The Alternative World Youth Day

Deal W. Hudson

Buckle your seatbelts. This is going to be fun.

As you know, things are in full swing at World Youth Day in Toronto right now, and I’d love to be there. It’d be great to see the pope and the thousands of young people from around the world celebrating their faith together.

But what I REALLY want to see is the Challenge The Church “Alternative World Youth Day.”

If you’re not familiar with this particular group, let me explain. Challenge The Church is an organization of both Catholics and non-Catholics who are dedicated to giving Catholic youth “a just and inclusive World Youth Day.” Translation: The Catholic Church is oppressive and exclusive, and only those who are against its patriarchal regime are in touch with today’s hard-hitting issues.

Ahem.

My first reaction to stuff like this is usually a measured amount of disgust. The fact that it’s organized by Catholics AND non-Catholics is mind-boggling – why on earth should non-Catholics be telling us how to run our Church? After all, you don’t see me heckling the Hindus over the way they run their religion.

But really, I’m not that concerned. Despite their outrageous claims – or maybe because of them – I have to say that Challenge The Church is so perfectly ridiculous that I find myself laughing at them rather than worrying over them. Lately, I’ve been having a good old time visiting their Web site and reading about the various activities to be enjoyed at Alternative Catholic World Youth Day.

The best part is that Challenge The Church doesn’t realize how tired their approach really is. Instead of being a group on the cutting edge of youth, their plan sounds more like a self-help group gone wrong.

Really, you HAVE to see this.

If you go to their Web site (www.challengethechurch.ca), the first thing you see is a quote from Sister Joan Chittister, the untiring agitator for women’s ordination. Sister Joan, if you recall, is the fountain of wisdom that brought us such insights as “God is more than two men and a bird.” Challenge The Church is off to a good start with her as their figurehead.

When you enter the Web site, there’s more of the usual claptrap about the Church’s latest affront to women, gays, and the general downtrodden. But the really good stuff comes in their schedule of events for the Alternative Catholic World Youth Day.

Day 1: Dialogue on Oppression. Women from the Young Feminists Network gather to share their stories and insights on being oppressed by the Church. These young feminists “dialogue” about their oppression. For SEVEN hours. The day ends with reflection, more dialogue (in case you hadn’t guessed, “dialoguing” is the main activity for the day), and songs that sound like a bad hangover from the 1970s Glory and Praise era.

Day 2: Democracy and Dissent. The morning begins with a workshop for designing the Charter of Rights for Young Catholics and Constitution for the Church. Apparently, young people need to “secure [their] proper rights” and explore “legal safeguards” to protect them from…well, I’m not exactly sure. I guess they feel oppressed, too. (Come to think of it, I’M starting to feel a little oppressed…) In the afternoon, there is – you guessed it! – another dialogue, this time on young people’s experience with dissent. Mercifully, this one lasts a scant five hours.

Day 3: Sexuality and the Church. This day starts out with something a little different: “zine making and low art jam, cut ‘n paste madness, shrine building fun.” OK, so it’s not dialoguing, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what this has to do with sexuality and the Church. In fact, if you have any idea what a “low art jam” is, I’d be interested in finding out.

Day 4: Reproductive Rights. Back to dialoguing! The goal for discussion on Day 4 is to “balance the one-sided view presented by the Catholic Church” on sexuality and birth control. So, I guess you can expect a one-sided presentation on sexuality and birth control…from the other side. Incidentally, you can be kicked out of Alternative World Youth Day if you exhibit any “oppressive” (i.e., Catholic) behavior. How open-minded.

Day 5: Global Justice. In the culmination of the Alternative World Youth Day, speakers from anticapitalist groups will talk about resisting “capitalist exploitation and injustice.” Wait a second, isn’t this supposed to be Alternative CATHOLIC World Youth Day? What does this have to do with being Catholic? Where are the discussion groups on spirituality? Prayer? God?

I think you and I both know the answer to that.

The fact is, Challenge The Church isn’t doing anything that hasn’t been tried before. This sort of empty social justice shtick went out of style years ago. Today’s young people are looking for real substance and spirituality – the kind of thing groups like Challenge the Church just can’t provide. Their fifteen minutes are up, and they know it.

I sincerely doubt that many of the 350,000 young people in Toronto for the true World Youth Day will even bother with the alternative one. After all, they know a good thing when they see it. In a way, it’s kind of a shame. That “cut ‘n paste madness” sounds like fun.

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