When Pope Benedict XVI visits the United States next week, the conservative octogenarian will be regaled with a welcome befitting a rock star, which is odd, considering his well-known distaste for pop culture.Teens at a Virginia high school have produced a video for the papal visit that opens to flashes of photographs of the pope and Rome, underpinned by a staccato drumbeat.
The students' video will be shown on a big screen at a mass, expected to be attended by 47,000 people, in Washington's new baseball stadium on April 17.Benedict particularly dislikes rock music, which he denounced at an international conference in 1986 when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger, as a "vehicle of anti-religion."
In 2000, he slammed rock music as "the expression of elemental passions" which "assumes a cultic character, a form of worship in opposition to Christian worship" at rock concerts."People are released from themselves by the experience of being part of a crowd and by the emotional shock of rhythm, noise, and special lighting effects."Yet the mass for 55,000 people that Benedict will preside over at New York's Yankee Stadium on April 20, the last day of his tour, is being produced by Stig Edgren, who has put together concerts for the likes of pop icons Cher, Gloria Estefan, and Earth, Wind and Fire.
Kelly Clarkson, winner of the first "American Idol" television talent search, will perform for Benedict at Saint Joseph Seminary in New York.She will sing hymns such as "Ave Maria" -- not rock hits like her "Since U Been Gone."
Benedict has also urged young people to shun a life built around "the possession of material things."
Yet the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has commissioned official T-shirts, listing the venues the pope will visit in Washington and New York -- like a rock band tour souvenir shirt -- and is selling them online and in shops for around 18 dollars (12 euros).Another official t-shirt on sale borrows from sports designs popular with youngsters, declaring the wearer to be "Property of Benedict XVI".
Many American Catholics, who live in the world's biggest economy where selling is widely seen as an art, were overlooking Benedict's opposition to rock music and consumerism and trying to sell the pope to young people by making him more accessible.
"This pope looks a bit sterner and isn't as charismatic as John Paul II, who had an excellent rapport with young people," said Mary Sadlack, assistant manager at the National Shrine shop in Washington, where the kiosk of papal merchandise was under siege by visitors."But I have heard from people who have been to Rome that he is really a kind man, and this is one way to get people to know that," she said.
"We are trying to make the pope and his visit more attractive to young people," said 33-year-old Mark Nelson, head of the small Ohio-based company that is working almost around the clock to make the official merchandise for the papal visit.
"It's our duty as Catholics to make sure that the teachings of the church are passed on to the next generation, and one way to do that is to make youngsters want to hear them by presenting them in a way they can relate to," he said.Though it is hard to imagine the pontiff going wild at a skate park, a skateboard club in New York actually held a contest to design a papal visit skateboard, which will be presented to the pope.
St Catherine Laboure Catholic school in Wheaton, a suburb of Washington, held a papal fair to bring the pope to life for school children.
"We learned about all the different popes, and making the costumes was fun. I got to use spray paint," Ryan Phillips, 13, one of six boys who dressed up as popes for the fair, told AFP.
In many US states, youngsters under the age of 18 cannot buy spray paint, because it is feared they will use it as an inhaled intoxicant or daub public places with graffiti.
Making the costumes and portraying the popes has "inspired us," said 13-year-old Chris White, dressed as Clement XII with a miter made out of a cereal box.Kindergartners at the school were taught "as much about the pope as a five- or six-year-old can absorb," including that Benedict's favorite drink is Fanta orange soda, said vice principal Julie Fox.At the National Shrine, 18-year-old Wesley Didrichsen was busy working the cash desk at the papal kiosk.
"The shirts are probably our best sellers," said Didrichsen, who has ambitions to become a priest.As if to prove him right, Conchita, a youthful-looking grandmother from Quezon province in the Philippines, stepped up and bought a "Pope Tour" T-shirt. She then posed for a photo next to an almost life-size cardboard cut-out of Benedict.