Even in Death, a Media Superstar

Popular Reaction Reveals Upsurge in Religion

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ROME, APRIL 16, 2005 (ZENIT.org).- John Paul II’s death attracted an unprecedented level of interest from the media and the population in general. The Global Language Monitor organization has the data to prove the great media interest.

As of the day of the Pope’s funeral, there had been 12 million Internet citations, and 100,000 stories around the world in the media. In comparison, for the entire preceding year there were only 28,000 news stories and 1.5 million Internet citations about John Paul II.

The coverage, noted Global Language Monitor, far exceeded attention given to other events such as the South Asian tsunami, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and the deaths of Ronald Reagan and Princess Diana. Within the first 72 hours of the Pope’s death there were about 10 times more news stores on John Paul II than were published in the same period on U.S. President George Bush following his re-election last November.

An analysis of the coverage shows that the word «historic» was associated with the Pope nearly 3 million times, while «conservative» is associated some 1.75 million times, and «loved» or «beloved» some 600,000 times.

Meanwhile, Catholic Internet sites saw a boom in use. Catholic sites recorded a 118% jump in market share of online visits for the week ending April 9, versus the randomly selected week ending Nov. 6 last year, according to the monitoring company Hitwise USA Incorporated. A report on the data was published Thursday by DM News.

The Pope’s death also triggered an avalanche of Internet searches. For the week ending April 2, searches of the keywords «pope john paul» were up 3,161%, «pope» 2,801%, and «pope john paul ii» 2,307%.

The biggest beneficiary of the searches on the word “pope,» at 11% of all searches, was the Vatican Web site (www.vatican.va). Followers-up, with 10% each, were www.catholic.net and the Google News page (www.news.google.com).

Newspapers and television

Newspaper coverage was also abundant. The British newspaper Independent noted some data regarding the press in the United Kingdom. According to an April 10 article, on the Monday following the Pope’s death the Daily Mirror dedicated 19 pages to the issue, the Independent 13 pages, and the Times 11 pages. Other papers had similar levels of coverage, with exception of the Sun, which limited its coverage to just two pages.

The attention was notable, according to the Independent’s analysis of the media coverage. Britain is not only a very secularized country, with little space given in the media to religion, but the traditional religion is Anglican.

In fact, Guardian journalist Martin Kettle commented in an April 5 article: «The funeral of a pope, let us be clear, has never until now been the sort of event deemed to require the attendance of the British prime minister — or even of the Archbishop of Canterbury.»

Television coverage was also ample. The Associated Press on April 12 reported that more than 9 million people in the United States either wakened early or stayed up late to watch the Pope’s funeral (it started at 4 a.m. on the East Coast and 1 a.m. on the West Coast).

Television channels in the Arab world also gave large amounts of air-time to the Pope. An Agence France-Presse report on April 3 noted that Qatar-based Al-Jazeera, famous for screening videotapes by Osama bin Laden, was among the first to announce the death of John Paul II.

In Lebanon, the Al-Manar satellite television of the Shiite fundamentalist movement Hezbollah interrupted its programs after the announcement of the Pope’s death to broadcast live from the Vatican. Four other private Lebanese stations and the public Tele-Liban did the same.

On the Sunday following the Holy Father’s death, Al-Jazeera continued providing widespread coverage, as did Dubai-based Al-Arabiya. These two stations, along with many others throughout the Arab world, also aired several documentaries about John Paul II.

Book sales up

Book sales were also affected by the Pope’s death. An April 10 report by the Associated Press noted that in the subsequent days several titles quickly reached the top 20 of online booksellers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Leading titles include five by John Paul: «The Way to Christ»; «Memory and Identity»; «Pope John Paul: In My Own Words»; «Rise, Let Us Be on Our Way»; and «Crossing the Threshold of Hope.»

Another popular book has been «Witness to Hope,» a biography by George Weigel. Only hours after the Pope’s death, HarperCollins announced that a new book by Weigel, not yet titled, would come out by year-end and «examine the death of the pope and the Catholic Church he left behind, while also offering an unparalleled inside account of the election of the next pope.»

On Thursday the Associated Press reported from Italy that sales of John Paul II’s last book, «Memory and Identity: Conversations Between Millenniums,» have increased by 50%, to about 12,000 copies a day, since his death. The data came from the book’s publisher, Rizzoli.

People power

A number of commentators have tried to account for John Paul II’s popularity, especially among young people. Gerard Baker, writing in London’s Times on April 8, noted that John Paul II offered the multitudes of youth «a personality and leadership that many young people especially admire and crave, even if they find his exhortations hard to follow.» Moreover, he continued, «it is the young who idealistically seek the truth and are sometimes ridiculed for it by more cynical elders.»

Analyzing the causes behind the multitude of pilgrims who came to Rome to pay homage to John Paul II, an article by Matthew Schofield in the Philadelphia Inquirer last Tuesday commented that even though many disagree with some Church teachings, the cultural roots of religion still go deep.

As well, the article cited Johannes Christian Koecke, of Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Stiftung research center, who, commenting on John Paul II, said, «I think, in the end, he was feeding a latent desire in Europeans for the church and for belief.» Europe has lacked orientation in recent years, added Koecke, and the Pope had given the continent what was lacking.

Schofield also cited Grace Davie, the director of the Center for European Studies at Exeter University in England. She said the reaction to the Pope’s death «exposes the fragility of European secularism.»

Davie doubted that the young people who flocked to see the Pope overlooked his religious message. «The most popular religious leaders in the world right now use the means of modernity to question the values of modernity,» she said. «It’s a very successful approach around the world, and he was very good at it.»

And even the New York Times, in an article Thursday, had to admit the Pope’s success with young people. «No matter who is chosen as the next pope, John Paul II has left behind a generation of committed young Roman Catholics who are already shaping the church in a more conservative mold than did their parents,» the article observed.

The New York Times noted the increase in seminarians who are faithful to papal teachings, the youth groups that promote Eucharistic adoration and pray the rosary, and the interest by many in the theology of the body developed by John Paul II.

Youth evangelization, the article commented, was a priority of John Paul II, and this, combined with the growth of lay movements, has provided the Church with a new generation of enthusiastic believers. A gift left by John Paul II to whoever may be his successor.

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