Thursday, March 20, 2008

Marc Fisher on "Celebrity vs. Spiritual" and Benedict XVI

"Celebrity vs. Spiritual" in the Papal Visit Washington Post March 20, 2008:

. . . In our celebrity-drenched culture, fame brings with it a certain sacrifice of privacy and of dignity, yet the Pope must remain almost above all a figure of majesty and mystery. Yet the most beloved popes of modern times have been those whose humanity broke through to people of all cultures, and that message has been communicated largely by the Vatican's increasingly sophisticated approach to mass media.

So a touring pope is a rock star of sorts, even as he must operate on a different plane altogether. "He's a celebrity in a very unique area," the archbishop of Washington says, "a voice for religious faith."

Do the trappings of celebrity in some way diminish the pope's authority, I asked.

"That is a real possibility," Wuerl says. But it's also true that "he comes with such a focused message and it's clearly not focused on himself. He's come really to be a voice and a spokesman for a message."

The clash between celebrity and representative of one of the world's oldest and largest faiths is especially clear in this country, and in this city. "In a secular society, the church is trying to be faithful to the spiritual," Wuerl says. Even though the Catholic Church has seen its membership numbers decline in many parts of the United States, the archbishop says he believes that as young, lapsed or disaffected Catholics grow into adulthood, they start to wonder how to reconnect with the faith of their childhood.

"Ultimately, it's the recognition that there is something there in the church that speaks to their innermost needs and that connects them to God in a way that they cannot be as an individual," he says.