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Francisco J. Pérez-Latre, business Informative and Information Structure, University of Navarra, Spain

Religion on the front pages and in the streets

Wed, 17 Aug 2011 08:08:43 +0000 Published in

Hoy, El Norte de Castilla, La Voz de Cádiz, La Voz de Jerez, Diario de Navarra, El Norte de Castilla, La Voz de Cádiz, La Voz de Jerez, Diario de Navarra

There are only a few days left before Benedict XVI arrives in Spain for the World Youth Day workshop . This is another brilliant idea of John Paul II, who in his 26 editions, has taken religion from Santiago de Compostela to Czestochowa; from Manila to Toronto, from Denver to Buenos Aires, from Cologne to Sidney. From August 16 to 21, the world will be watching Madrid, with massive audiences in the streets and on the media screens: a true global party with a million guests, full of color, youthful enthusiasm, excellent photos and images.
The Pope's "media value" received a considerable boost during the pontificate of John Paul II. The media echoed his multitudinous meetings, with audiences sometimes beyond the reach of political leaders and even music stars. The Polish Pope's words reached unprecedented crowds until the end. John Paul II lived surrounded by cameras.
The research in communication shows that when the "media visibility" increases, then there can be decreases, but the visibility is already at higher levels than before. For this reason, the media presence of John Paul II continues in the pontificate of Benedict XVI, who is frequently found on the front page of digital and printed editions, or opening television news programs. Religion fascinates the crowds, it is an indispensable interlocutor, and its opinion is sought in debates and public conversations. At the same time, it is highly controversial and polemical (and that is very interesting from a news point of view). The Pope is followed by many, and criticized by many, but no one can ignore him anymore.
Just think of some recent events. For example, the international broadcast of Benedict XVI's Mass at the Sagrada Familia, which lasted three hours, achieved in Catalonia a share of 33 (for those not initiated in television audiences, this is a figure reserved for soccer matches). TV3 itself was aware of the issue when it said in its promotion: "tomorrow the world will be watching us". Or the Pope's trip to the United Kingdom in September 2010, when the BBC's impressive live coverage and webcasting of the integrity of the visit was a direct way to reach many citizens throughout the English-speaking world: from England to the United States and Australia; from Canada to India; from Ireland to South Africa. The massive beatification of John Paul II on May 1 was another milestone in this regard.
Religion is a matter of maximum interest; source of literary "best sellers" (just think of the books of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, as the big publishers, from Planeta to Random House, have discovered); television programs with audiences in the millions; videos with massive circulation on YouTube; Twitter accounts with thousands of followers. From this point of view, one could say that the "religion market" is a "heavy users" market, where significant numbers of people consume large amounts of content. Events such as the World Youth conference and the Pope's trips have a massive following, demand and assured media coverage, at a time when attention is a scarce and precarious commodity.
The same goes for movies. You Will Find Dragons, which premiered in Spain in March, sold a hundred thousand tickets in pre-sales and then surpassed 3 million dollars at locker. Some experts already speak of "the market of faith", after successes such as The Passion of the Christ (2004); The Great Silence (2005), about daily life in a Charterhouse; The Last cima (2010), which narrates the life of a priest from Madrid who died in a mountaineering accident; Of Gods and Men (2010), which deals with a community of Algerian monks and achieved success with audiences and critical acclaim in France. "The blind side" (2009), the story of a Christian family that takes in a young homeless man, won Sandra Bullock an Oscar.
Religion interests citizens and the media: the questions it raises are unavoidable, we cannot escape its influence and, for this reason, it will remain at the center of public conversation. It is a moral, intellectual and historical reference point, standing up for the weak, and reminding us, among other things, that forgiveness exists, and that we must strive to be better. The workshop World Youth Day will once again put religion and Benedict XVI in the limelight: society is celebrating... And so is the media.