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Thursday, March 08, 2007

A Tale of Two Popes



The Times, March 08, 2007 reports that in his new book on his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI admits that he was not happy at the prospect of Pope John Paul II sharing a platform with Bob Dylan, the “self-styled prophet of pop”, at Bologna in 1997, and that he tried his utmost to stop the spectacle.

The Times reports:

"Bob Dylan and the Pope were an unlikely double act for a rendition of the 1970s anthem Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.

But even the crowd of pop fans who were brought to their knees by the appearance of Pope John Paul II alongside Dylan could scarcely have imagined the rift that it caused.

The Pope’s chief aide, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was so appalled at the prospect of the pontiff sharing a platform with the “self-styled prophet of pop” that he tried his utmost to stop the spectacle. The Pope overruled him.

The cardinal, now Pope Benedict XVI, says in a book to be published next week that while he agreed with his predecessor on most matters, he did not share his liking for pop music. “There was reason to be sceptical, and I was,” Pope Benedict writes in the book, John Paul II, My Beloved Predecessor. “Indeed, in a certain sense I still am today.”

At the concert in Bologna, attended by 300,000 people in 1997, Dylan – who was born into a Jewish family in Minnesota but later flirted with Christianity – sang Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door and A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, his antiwar classic, with Forever Young as an encore.

He did not sing his 1963 hit Blowin’ in the Wind, but John Paul II – who was known for his showmanship and media skills – showed his familiarity with the song and based his homily on it in an effort to connect with the audience.

“You say the answer is blowing in the wind, my friend,” he said. “So it is: but it is not the wind that blows things away, it is the breath and life of the Holy Spirit, the voice that calls and says, Come!” This brought the house down. The Pope added: “You ask me how many roads a man must walk down before he becomes a man. I answer: there is only one road for man, and it is the road of Jesus Christ, who said, ‘I am the Way and the Life’.”

Pope Benedict says that he “doubts to this day whether it was right to let this kind of so-called prophet take the stage” in front of the Pope. He admits that John Paul did get across a spiritual message that was otherwise largely “ignored by the entertainment industry”.


The Telegraph has a different spin.

"The Pope tried to stop Bob Dylan playing for the late John Paul II because he feared the musician was a "prophet" whose beliefs were at odds with the Roman Catholic Church.

In a new book of memoirs about his predecessor, Pope Benedict recalls the events of the World Eucharist Congress at Bologna in 1997, a gathering of 300,000 young Catholic pilgrims who were to be exposed to the singer's iconoclastic songs and their "completely different" message.

Pope Benedict wrote: "The Pope appeared tired, exhausted. At that very moment the stars arrived, Bob Dylan and others whose names I do not remember.

''They had a completely different message from the one which the Pope had.

"There was reason to be sceptical - I was, and in some ways I still am - over whether it was really right to allow this type of 'prophet' to appear."

Pope Benedict is known to have a strong dislike of popular music."

The Independent tries to explain the opposition of the present Pope to the joint appearance:

"Pope Benedict's admission is no surprise. A pianist who relaxes by playing Bach and Mozart, he has made no attempt to hide his dislike of the church's use of pop music to ingratiate itself with the young. Last year he called for an end to electric guitars and modern music in church and a return to traditional music. "The liturgy is not a theatrical text, and the altar is not a stage," he said. He has described "great mass gatherings" of pop fans as "a kind of cult, at odds with the cult of Christianity". He quietly cancelled the Vatican's annual Christmas pop concert.

Gerald O'Connell, an expert on Vatican affairs, commented: "I think the difference in their approaches comes from their very different life experiences. John Paul II went camping and canoeing with young people. He enjoyed singing round the campfire when he was at university. It's a question of different sensitivies. It's a sign of honesty in Benedict that he reveals this." But it is also part of a more general turning away from pop culture on the part of the church - in part a reaction to criticisms of Western materialism by prominent Muslims.

When Lou Reed, Alanis Morissette and the Eurythmics starred at a May Day concert attended by the Pope in his jubilee year, the bishop in charge, Fernando Charrier, said: "Do not be astonished. Rock is an expression of today's world, particularly dear to the young. All [forms of] human expression, when they have dignity, command respect. I do not believe there has ever existed a [form of] rock that is diabolical."

But with the condemnation of the materialist, consumption-mad West by Islamic writers in recent years, the church has had a rethink. "Something we should all give up, not just for Lent but for good," said the National Catholic Register last month, is "the excesses of pop culture ... Our first duty is to opt out of the aspects of pop culture that have become so debased ... The arts have become a cesspool."

If Benedict is a fogey, he is in good company. Meanwhile, his Bobness has only happy memories of Bologna. "That show was one of the best I ever played in my whole life," he said. "


Comment:

As an old fogey, who has never seen why Bob Dylan is so highly regarded, the incident is simply another example of the saintliness of Pope John Paul II. Despite being very old and ill, he voluntarily undertook to listen to a live performance of the fractured tones of Bob Dylan in the cause of what he saw as a greater good.

It could not have been easy.