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Youth were cheered on - but not really challenged.

DENVER -- Pope John Paul II is showing his age. Frequently here in Denver he sat listlessly, as if bored by the whole business. Of course, he'd had a grueling trip -- Jamaica, Mexico, then Denver, with no pause to recover from the time lag. But he understands the first rule of the acting profession: The show must go on. And he has lost none of his charm.

He was at his best in his address to youth in Mile High Stadium. The stage had been carefully set. Each of the 105 nations from which the young people had come was marked by its flag and other insignias. Groups of nuns were distinguished by the traditional habits characteristic of each order or congregation. All were in jolly mood. They were cheering and ready to cheer.

The pope did not disappoint them. At least half his speech consisted of a list of the nations represented. As he called each name, he looked to the audience for a cheer, setting off applause and wild wavings of flags. It was, of course, not entirely pointless. It emphasized the universality -- or at least near universality -- of the church.

This grandstanding could have been merely a small part of the address; in fact, it was the only part that addressed the young people of the world. For such an emotional speech, there were a few substantive points: a conciliatory reference to American Indians, who were protesting because they had not been consulted about the planning of the event; a mention of the sufferings of Haiti (though no apology for recognizing the regime that ousted the constitutional president); and an appeal for all those afflicted by AIDS. All good points, but not specifically challenges to young people.

You are the future, the pope told them. Would it not have been appropriate to describe for them something of the future we have created and with which they will have to deal: the widening gap between the rich North and the poor South; the threat to human survival represented by the ecological destruction? There seems little point in gathering them from the four corners of the earth simply to tell them what they already know -- that they are the future.

Although John Paul told the young people that he had come to listen, the process at the World Youth Forum, in which the official delegates prepared a message to the pope, was carefully controlled to ensure that he would bear only what he likes to hear. For four days before his arrival, they discussed in secret what they would say. Two delegates gave a carefully supervised press conference each day. Victor Khrul of Moscow told us that they were working hard to address questions about overall themes posed by church officials.

When a reporter asked Irene Szumlakowski of Spain whether that included birth control, her handler, Msgr. Guzman Cariquirry, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, answered for her. This is not an issue for them, he said. They are dealing with important things, like famine in Africa. He then turned to Irene who obediently nodded agreement.

And so it went. As they were leaving, I addressed a friendly comment in Spanish to Irene. Before she could answer, another handler, who apparently did not understand Spanish and feared an indiscreet reply, grasped her by the shoulder and whisked her away, saying they were late for lunch.

The Vatican's efforts to manipulate the media have always been heavy-handed. Apparently they have become even worse since Opus Dei's Joaquin Navarro-Valls became head of the Vatican press office. Certainly in Denver, we saw little of the openness of John XXII or the Second Vatican Council.
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Title Annotation:Papal Visit
Author:MacEoin, Gary
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Aug 27, 1993
Previous Article:Hark! It's the sound of protest: reformers, others vie for the papal ear.
Next Article:Pope visits Catholic minority in Jamaica.

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