Wednesday, 17 August 2011


Would it surprise readers to know that I went to World Youth Day in 2005? I had booked my place through my college Chaplaincy in 2004 (not ''Juventutem''), when John Paul II was still pope, but when he popped his ecclesiastical clogs I was worried that the Cardinals, locked away in their secret conclave, would take forever and a day to elect a replacement and we'd be stuck with some Vatican representative or something. Fortunately a nice-looking academic, about whom I confessedly knew very little, was elected and we set off about this time six years ago to go and see him in his homeland. My fondest memories were of the catecheses and the liturgies. The catecheses consisted of Spanish priests (who didn't dress like priests) singing cheesy hymns (some of them very Protestant) from the culturally magnificent '70s, holding hands and not much actual catechesis. The liturgies, which took place in football stadiums and open fields with millions of communicants and concelebrating clergy, were in the Novus Ordo (naturally), with all the added abuse of non-Roman Catholic communicants (yes, there were a few non-Roman Catholic ''pilgrims'' in my group), tacky polyester vestments (one of our chaplains, a concelebrant, wore a rainbow-coloured stole and a polyester alb), women serviettes and readers (even non-Roman Catholic ones), relativistic general intercessions, doctrinally unsound hymns (which really have no place in the Roman Eucharistic liturgy), etc. The final Mass with the pope in Marienfeld was possibly the worst, with all those hymns and communicants making their communion whilst not in a state of Grace interrupted only by shouts of Viva el Papa! and Papst Benedikt!

Many of the pilgrims themselves led immoral lives and didn't believe all the teachings of the Roman Church - these included two lesbians in my own group, and a student of Medicine who was ''pro-Choice.'' I had started attending the ''Traditional Latin Mass'' in the Spring of that year, and considered myself an ardent Traditionalist. I can honestly say that I was never so scandalised in my life. In hindsight (what a blessing!) it was just a tacky, Ultramontane waste of time - all that walking (for miles and miles, around Cologne and Düsseldorf), waiting, frustration...for what? To show solidarity with people who clearly didn't believe the same as I did? Probably the only worthwhile thing that I did on that ''pilgrimage'' was my brief moment venerating the tomb of the Magi in Cologne Cathedral, before being ushered on or being crushed to death by a throng of other ''pilgrims'' with their flags and backpacks.

I haven't been back to Germany, nor have I ever been to another ''World Youth Day.'' And to think, there are people out there who think that my beliefs about the cult of the Ultramontane Pope are without foundation! Tradition and Liturgy have no place in World Youth Day (just like facts have no place within Roman Catholicism), one of the legacies of the old superstar John Paul II. What superstitious nonsense! If the Holy Father looks in your general direction, will you, the Ultramontane idiot, ever wash again? Simply to hear the words of the Successor of St Peter is to experience endless benediction. Wave your Vatican flag, cry out Viva el Papa, communicate on consecrated bread alone in a football stadium, and your sojourn in Purgatory will be considerably lessened. Cults, ideologies, even idols. ''World Youth Day'' (which really runs for about a week) isn't about Catholicism in the sense of solidarity, or communion with the Saints - it's about feel-good religion and a superstar.


  1. I've had the pleasure of wandering around freely in Cologne cathedral at a normal day on a school trip. Sadly, I didn't get to visit the other churches there.

    Concerning the WYD, I was invited last year to a gathering for Altar servers in Rome, and to the WYD this year. I refused both times. I'd rather go on a normal pilgrimage.

    I've never liked those tacky Vatican flags and the obsession about it's statehood. I'd prefer it to be a monastic semi-autonomous province of Italy, like Athos in Greece. To be honest, I don't really have any intent of ever going to Rome for visiting churches. Most of them are probably those bland baroque thingies. The Basilica of St. John Lateran has some nice mosaics, and reminds me a little bit of Saint Paul's in London, but that's about it. Most older non-baroque churches have probably been baroquified.

  2. Tom L, there was a Baroque church in Cologne dedicated to St Andrew which at the time I was quite fond of. Curiously we only went in there to escape a brief drizzle of rain, but the Rosary was being prayed in Spanish, in which we all partook. Our chaplaincy team leader Javier was half-Spanish. It was quite dim, but this could have been just the dull day.

    I have other genuinely fond memories of Cologne which I will not elaborate here, though.

  3. Tom L: Certainly, most of the major churches have been baroque-ified, but there are a few which have survived: St Paul-Without-the-Walls seems pretty well untouched, St Mary Major only seems to have a baroque baldacchino, the exterior and crypt aside.

    St Clement's appears to be almost entirely in tact. The flat of the roof appears to have been redone in a baroque manner, but I'm not sure I could tell it from neoclassical, and the dome at the back of the church appears to have its original mosaic.

    Sant Antonio di Padova in Via Merulana doesn't look too bad, for an (18th c.?) church. Stanta Balbina appears to be not only largely untouched, but largely unecorated.

    These are just a few. The point is: There's a lot of hideous baroque in Rome (of which I think the worst example is the hideous Gesu), but there are still some ancient (and not so ancient), beautiful churches around. Though, naturally, they're not the ones the tourist guides will lead you to.

    Patricius, I didn't think you'd approve of the rosary, given that it's a 'peasant' devotion.

  4. Thanks for the tips, Evagrius Ponticus. Perhaps I should give Rome a try one day.

  5. I have vivid memories of WYD 2005 - particularly the harrowing experience of being shoved round the Cathedral without really being able to venerate the relics and being told not to worry about it as it probably wasn't the Magi anyway and just a mediaeval invention! My devotion to Pope Benedict (I was very, well, what you would call "ultramontane" then) was all that sustained me...

    Tom: I was last in Rome with a dear Anglican-priest friend and forced him to trail round all the "ancient" churches (he preferred the Baroque!). It is really quite upsetting because a great number have been damaged by Renaissance (and later) "improvement" (as Evagrius points out this is often where ceilings have been replaced and mosaics damaged). However, Evagrius is quite right, there is much to see that is ancient and beautiful. I recommend Santa Maria Trastevere, as it has very wonderful Byzantine apse mosaics (although a hideous baroque ceiling) probably some of the last of that style where you are also able to see the beginnings of the Gothic. And Trastevere itself is delightful. St John Lateran is well worth a visit - it has a wonderful baptistry attached with some great IV century mosaics (unfortunately obscured by a huge Bernini-esque altar) and of course the Scala Sancta with its remarkable little chapel of the acheiropoieta at the top. Climbing this ancient way (though of course resited in the late XVI century - a necessity as their previous location was ruinous) to reach the holy chapel is quite an experience.

  6. There's quite a nice, if understated, FSSP chapel in the centre of Cologne, on Rolandstrasse....

  7. I grew up in Roma, cittá eterna. So i am perhaps biased, when i say, that for me Rome is and ever shall be the most beautiful, the most welcoming, the most inspiring city of the world. One should not judge a city by the faults of its past and present Popes! I love Baroque, and i appreciate all the ecclesiastical styles of art and architecture of the past 2000 years; how much, depends more upon the inidividual church or statue or painting, than the name of the style. I draw tha line in early XXth century, however, after which there is no art nor architecture worhty of the name. Baroaque is beautiful, and has its own thoelogy behind it, but no already existing church should have been redone in Baroque: each style is worhty to be preserved and cultivated for its own merits. Each style bespeaks an aspect of the Divine which the others ignore or only hint at. Rome still has many many churches in the original pre-Baroque style: Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Santa PRassede (my favourtie), Santa Maria Ara Coeli, Santi Cosma e Damiano, Santa Sabina, San GIovanni Rotondo, Santi Sergio e Bacco, Santa Maria sopra MInverva, Sant'Alessio, Sant'Agnese sulla via NOmentana, San Clemente, San Sebastiano, etc. etc. Etc. Roma is truly worth a visit by both Catholic and non-Catholic alike. OVer the ages Rome has attracted poets, artists, writers, princes, queens, sinners, saints, jews, protestants, eastern orthodox as well as Catholics. Many conversions have taken place there, such as of the Jew ALphonse Ratisbonne at Sant'Andrea. THere are places outside ROma of extreme interest, such as TRE Fontane, Villa Adriana, Ostia ANtica. When i was young, I used to hope to breathe my last breath at the fountain in Piazza ai Santa Maria in Trastevere, gazing upon the extradordinary facade. A bit romantic, but a pious wish that i still should like if it would happen to come about that way.

  8. Patricius, is anything ever chill with you? I mean, every post is pretty much a critical rant ended with anathemata. Were you a peritus at Trent?

    C'mon, life is good! If its consensual, ethical, legal, and moral, try it once! If you want to go skydiving, just don't tell the life insurance broker.

    Whaddya expect at a youth festival? A William F. Buckley lecture? Of course there's going to be screaming, lunacy, perhaps indecency, and really bad Novus Ordo Masses with "Christian Rock". WYD is not really about ideology or religion. It's more a time to meet friends with like-minds. You and I might roll our eyes at poorly said Masses, but for the uncatechized it may be the first time that they've heard Mass as young adults. WYD is not for the connoisseur, and certainly not for the traditional believer (save the Juventutem tent).

    I prefer to travel alone. Just did Rome and Ostia on €40/day including my gelato addiction. Still, it's better to take WYD for what it's worth rather than bitch about it afterwards. Scrape up enough money and do your own travel instead. I've been to England, but after a few near-death experiences at crosswalks I'm reticent about returning.

  9. [Cue sneer from Patricius or someone else about Juventutem, assuming that they have the first clue about and can generalise the ideas held in this heterogenous federation!]

    *blows rasberry*

  10. Good natured of you to let that one go up though!

  11. World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid was an absolute delight and it was a privilege to be with up to two million other young Catholics. Praised be Jesus Christ.