Tuesday, January 16
SHRINE EXCLUSIVE! George Weigel Speaks!
Drew of the Shrine and I recently received permission to exclusively post the text of a recent address by by noted papal biographer and Catholic author George Weigel given on November 28th, 2006 at the World Youth Alliance Headquarters in New York. The WYA, which Weigel describes in great detail in his speech, is a global coalition of young people committed to promoting the dignity of the person and building solidarity among youth from developed and developing nations and is dedicated to showing young people how to affirm life at all levels of society. On their website, they list as their inspiration the work of John Paul II, Jacques Maritain and psychologist Viktor Frankl, and have spoken out in defense of the family as a "school of deeper humanity," against human cloning and abortion as "symptoms of a flawed understanding of the human person," as well as promoting issues of world health and international law. We are pleased to be able to reproduce the text of this speech by George Weigel, which we hope will serve as a fine introduction to their work. Ladies and Gentlemen of the web, Mr. Weigel:
Let me preface my remarks on what happens here, and elsewhere through the World Youth Allience, with what we might call “a tale of two cities.” Great title for a novel, that; someone should use it…
The first of these is Krakow, in Poland, the city of John Paul II, where for the past 15 years Michael Novak, Richard John Neuhaus, Father Maciej Zieba, and I have run a three week crash-course in Catholic social doctrine, primarily for students from the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe, but each year flavored by 10 students from North America.
We were in the 10th year of the program, by which point one thinks that one has seen everything, but on our first night, in the Saint Hyacinth chapel of the Dominican Basilica in Krakow, there was something…new.
The Basilica dates to the Middle Ages. The chapel is where the relics of Saint Hyacinth, the first Polish Dominican, a man clothed with the Dominican habit by Saint Dominic himself, are entombed. (Well, most of them, anyway; I believe his head is in a different reliquary down in the sacristy.) It’s a very tight space, but we have the opening Mass there because we want our students, from the beginning, to be immersed in the religious history they’ll be living for the next 3 weeks.
So, everybody is cramped, and after receiving Holy Communion, I was looking down - I don’t know whether I was sitting or kneeling - but all I could see coming by me were shoes… and at the tail end of the line comes a pair of the most outrageous red patent leather shoes I’ve ever seen in my life… and I discreetly look up and there is this slight young lady with, if memory serves, a black mantilla.
I thought “This is interesting.”
So I said to my assistant on the way to the opening dinner, I said, “What’s with the red shoes and who let her in here?”
She said, “that’s our Canadian”. And I said “Oh. Maple leaf.”
The next day, after the opening lectures, we had our first seminars in which we break down into discussion groups to read John Paul II’s seminal social encyclical Centesimus Annus, which is the foundation of this whole enterprise. And I had Miss Red Patent Leather Shoes – although she wasn’t wearing them this time. And to tell you the truth, I was blown away by Anna Halpine. She had such a maturity, a knowledge, a political seriousness, a deep understanding of the philosophical and the deep theological roots of the problems of human dignity that express themselves in the assault on life in so many ways around the world, that I was sold within a day. And over the next three weeks, I tried to learn more from Anna about what she was doing.
And she told me a remarkable story – which has the added benefit of being true--it’s not just a good story, it’s a true story. She had come to New York to pursue graduate studies of music. And the cave of the winds over there on 1st Avenue (otherwise know as the UN) was doing its usual nonsense having to do with “reproductive rights.” The usual suspects had flown in the usual bought-and-paid-for kids from around the world to say “we, the young people of the world, want abortion on demand, we want same-sex marriage…”, and so forth.
And this music student said, “They’re not speaking for me.” So she and some friends organized themselves and started leafletting the UN saying, “These kids do not speak for the youth in the world, you need to talk to somebody else”. And out of that cut-and-paste initiative came the World Youth Alliance. This kind of an event could not have been imagined at that time.
But I think from there to here one can see the finger of Providence on this enterprise, which has been driven by great energy and great imagination but also I think – frankly - by prayer. This has been a work of the spirit in the fullest sense of the term.
If Krakow is the first of our two cities, the second city is Toronto, where, this past summer, the XVI World Aids Conference was going on. It got the usual cursory attention in the press: Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, and so forth. Yet in fact what was in fact going on was a kind of Saturnalia. The leading official representing the U.S. government at this conference is one of my oldest friends, a man who has seen a lot in his time. Yet he told me, a few weeks ago over lunch, that “I was physically ill at the conference.” Why? Because it was not, largely, about helping people with AIDS; it was about affirming the most bizarre expressions of human sexual willfulness, and doing so in public. My friend said, “I was just physically ill at this display of decadence.” The World AIDS Conference was not about compassion; it was not about caring; it was not about cure; it was about the assertion of the self. And in the midst of that horror show, there were Dr. Tim Flanigan and these World Youth Alliance kids standing for something else: standing for the true dignity of the human person made in the image and likeness of God.
That is another image that tells us something about the work of the World Youth Alliance and how important it is to support the possibility of raising a different kind of flag in very difficult circumstances.
Anna will give you tonight, when you leave, a list, a summary of what the World Youth Alliance and its various regional affiliates have been doing over the last year. Let me just highlight a few things, grouped in my own way around three headings:
The first thing that has being going on is what I would call reaching out and training young activists. Do take a copy of that WYA training manual with you tonight. This is like going to college again. This is a brilliantly compact crash-course in how to think about the human person, issues of human sexuality, the public sphere, etcetera, all between two covers.
The kids who are going through this training -- either online, or in WYA sessions around the world -- are coming out of this a batter education in being able to deal with their own country’s situation and the global situation than they would get in many of the colleges and universities.
So that’s something you really want to take a look at, and to understand that this is going on all the time, both through the internet and in person. These interns that you see, from all over the world tonight, are a microcosm of the enterprise; and how great it is that young people can come together, and discover each other, and learn together, now literally together, thanks to Villa Seabright here. This is a good sign for the future.
The second WYA “deliverable” takes us where this all started and that is lobbying. Which means going into the UN, going into the EU, going to Strasbourg, going to the UN agencies in Africa and Asia and elsewhere, and raising a different flag than the flag that has been raised in those agencies by bought-and-paid-for young people promoting what the late John Paul II called the “culture of death”.
This is not just a question of witnessing. The Alliance has helped those legislators who want to do the right thing to draft laws, to draft UN resolutions and EU resolutions. The Alliance works effectively with people who may want to do the right thing, but who frankly don’t know how to make the argument.
On your way out tonight, look at the credo on the wall by the front door. That was very carefully written, so that, as the papal social magisterium says “all men and women of good will” can read this and say, “Yeah, maybe this is something I need to be engaged with”.
So this is a genuine ecumenical and interreligious organization with a capacity to speak to the secular world that’s recognized by delegations to the UN, by the member states of the EU, and in national legislatures – a capacity to help those with legislative responsibility put a noble vision of the dignity of the human person into laws and resolutions.
And then, finally, there’s what we might call the World Youth Alliance’s participation in the war of ideas, which is so important around the world.
WYA sponsored a fine conference at the U.N. in March to mark the first anniversary of the death of John Paul II, with presentations on his contributions to thinking about the dignity of man, human rights and the pursuit of peace.
Senator Tatad was here, Habib Malik was here, Rabbi David Novak was there, I was there. And it was impressive to find ideas that you wouldn’t expect to see promoted in that environment being put very much into play.
The Alliance sent representatives to the International Solidarity Forum on Good Governance and Corruption… a very important topic. Because, as we all know -or should know- perhaps the most serious problem in the Third World, the greatest impediment to Third World development is corruption.
If these kids can build a critical mass of young people determined to live in a different way, determined not to live a lie in their public lives, that would be an enormous thing.
On the principle, be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful, as it appears that no one is going to start eating let me bring this to an end, and then we can talk about whatever you want to talk about at the appropriate point after dinner.
In my view, there are two great threats to the human future on the horizon right now. The first is obvious, and that is the threat posed by jihadist Islam. But even as we address that threat, we can never lose sight of the threat posed by the assault on the dignity of the human person that’s embodied in the abortion license, that’s embodied in the redefinition of marriage, that’s embodied in the idea that we are just bundles of desires rather than men and women with intelligence and free will capable of knowing the good and grasping it and doing it.
This organization has been on the front line of that second great struggle. I commend its work to you, and I commend its people to you, as I commend all of us to the blessings and the mercy of God as we ask, if I may, His blessing upon this food: Bless us, O Lord, and these, thy gifts which we are about to receive, from Thy bounty through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Buon appetito, smacznego, et cetera, et cetera.
And, for your reference and edification, we append:
The World Youth Alliance Charter
The World Youth Alliance is composed of young men and women from every part of the world. In cooperation with other organs of the international community, primarily the United Nations and the European Union, the World Youth Alliance is committed to building free and just societies through a culture of life. That culture affirms the inalienable dignity of the person, defends the intrinsic right to life, nurtures the family, and fosters a social climate favorable to integral development, solidarity, and mutual respect.
We recognize that the intrinsic dignity of the person is the foundation of every human right. We believe this dignity is independent of any individual condition and that no human community can grant or rescind that dignity.
We are convinced that the intrinsic dignity possessed by every human being from conception to natural death is the foundation of everyone's right to life. We believe that this inalienable right to life is the basis of a free and just society and we believe that society through law and culture has an obligation to protect the dignity of the person and thus protect the right to life.
We affirm that the fundamental unit of human society is the family, where men and women learn to live in genuine freedom and solidarity, and where individuals are equipped to fulfill their social obligations. We believe that the political community at the local, national and international level is obliged to protect and nurture the family.
We believe that the authentic development of society can occur only in a culture that fosters integral human development - characterized by physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional growth, in a climate of respect for the human person and the family.
We invite all those who share these convictions to join us in affirming them and give them effect in public life at all levels.