and blesseds aren't a permanent fixture in Australian religious life and will return to Italy after World Youth Day festivities.
EDMOND ROY: Paula Kruger reporting.