What the iPhone Is Doing to World Youth Day

Interview With Communications Director for Madrid 2011

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By María de la Torre

ROME, JUNE 3, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The 2011 World Youth Day will be much like its precedents — “a party that the Holy Father convokes” — but the role that networking will play in the event is sure to give it a special flair, according to its director of communications.

Santiago de la Cierva, founder and director of the “Rome Reports” TV agency and a professor at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, was asked by the host of ’11 Youth Day, Madrid’s archbishop, Cardinal Antonio Rouco Varela, to be the director of communications.

De la Cierva said the first thing that came to his mind in response was, “Is there no one else?” But, kidding aside, the communications professor admitted these kinds of opportunities are like trains that pass by: “Someone tells you, ‘get on board,’ and with a little faith, one can realize that even though it makes your life more complicated, though there are obviously no free evenings, no weekends or vacations … deep down you realize that it’s worth it.”

De la Cierva says leading communication for World Youth Day will be “a fantastic adventure.”

“My hair is going to go gray,” he declared, “but it will be worth it because this is very much in the heart of the Church and the youth do not have many opportunities to say ‘The Church is mine.'”

ZENIT spoke with de la Cierva about the challenges of World Youth Day communication and what can be expected of the Pope when it comes to reaching out to youth with their own style of communication.

ZENIT: What will be special about Madrid 2011, compared to previous World Youth Days?

De la Cierva: Madrid 2011 will have nothing new compared to the other events, except the location, the historical moment, the hopes to do very well, everything that comes with having it in a country like Spain that has 2,000 years of Christianity and where the very stones ooze the faith, ooze a centuries-old tradition. This is what will make of Madrid 2011 a very special World Youth Day.

Taking into account that we are in Europe, at the end of Europe, but Europe nonetheless, we calculate that more than a million people will come. We will probably try to reach what happened here in Rome in the year 2000, but that doesn’t depend on us.

I think the particularity of the World Youth Day in Madrid is going to be precisely that it takes place in a country that has always been faithful to the Catholic Church. It is a country that has transmitted the faith to many continents; the majority of the Catholics of the whole world speak Spanish precisely because they have been evangelized by Spaniards, and we would like to recover this missionary spirit. Sometimes missionaries are thought of as older people who went to preach to foreign lands, but no, the missionaries were under 25. We would like to recover this spirit and present it to the youth of today.

Another characteristic of the Madrid World Youth Day will be networks. For the first time, we are going to have a World Youth Day in which really the fundamental means of communication will be the Internet, the social networks, not only as information but also as communication, to create communities. In Sydney, this already began, but I think this is going to be the explosion. Explosion as well of new technologies. In 2011, probably almost everyone who comes will have new generation cell phones. It will be very easy to be in contact, to receive information, take advantage of the phone, the terminals, to receive the translations of the Holy Father’s words, the organizational messages, etc.

ZENIT: In Sydney, the youth received text messages from the Pope. Is a surprise of this type expected in Madrid?

De la Cierva: I cannot guarantee that the Pope will send messages to people. We’re going to try, but that’s a personal [decision] of the Holy Father. We have just seen how the Holy Father has begun to use Facebook to be in contact with the youth, and this is only the beginning. Obviously we cannot ask the Holy Father to be online a couple hours a day to see if he can respond personally. That is not his mission, he doesn’t have time and we ask him for other things. But from there comes the next step: that the entire Catholic Church uses the social networks as a fundamental instrument, not only to transmit the faith but also to live it better, to know it better, to create community. To create social networks is to create social groups and sometimes we have little time. And, nevertheless, thanks to the social networks, we can be in contact and practice the faith in another, more virtual way, but also real.

ZENIT: Is there not a risk that World Youth Day becomes three days of partying and afterward, it is all forgotten until the next event — that there isn’t continuity?

De la Cierva: In Madrid, we are going to try to follow the example of Sydney and those from before, where the organization was very aware that World Youth Day is not a point of arrival but a point of departure. A point of departure, and this is very important, because World Youth Day, deep down, is nothing more than a party that the Holy Father convokes for all youth — Catholic and non-Catholic, Christian and non-Christian, but those with an interest in transcendent values and who want to sort of go into a neighbor’s house and say: “Let’s see how people live here. These people seem happy. They are joyful. They have a lot of fun and … they pray! This seems like a contradiction.”

That’s what this is about: World Youth Day is a party and all of the youth and the older people who have organized parties know that there are important elements, such as the place, the time, the music, the food — but that the most important part of a party is the people who are invited. If one gets it right with the people invited, the party’s success is guaranteed. And the same thing happens with World Youth Day. There are going to be days of partying, yes, but we are going to try to make sure that there’s a little of everything. That there is life of piety, that there is Eucharistic adoration, that there is catechesis, that there is culture, that there is fun … that there is a little of everything, because youth, like older people, cannot spend 14 hours praying. There is going to be absolutely a little of everything. Eucharistic doctrine and learning about Christian doctrine and we are going to try to make it so that the faith is known by way of the Spanish culture.

ZENIT: What could we say are the challenges at the level of communication?

De la Cierva: The challenge is to meet people’s expectations. And the expectations are very high. We have to reach three types of different audiences.

There is a first audience made up of those who are going to come to World Youth Day, and with communication, we have to prepare them so they come to what they need to come to, so that later they don’t take away any sort of disappointment, but rather the opposite. And so that once they are there, everything works well. It has to be taken into account that even though the spiritual is the important part, if it turns out they haven’t given you anything to eat, if you haven’t been able to sleep or have had to walk more than is reasonable, the spiritual loses strength.

There is a second audience, very important: Many youth who would like to come and who cannot, and will follow [the event] on TV, on the networks, on Internet, on the radio. We have to think of them too and for this, we are going to see how to make it so that all the transmissions are transmissions that almost bring you inside [the event].

And there is a third very important audience that is the people who neither have gone, nor have interest in going, but who are curious to see what is going on, what a million and a half youth are doing in Madrid, how they live, why they’re there, what is reflected on their faces. They ask: “Are they content? Are they happy? Do they help others? Do they give time to lend a hand in the parish or distribute
food in a nursing home or dress up as clowns for sick children?” This is very important for us because it is the image of the Church and we are going to use the most beautiful face of the Church, which is the youth, to explain and speak of Jesus Christ who is present in the youth and it is the youth who transmit the faith to us.

ZENIT: What would you tell a young person who is doubtful about whether to go to the Madrid World Youth Day?

De la Cierva: To a young man or woman who is asking “do I go or not go” when there is little time left, the only thing we can guarantee is that what is going to be found there will give them many answers, not all of them, to very deep questions, and they are going to find people with whom they will create bonds than can last a lifetime and at the end, they’ll say, “too bad it was only a few days.”

ZENIT: Can we say that World Youth Days are the most important of the Church’s communication events?

De la Cierva: I think World Youth Day is a very important event for the communication of the Church. I don’t know if it’s the most important, or the second or third most important, because in the end, everything that has to do with the Church is speaking of Jesus Christ and the efficacy of grace, and this cannot be measured. What’s important is that the communication of World Youth Day helps to touch the hearts of many young people — and perhaps people who aren’t so young — who see it on television. Therefore the importance is clear. It is an event that the Pope himself organizes — and it’s not that he organizes many events — and moreover, it is an opportunity to know the Catholic Church and for youth to be on all the newscasts, in all the newspapers, on covers, in magazines or on the Net. Therefore, it is to put Jesus Christ in the public arena, his message, how happy he can make us if we follow what he’s told us. If it is more or less important will depend on each individual. There will be people who have their hearts touched.

[Translation by Kathleen Naab]
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