this article about World Youth Day on Facebook today, and I think it bears reading. Published in the Spanish newspaper El País on August 28, it was translated and republished in L’Osservatore Romano yesterday.
Mario Vargas Llosa is a Nobel Prize–winning and self-described agnostic who once endorsed the Communist revolution of Fidel Castro. Gradually abandoning leftist positions during his career, he ran for the presidency of Peru in 1990 as the candidate of a center-right coalition.
At a time when the imminent demise of the Catholic Church is being predicted in some circles—perhaps most of all among cradle Catholics who have left the Church and want to feel that they are in the mainstream of opinion—it is bracing to see a certified intellectual, once a leftist, raising a glass to Pope Benedict and the millions of youth who are flocking around him.
Vargas Llosa writes:
There are two possible ways of interpreting [World Youth Day 2011] which El País
described as “the largest gathering of Catholics in the history of Spain.” The
first sees it as a festival, superficial rather than of religious significance,
where young people from half the world seized the opportunity to travel, to be
tourists, to meet new people, to have some fun and a few adventures: the intense
but fleeting experience of a summer holiday.
The second views it not only as an outright rejection of the predictions that
Catholicism is shrinking in today’s world, but as a proof that the Church of
Christ retains her strength and vitality, and that the Barque of Peter is
braving the dangers and storms that were threatening it with shipwreck.
The Peruvian writer notes that while absolute numbers of Catholics may be diminishing in some parts of the world, notably western Europe,
this gradual erosion of the number of
faithful in the Catholic Church, instead of being a symptom of her inevitable
collapse and extinction, is a leaven stirring the vitality and energy that all
those—tens of millions of people—who remain in her have demonstrated,
particularly during the Pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
There follows a perceptive and remarkably positive assessment of Benedict XVI:
The present Pope is a man of ideas, an intellectual, whose natural setting is
in the library, the university lecture hall and the conference room. His shyness
in the face of the multitudes is apparent in the way he addresses the masses, as
though he were justifying himself, almost as if he were ashamed of himself.
this frailty is misleading since he is probably the most cultured and
intelligent Pope the Church has had for a long time, one of the rare pontiffs
whose encyclicals and books can be read without yawning even by agnostics like
me (his brief autobiography is enchanting and his two books on Jesus are more
A democratic society cannot effectively fight its enemies—beginning with
corruption—unless its institutions are firmly based on ethical values, unless
there is within it a blossoming of rich spiritual life as a permanent antidote
to the destructive, disruptive and anarchic forces that tend to govern
individual behaviour when human beings feel free from all responsibility.
has ceased to be a serious and deep response to the great human questions about
life, death, destiny and history as it sought to be in the past. On the one hand
it has become an inconsequential light entertainment and on the other, a cabal
of incomprehensible and arrogant experts, who have taken refuge in
unintelligible jargon, light years from common mortals.
Religion, as long as it does not assume political power
and, in this regard, as long as those in power can respect its independence and
neutrality, is not only licit but even indispensable in a democratic society.