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Seattle Catholic
A Journal of Catholic News and Views
31 Jul 2002
Second Report from World Youth Day
   by John Vennari - Editor, Catholic Family News

The World Youth Day sleep-over. This photo was taken at 1:00 AM, Sunday morning

The World Youth Day Sleep-Over

In my first Dispatch, I said that I was here at World Youth Day looking for something - anything - that Popes Pius IX, Pius X, Pius XI, or Pius XII would recognize as Catholic. At the close of World Youth Day, I can say that I saw practically nothing that these popes would approve, and plenty that they would condemn.

Sure, there were miniscule dosages of traditional Catholicism here and there, but these smidgens were eclipsed by the rock 'n roll culture that permeated the week. Papal ceremonies were no exception. Even the Dies Irae was sung to a throbbing rock 'n roll beat.

Friday's antics will be detailed in the next Catholic Family News, including the report of a wild rock concert, and the strange Stations of the Cross. Today's focus is the Saturday night sleep-over in Douwsview airfield.

WYD participants were urged to come to a Saturday night "vigil", to sleep overnight in the open field, and then attend the Papal Mass Sunday morning. This is precisely what I did. I arrived at the airfield in mid-afternoon on Saturday shortly before the Pope's helicopter touched down.

Loudspeakers and gigantic screens were placed throughout the huge field to broadcast the vigil to the crowd. The so-called "Vespers" for the evening was a far cry from anything that the Catholic Church has ever called Vespers. It was a tedious three-hour ceremony full of Novus Ordo-styled pop-songs, complete with insipid lyrics and dead melodies. As I said in my first Dispatch, I feel very sad for the youth at WYD, the children of the children of Vatican II. This "fusion Catholicism" is practically all the Conciliar Church offers them.

At one point at this vigil, the World Youth Day choir sang beautifully the Adoremus Dei, but this was ruined by a jazz saxophone solo that played overtop the choir's voice. The jazz solo wove in and out of the beautiful Latin hymn, so it sounded as if two radios were simultaneously playing two different stations. And this was the most traditional part of what was misnamed "Vespers". Pope John Paul II presided over the entire ceremony, which also included countless cheers from the crowd at various points.

The Pope was spirited away in his helicopter about 10:30 PM, and then the party began.

Acres and acres of young people, girls and boys, sat sprawled on their blankets, and sleeping bags and inside make-shift tents. They were dressed no differently from youngsters on the town during Spring break in Daytona Beach: casual slovenliness, shorts, short-shorts, t-shirts, highly immodest tops on the girls. Many of the young ladies were literally "poured into" their tight, scanty outfits in a fashion that resembled Britney Spears and other such pop tarts. Mind you, this is how they would be dressed for the Papal Mass the next morning.

Young people were chatting and laughing with each other, as is to be expected at such a gathering. Here and there, couples were hugging and smooching. Acoustic guitars were being strummed throughout the field. I came upon one group that was standing in a circle around a guitarist. They clapped and danced as they sang over and over "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd. The party atmosphere prevailed. I saw no one at prayer.

In numerous places, I saw enormous crowds of youngsters doing a line dance to the beat of heavy-jungle rhythms. These line dances went on for hours, literally. And the crowd of dancers seemed to continually grow.

Dancing at the all-night WYD "vigil": "Front to front to front, my baby"

"Back to back to back, my baby!"

"Side to side to side, my baby..."

I also came upon a group doing the "front-to-front-to-front" dance. Here's how it works. The crowd forms two circles, one inside the next, and each circle turns in an opposite direction.

At one point, a boy and girl stop in front of each other, about 10 inches apart, and shake their front sections at each other while singing "front-to-front-to-front, my baby".

Then they turn and shake their backsides to one another as they sing "back-to-back-to-back, my baby".

Then they stand beside each other and sing as they shake, "side-to-side-to-side, my baby - this is how we do it!".

I meandered away and then passed by this "front-to-front" crowd forty-five minutes later. They were still at it, but the number of dancers had increased. A priest walked by, looked at their dancing, and kept walking.

Trudging along with travel-pack and sleeping bag strapped on my back, I purposely walked myself to exhaustion. I figured it was the only way I would be able to sleep . Finally, at about 12:20 AM I found a place to bed down. Huge, bright lights glowed on the massive field. The noise from the crowd was incessant. I lay down on my bag at 12:25 AM hoping to sleep.

Suddenly, at 12:30 AM, a screeching, Jimi Hendrix-styled electric guitar blasted from every loudspeaker on the field. It was deafening. The "music" intensified in volume. Synthesizers, electric bass and drums kicked in. Those around me rose from their sleeping bags blinking in bewilderment. One young girl screamed "QUIIIIIIIIEEEEET!!!" at the offending loudspeakers. Another yelled in desperation, "SHUT UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUP!".

This was followed by wailing vocals from the loudspeakers. Then a young woman's voice over the PA shouted the explanation of what was happening. They were starting a rock concert - at 12:30 AM!

The enthusiastic young announcerette exclaimed, as if it should have made us happy, that this was the beginning of a "vocations concert" being broadcast live to millions of young people in Asia. Some people up front clapped, but those who wanted to sleep were furious. A voice from behind me screamed to the announcer "You're going to go to hell for this!". To my knowledge, this concert was unannounced. It took us by surprise, and lasted over two hours.

It started with the young people boasting of how they were "salt" and "light", followed by a rock 'n roll celebration of the vocation of marriage. The violence with which this post-midnight "concert" burst upon us, coupled with the blazing lights on the field, reminded me of stories of prisoners in Communist countries who were forced to work all day, then brutally awakened in the middle of the night by loud noise and bright lights.

I grabbed my camera and made my way down toward the massive stage, which was about a quarter mile away. I was staggering with disbelief. I chanced upon a priest who stood in a walking path holding his breviary. "Father," I asked, "Do you have any idea why they are holding a rock concert in the middle of the night?" The priest answered, "I haven't got a clue". I responded, "Father, this is dementia". He nodded and walked away, obviously as baffled as I.

Thousands of youngsters were still in their sleeping bags. Many, to my amazement, continued their sleep. Meanwhile up on stage, young couples were screaming "Thank you Lord for the Sacrament of Marriage!". This went on for some time, followed by a celebration of the vocation of "Deacon". I think they meant "lay-deacon", but I cannot be certain, because I had bedded down again in a vain attempt to sleep.

Other groups made slick "vocation" pitches, such as Madonna House, Focolare, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, and various others. This was followed by a celebration of religious life. Nuns were brought on stage so that millions of youth in Asia could see the Sisters celebrating life under bright stages lights in the middle of the night. I lay there, reciting my Rosary. Sleep was impossible.

As the night wore on, the music became a bit more subdued, but it still blared from every loudspeaker on the field. Then at 2:30 AM, the announcer said that it was time to celebrate the vocation of the priesthood. Priests were about to come on stage, and they would bring the Blessed Sacrament with them.

After two hours of noisy pop music, those on stage suddenly began to sing traditional Latin hymns. I gather, though I was semi-delirious by now, that they had some form of Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament - at 2:30 AM!

Finally, at 10 minutes to 3 AM, the announcer said, "Good night!", and the loudspeakers fell silent.

But sleep was still impossible. Every nerve in my body was rattled and enraged. Lying on the ground, with an umbrella pitched next to me to block the blaring lights, I finally fell asleep at a quarter to 4 AM.

TWO HOURS LATER, we were awakened again by voices over the loudspeaker. This time, a woman's voice gave instructions on how to work the breakfast meal tickets. I looked at my watch. I had had only two hours sleep. Five minutes later came a cloudburst of sudden, drenching rain. I quickly sat up under my umbrella in an unsuccessful attempt to shield myself from the storm.

By 6:00 AM, I was soaked, shivering and in a foul temper. I walked about a mile to get coffee, and then left the field for over 90 minutes for reasons I will describe in the CFN report (another bizarre story).

When I returned to the field around 8:30, another cloudburst hit. A veritable deluge. Those in crowd huddled under umbrellas. Many abandoned their makeshift tents because the field now streamed with mud.

One of many gropus napping during the Papal address on Thursday

The Papal Mass was free of charge, so thousands more people who had not participated in World Youth Day poured onto the field. I stood in front of a large screen that beamed a close up of the Pope's helicopter gliding in. The choir sang some good pieces, including Handel's Hallelujah Chorus, as the Pope's chopper touched down. The rain intensified.

I stood there deciding whether to stay or leave. I knew we were in for creative liturgy, but did not know what form it would take. Further, I had barely two hours sleep. My resistance was down. I had no idea if or when the rain would stop. And even if it stopped, the ground was soaked. I would have to stand for another 3 hours, rain or shine.

My mind went back to a story told to me by Ed Faust. When Pope John Paul II visited Newark some years ago, a parish priest from South Jersey went to the sports arena to attend the Pope's outdoor Mass. He considered it the greatest event of his life. Anyone coming to the Mass had their umbrellas confiscated upon entering the arena, for security purposes. It rained all through the Mass, but the priest stood in the downpour anyway, so happy to be there. The same priest died two months later from pneumonia contracted from standing in the storm at the stadium.

This sure isn't worth dying for, I thought to myself.

Suddenly I heard loud, ungodly screams and shrieks coming from the loudspeakers, accompanied by native drumming. Immediately after the Pope's arrival-music finished (the Hallelujah Chorus), native American Indians were given the platform to do a no-holds-barred native ceremony. It had the most ungodly shrieks I had ever heard: dancing, drumming, wailing, and full-tilt pagan superstition captured the stage.

At this point, something in me snapped. I turned and headed for the exit. This pagan ceremony was the final straw. In short, I walked out on the Papal Mass.

As I was trudging the mile or so to the exit, I watched the confusion and consternation on people's faces as they viewed the heathen ritual. Predictably, some young people danced around in joyful mockery of an Indian dance. How xenophobic! One older woman caught my eye as I was leaving. I said to her, "I bet you thought you were attending something Catholic". She rolled her eyes and shrugged.

The downpour continued. There was a stream of people walking out of the field. The native ceremony was still screeching and drumming and wailing behind me. Two young girls said to a bunch of us, "Why are you leaving"? Most responded by pointing up to the cloudburst, but I said to them "Because this is not Catholic". The two girls looked at me with shocked eyes, spun around and quick-stepped toward the stage. Obviously, I was an extremist to be avoided at all cost.

But if Native Indians with their superstitious dance were invited to World Youth Day, there was one person who was barely invited, and that was the Blessed Mother. Her image was nowhere to be found at any of the functions over which the Pope presided. He mentioned her briefly in his Sunday homily, but did not exhort the youth to pray to her, did not exhort them to consecrate their lives and their chastity to her. And in the fight to preserve purity and modesty, who needs Our Blessed Mother more than the world's youth. We all need Her.

There was also no mention of Our Lady of Fatima, who told us that "God wants to establish in the world Devotion to My Immaculate Heart". At Toronto, the Pope did not remind the world's youth of what God wants in this regard. There was no public recitation of the Rosary scheduled on the endless list of attractions for the week. Individual groups, here and there, recited it on their own. But sadly, Pope John Paul II, at World Youth Day in Toronto, did nothing to lead young people to the Holy Rosary, which Our Lady of Fatima asked us to recite every day. And even though the Pope's next stop is the canonization of Juan Diego in Mexico, there was no mention of Our Lady of Guadalupe who came to free Native Americans from their paganism.

No, Our Lady was barely invited to World Youth Day. For the most part, she was replaced by the Youth of the World boasting that they are the light of the world, and they are the salt of the earth. This "youth" at World Youth Day, were often treated as if they have already successfully achieved this commission to be salt and light, even though they have not been asked to give up their rock 'n roll culture, their immodesty, or their adolescent mannerisms. Pumped up with unmerited self-esteem, the "youth" left World Youth Day believing that they are now "going to make a difference". In this respect, World Youth Day was no different from Woodstock.

The "Kiss of Peace" at the Thursday morning Mass after the catechesis session in Saint Rose of Lima Church, Toronto

There is plenty more to be said about what I saw and experienced at World Youth Day that will be covered in Catholic Family News. I am also assembling the photographs and wild video footage I shot while there into a "multi-media" lecture. Some of this footage must be seen to be believed.

Anyone interested in organizing such a lecture, please contact me at I ask no honorarium or stipend for these presentations. My purpose is to show Catholics what World Youth Day really is. Parents especially need to know. I would never allow my own children to attend World Youth Day. It does not transmit the Catholic Faith, but delivers a counterfeit, emotional religion. It is permeated by the pop rock 'n roll-culture. It corrupts the youth.

I will close this hastily-written Dispatch by calling to mind two warnings from Jacinta of Fatima. Before her death in 1920, Jacinta related the words of Our Lady that "certain fashions will be introduced that offend our Lord very much". These "certain fashions" were in full romp at World Youth Day. I wonder what Jacinta would have had to say about all these scantily clad ladies boasting that they are the light of the world.

Jacinta also warned us to "Pray, pray a great deal for the Holy Father". Let us do so with zeal. Let us also pray that the next papal conclave will produce a pope whose first concern is to preserve the Catholic Faith, rather than preserve the legacy of his immediate predecessor. Let us pray that the next pope abolishes the grotesque, expensive, pep-rally, rock 'n roll, shout-a-thon known as World Youth Day.

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Text and photographs, Copyright 2001-2006, J. Vennari

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