Contrary to Barry Manilow’s decades-old assertion, the Copacabana is apparently the hottest spot south of Havana. At least it was for seven days in July when Pope Francis visited Brazil for World Youth Day. To be fair, Mr. Manilow’s 1978 disco power ballad refers to the famed Manhattan nightclub, not its South American namesake, the 2.5-mile stretch of beach that lines the shore of Rio de Janeiro.
Still, as was the case at the New York Copa, “music and passion were always in fashion” at this year’s World Youth Day. The music, of course, was that of the church’s ancient liturgy; the passion was that of our Lord in the Eucharist. Yet the Lord and his vicar on earth attracted more people to the closing Mass on the Copacabana beach than have ever attended a single Barry Manilow concert—some three million in total, the second-largest crowd in the event’s nearly 30-year history.
Like most Fanilows—as Barry’s fans are known—I belong to the 40-and-over crowd. Not so for many in Rio. Many of the participants in the closing liturgy were born 10 or even 20 years after Barry Manilow went the way of bell bottoms and Billy Carter.
But how is that possible? Members of Generation Y, the experts tell us, are supposed to have short attention spans and little interest in religion. Yet Rio tells a different tale: Even in a world framed by the immanent, people, including the under-30s, still long for the transcendent.
Peculiar to Generation Y, though, is the realization that face-to-face encounters actually matter more, not less, in a 140-character world. The phenomenon is akin to the increased value of a traditional letter in the age of the ubiquitous e-mail: Precisely because most of our communications are by text or e-mail, a handwritten letter is all the more personal, all the more powerful. Generation Y-ers intuit this digital/personal paradox.
For our part, America is responding to this phenomenon by changing the way we view our work, shifting from a mind-set in which we view ourselves as primarily a print magazine with some ancillary digital products, to a mind-set in which we view ourselves as generating content across multiple platforms, one of which is print, but also the Web, digital devices, social media and, yes, face-to-face meetings. Included in this is a shift in the way we view our audience. In the digital age, readers are no longer passive consumers of information but active co-creators of content. That’s why, beginning with this issue, your input, what we call the “Reply All” department, appears in the front of the magazine rather than the back. Also in keeping with the spirit of Gen-Y, you should be on the lookout for some invitations to face-to-face events in the months to come.
We can thank the Gen-Y-ers and others at the Rio Copacabana for one other insight: You may recall that patrons at Manilow’s Copa were told “don’t fall in love,” an especially poignant warning in light of the fate that befell Lola, the unfortunate showgirl-protagonist of the song. Just the opposite happened in Rio. Pope Francis urged us all to fall in love and stay in love, with God and with his church. In his homily, he told Generation Y that evangelizing requires a personal witness of love for God and love for others, especially the weak, the poor and the defenseless. When the psalmist says, “Sing a new song to the Lord,” Francis explained, he is not talking about a set of lyrics or a hummable melody, but “allowing our life to be identified with that of Jesus…sharing his sentiments, his thoughts, his actions.” Whether in print, online, by tweet or face-to-face, that is the goal: a life-giving encounter with one another and, ultimately, with the Son of the living God.