by James Louis
Two very different events took place in the Church this past year. One was a perfect example of Catholic reverence; the other a showcase for "pop Catholicism." At one, ears would hear chants of Ave Maria; at the other, "John Paul two - we love you." At one was sung Chez Nous, a traditional French hymn; the other featured the rather banal "Light of the World." One was a timeless display of love for Christ, the Blessed Mother, the Church and the Mass, while the other was more indicative of the personality cult of the man who is pope. One was the Chartres Pilgrimage; the other was the World Youth Day celebration in Toronto. While the majority of people at each event fell into the same age group, the two events could not have been more different. Chartres exemplified traditional Catholicism while World Youth Day marked the most recent attempt to conform the Church to modern popular culture, leading to its earning the not inaccurate moniker, "Catholic Woodstock."
The Chartres Pilgrimage began during the middle ages amidst Catholic Europe and the height of Christendom. The steps were retraced by such historic saints as King St. Louis IX and St. Joan of Arc. Eventually, it became an annual Pilgrimage made at Pentecost and would continue well into the twentieth century, stopped only occasionally during times of war and persecution of the Faith. After Vatican II, it seemed as though the Chartres pilgrimage was headed towards becoming merely a memory of the past along with the Catholic state and the Latin Mass. However, the three day pilgrimage was begun once again in 1982 by Catholics seeking nothing less than the restoration of Catholic Tradition. On the vigil of Pentecost, Catholics again began to walk the 70-plus miles from the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris to the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Chartres, but when they arrived at the front of Chartres Cathedral, they found it locked. The bishop had refused to allow the faithful to celebrate the very Mass for which the Cathedral had been built. For ten years, the traditional priests were forced to celebrate Mass outside of the Cathedral, but in 1992 the bishop of Chartres allowed the pilgrims their right as Catholics to attend the traditional Latin Mass inside the Cathedral.
The journey is long and arduous but the benefits are enormous. Divided into chapters of around 50 people, the pilgrims have the opportunity to listen to talks on Catholic Tradition, sing traditional chants or hymns, and pray the rosary. Every day, Latin Masses are held at which the pilgrims kneel either in the dirt and mud of the French countryside or the hard stone floor of Chartres Cathedral. Dress is modest although suitable for a walk spanning of over 70 miles.
World Youth Day was invented by Pope John Paul II in 1984 and was first held in Rome in 1985. Since then there have been eight more held, in Buenos Aires, Santiago de Compostela, Czestochowa, Denver, Manila, Paris, Rome and Toronto. These events present humanism and personalist phenomonology in vaguely Catholic terms with the celebrity of the pope (rather than the worship of Christ) at the forefront. The Reign of Christ the King is out, the "civilization of love" is in. Mention of eternity is more often of the protestant "we are saved" variety then that of Catholics striving for salvation. An event which is based around the pope is not a bad thing - in fact, it could be a good way of honoring Christ in His Vicar. The problem arises at such events when the celebrity of the pope precludes the proper centrality of Christ in the life of the Church, or when the man as a "spiritual leader" supplants respect for the office of Christ's Vicar.
The term "Catholic Woodstock" may be an oversimplification but it does sum up much of what World Youth Day ends up being - a contrived attempt by Churchmen to imitate popular culture. Hard to overlook is the prevalence of a "party" or "concert" atmosphere rather than one of Catholic reverence and devotion. Solemn prayer is replaced by charismatic emotionalism and many of the talks given are reminiscent of school "pep rallies" designed to bring the type of cheers and chants common at sporting events.
Rather than expressing the richness and wonder of the Catholic Faith, the songs presented at World Youth Day are of the "pop" or rock music variety (or even worse with "Catholic rap priest" Fr. Stan Fortuna) with vaguely "Christian" sounding lyrics. Perhaps the two most striking examples of this were an attempt to combine the traditional Greek of the Kyrie with modern pop style music and a slightly reworded version of a song by The Monkees - a group which, interestingly enough, was a significant part of the Woodstock generation's culture. Could the organizers of this event be trying to substantiate the traditionalist objections to it? The theme song of this event was "Light of the World" but rather than referring to Christ, the light of the world was a reference to the youth in attendance - the "cult of man" replacing the worship due to Christ.
The Chartes Pilgrimage emphasizes sacrifice over "fun". Pilgrims are very aware that what they are undertaking will be difficult and painful. Walking over 70 miles through the dirt and mud, facing the elements, fatigue and pain, the focus is on offering themselves up and taking on this voluntary mortification for the glory of Christ and his Church. Those called to make this wonderful journey and take on the pains and blisters are true pilgrims, willing to accept physical hardships for their beliefs. It is not a vacation or a chance to meet new people in a popular festival but a solemn way to offer oneself to Christ. All those trying to conform their lives to Christ and do whatever He requires face a journey much more difficult than this 70-plus mile hike, but share the common dedication to repentance and sacrifice.
While the respective attendants come from similar demographics, the Chartres Pilgrimage and World Youth Day celebration are different in many respects, and it should be clear by now which of these events is more Catholic. Although attracting far fewer people (15,000 compared to hundreds of thousands), I also believe the Chartes pilgrimage is far more important - perhaps the most important event in the Church. Though relatively few in number, those marching to Chartres are truly dedicated to Christ and His Church. I am reminded of the sixth chapter of the Gospel of St. John in which a multitude gathered to listen to Christ preach, considering him a popular preacher and religious leader. Our Lord did not tell them things they wanted to hear or avoid making them uncomfortable when He revealed to them the necessity of eating His Body and drinking His Blood. Most of them got up and left. Only the Apostles remained, but it was this small group who, supported by Our Lady and a few others, began to convert the world to Christ in large numbers. Similarly today, a small number of Catholics burning with the true faith are dedicated to restoring the Church and converting the world.
Our Lady of Chartres, pray for us.
Clermont County, Ohio