The Young and the Conclave

The JP2 Generation has arrived, and the evidence is seen throughout Rome.

This month, I am in Rome reporting on the conclave, the election and installation of the new pope, and the new pope’s first Holy Week and Easter Sunday. Back home, the secular news media is filtering the election of the next pope through the lens of politicking, posturing, and power grabbing. Prevailing secular wisdom suggests that sensation sells. But, inside St. Peter’s Square, that narrative falls on the deaf ears of 20- and 30-something “JP2 Generation” pilgrims awaiting the election of the new pope.

Young religious brothers and sisters lead scores of pilgrims through the sacred sites of Rome, 30-something curial officials dart through St. Peter’s Square en route to their posts inside the Vatican, Swiss guards – most under 30 – stand vigil at its gates, and 20 and 30-something pilgrims kneel before the tomb of Blessed Pope John Paul II inside St. Peter’s basilica. Youthful and energetic Catholics like these have given their lives to the Church. This month, scores of them are converging on Rome from all four corners of the globe, seeking spiritual refuge from a world that reduces all things to matters of ambition and power seeking.

The secular media’s filter is rooted in the claim that life’s most important and meaningful things are those we take for ourselves. It is said that ambition, like sensation, satisfies the hunger of post-modern man. Young pilgrims converging on St. Peter’s Square disagree.

Those pilgrims matured in secularized, capitalized, and industrialized societies. Wealth was abundant. YouTube videos make fun of their “first world problems.” For them, life was there for the taking. But, that’s the kind of world the “JP2 Generation” chose to leave behind.

It found the fleeting and plastic nature of secular, materialistic, and consumerist societies unfulfilling and incapable of captivating and corresponding to their most fundamental desires. Instead, the JP2 Generation craved something that could neither be snatched nor grabbed. It desired the surprising and generous love of Christ. More than taking from the world, that generation wanted to make a valid contribution to it. It wanted to receive something that man could not give himself.

At seminaries around Rome, numerous men in their 20s and 30s are seeking ordination to the priesthood. Spiritual sacrifice appeals to them much more than temporal ambition. John Paul Mitchell is one case in point. He is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Cardinal Dolan’s last stop before becoming the archbishop of New York. Mitchell studies at the Pontifical North American College on the Janiculum Hill, which overlooks the Vatican. After obtaining a prestigious graduate degree in media studies from Colombia, he left behind a promising career in journalism. Instead, he chose to seek Christ as a priest. Stories like Mitchell’s are abundant here in Rome.

Inside the Sala Stampa and the Vatican’s Media Center at the Pope Paul VI Hall, located one floor below the cardinals’ meeting room for the general congregations, JP2 Generation’s journalists work into the late hours, getting little sleep and eating even less. Their task is to transmit their stories of faith to readers and viewers back home in the states.

Long after seasoned journalists from the world’s largest media outlets head home from work, these pilgrim-journalists continue their labors of love.

A couple nights ago, I was working inside the Sala Stampa. The lights had been shut off and the doors had been locked. I was the last journalist inside the building. Reporters from Reuters and the AP, among others, had called it quits for the time being, heading off to fine dinners at Rome’s most exclusive restaurants. Over a little bit of Nutella and Italian bread, I continued to work late into the night, attempting to meet deadlines and to transmit news to faithful Catholics back home. I’m no different from countless other freshmen journalists here in Rome this month. Together, we constitute a roving mob of foot soldiers for Christ, making our little contributions to the new evangelization.

The point is that folks back home aren’t getting the complete scoop. While the secular news media might be reading the events in Rome in terms of power grabs among cardinals and ambitious quests after the papal tiara, the truth of the matter is that the Church stands upon a momentous springtime of faith in the midst of a Roman winter.

The JP2 Generation has arrived. Blessed Pope John Paul II returned to the “house of the Father” almost a decade ago. And, the Church is about to embrace his second successor. Those who were still maturing during his pontificate have come of age, now. Members of the JP2 Generation are setting to work on the task of the new evangelization.

On the far side of St. Peter’s Square, along the Via della Conciliazione, scores of journalists broadcast their transmissions to all the corners of the globe while tourists rushed through the piazza, snapping pictures of the famous sites. But in a quiet corner of the square, close to the basilica itself, a group of pilgrims from Brazil stood beneath the World Youth Day cross.

The next pope will meet with countless 20 and 30-something pilgrims in Rio de Janeiro this coming summer in the context of the 2013 World Youth Day, an international gathering of youth Blessed Pope John Paul II began in the mid-1980s.

Just below the central loggia, where the new pope will make his first appearance, those pilgrims recited the Marian rosary and read passages from Scripture. The Cross and Christ’s Word together constitute the real narrative of faith for the young pilgrims gathering here in Rome. To get their stories straight, the secular news media might want to catch up with them.

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About John Paul Shimek 0 Articles
John Paul Shimek is a Roman Catholic theologian and a specialist on Vatican affairs. In March 2013, he reported from Rome on the election of Pope Francis, the first Latin American pope in the history of the Catholic Church.