The window to meaning
10.01.2006

 Did the Pope's public dying give rise to a new pious awakening or even reflection on the importance of the authority of the Church? Or are there other, psychological explanations for the enormous interest and emotional intensity displayed by huge numbers of young people, and not only Catholics? rheingold put young people on the couch and came to conclusions that are in line with findings of other rheingold studies on young people.


- Young people's participation in the suffering, death, and burial of John Paul II is not only the result of a 'new piety'.

Young people were moved by the suffering and dying of a person known to all and, despite all his contradictions, a very popular person. In a dramatic way, he made them aware of the ultimate consequences of life, suffering, and passing.

- The occurrences at and on St. Peter's Square opened a 'window to meaning' for young people for a few days.

The façade of the Papal residence became a projection screen for central life issues. The curtains of the windows of his splendid apartments at once concealed and revealed the respective state of his suffering. The pontiff, visibly in pain and exhausted, struggling and not capitulating till the end of his earthly existence, showed himself through this window for the last time. People intuitively grasped the cruel truth of his final message: suffering, austerity, and pain are just as much a part of human life just as joy or desire.


- The dying Pope symbolized and revealed the meaning of passion 

Young people secretly long for a 'passionate life'. They live in an age in which passions (emotion and suffering) can only be experienced in a mediated or 'consumable' form: as a cinema spectacle, as a fun sport, as a self-experience event. They are detached in large part from life contexts in which Becoming and Passing, suffering and enduring, perseverance and consequences, true sense and sensibility are offered - or even demanded!The pain and suffering of the Pope called to mind the 'empty spots' in young people's own lives and enabled young people to experience them. This moved young people and made them want to take part in, and be a part of, what was going on. 

- Suffering together as temporary redemption from an intolerable situation

Whether on St. Peter's Square or at home talking with friends - young people rediscovered fateful issues and ideas over the period of a few emotional days. What do we live for? What is 'truly' important in life? What will become of us? They confronted these existential issues more directly because someone was experiencing them for them - in a radical and vicarious way. Suffering with the Pope also meant being 'carried along' to a different, truer reality far beyond their own horizons. 


- Instead of lasting consequences there will soon be a return to normality 

Based on the insights that rheingold has gained into this issue, it believes that this 'window to meaning' will soon close again for young people. Everyday life and its accustomed rituals will soon overtake and cover up these new experiences and emotions. The impressions and aftereffects of the suffering, dying, and 'going forth' of the Pope are currently culminating in calls for him to be canonized soon. Then a certain jolt back to normality will be recognizable. As an 'icon' and 'young people's idol', Karol Woityla can ascend to the pantheon of posthumous veneration. At the same time, however, this will prevent young people from dealing further with existential fateful experiences such as the finiteness of life, loss, and the impossibility of returning.


- A missed chance?

The events of the past weeks clearly show that 'today's youth' are capable of being passionate and enthusiastic, like every generation before them. But young people today live in conditions which can be described as being 'unruly'. Unemployment among youth, an absence of visions, a lack of perspectives, and a dearth of leadership strengths on the part of the older generation exacerbate young people's feelings of helplessness and their inability to take action. Young people are suffering less from a lack of movement than from a lack of moving experiences! Young people are longing for meaning, sensuality, and perspectives. Thus, the events in Rome were an appeal, a call for help, and a demonstration - directed to the adult generation that is still alive. Due to the very touching and surprising choice of Cardinal Ratzinger, young people's new commitment to and passion for the Pope can lead to a new youth movement in Germany. World Youth Day in Cologne in August had groundbreaking significance. rheingold will follow this development in further studies.

© 2015 rheingold