Pounding, blaring din pumped through giant speakers. Youngsters twisting their bodies in a choreographic equivalent of an orgy neatly harmonised with a Nuremberg rally.
Blazing strobe lights that would kill an average epileptic. Inflatable balls being tossed up in the air. Booze everywhere.
Does this look like a Catholic mass to you? No, not to me either. However, Pope Francis is ecstatic – his confession has found new ways to attract teenagers.
The pioneering effort, called Rave4Christ, was undertaken by the Naples priest Don Michele Madonna, who took up the cloth after a successful career as DJ at his father’s disco.
Having found himself working in a poor area of Naples, Don Michele noticed that most of the local youngsters preferred crime to any productive activity. They could only be saved by Jesus, he decided, which conclusion was par for the course in his new profession.
But how could he bring them into the church, where Jesus could do his salvaging job? The task seemed impossible at first, but then Don Michele experienced a Damascene epiphany. I don’t know if he, like Paul, fainted and fell off his horse, but the effect was as revelatory.
Don Michele realised he had to blend the objectives of his new calling with the tricks of the old one. Once that overarching idea formed in his mind, the rest was a matter of mere technicalities.
A mass must be turned into a rave, but what could it be called? Clearly, the Italian language couldn’t accommodate such a daunting challenge – English, especially its Twitter variety, had to pick up the slack. Hence Rave4Christ, which makes the adman in me crack an avuncular smile.
A promotional leaflet flew off the press and into the shanty areas of Naples: “An evening in which we want to enjoy ourselves, dance, sing and stay together. And all for free, including the consumption (sandwich and drinks).”
What, no weed, no E, no meth, no oxy, no coke? Oh well, give Don Michele time to develop every potential of his brilliant idea. And develop it he will, considering the encouragement he has received from up high.
No, not quite from Christ himself, but from His Vicar, Pope Francis. His Holiness found time in his busy schedule to pick up the phone and congratulate Don Michele personally. The specifics of the conversation haven’t been divulged, but I wonder if the Pope had a few practical suggestions to make.
He could have stolen my thunder and reiterated the idea of dispensing free drugs. Or else turning the whole affair nudist – that too might put more bums, or in this case bare feet, on pews. Flagellation, body paint, perhaps even simulated human sacrifice (the police might have something to say about the real thing) – all these may herd even more of those criminalised youngsters into Don Michele’s church.
However, they would be unlikely to undergo a catharsis once there, at least not a Christian kind. The fact that deafening dance beats may accompany remixed Christian songs is meaningless.
Those feral teenagers won’t respond to the message even if they can discern it behind the incoherent electronic cacophony to which they gyrate. Can you make out the lyrics of pop songs at a rave or in a disco? I bet you can’t. I know I wouldn’t be able to, if I ever patronised such entertainment.
Don Michele and, judging by his response, Pope Francis refuse to understand that it’s not enough to draw youngsters into a Christian church. It must be done by Christian methods and to a Christian end.
The apostles didn’t convert people by bribing them with handouts and cheap, vaguely satanic entertainment. They did so by fiery sermons that ignited souls, inspired minds and changed lives. The task was hard, and they didn’t succeed every time. Often they ended up beaten, imprisoned, killed.
But they never renounced the dignity of their faith, never demeaned its grandeur, never resorted to vulgar tricks. They realised something that escapes today’s lot: neither persecution nor limited appeal will bring the Church down.
Persecution comes and goes, appeal ebbs and flows, but the Church survives come what may. Neither cruelty nor apathy can destroy it. But vulgarity can.
Our Anglican priestesses insist on wearing tight vestments accentuating their charms, claiming that would increase turnouts. (Looking at most of them, I can confidently predict exactly the opposite effect, but that’s beside the point.) Raves are routinely held in our great churches – we once fled from Winchester Cathedral when one was about to kick off.
Now the Catholic Church has begun to follow suit. The holy fathers ought to remind themselves that their job is to raise people to Christ, not lower Him to the basement level where vulgarity reigns.
Only church music belongs in churches. A Byrd motet, a Bach cantata or a MacMillan chorale do provide the requisite spiritual hoist, whereas pop din is bound to stamp the spirit into the dirt liberally mixed with vomit.
The deafening monotonous beat hinting unsubtly at coital gymnastics bypasses the mind and spirit altogether, appealing directly to the putrid swamp of dark cravings sloshing about in underdeveloped souls. The souls of those Naples louts are as underdeveloped as any, and they are guaranteed to turn Rave4Christ into Rave4Rave.
They’ll be leaving Don Michele’s church with the nihilistic beat imploding their heads, not with the words of Christ ringing in their hearts. My guess is they’ll be committing more crimes, not fewer.
Perhaps Don Michele ought to do some soul-searching and reconsider his career change. He may be happier back in a disco – once in, never out. I’d suggest the Church would be happier too, should he revert to his old trade.