The declared objective of World Youth Day (WYD), a Catholic Church event staged in a major world city every 2–3 years, is to evangelize youth – including those on the fringes of, and outside, the Church. The 20th WYD, which was held in Cologne, Germany in 2005, was the subject of a project conducted by a research consortium funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). The preliminary hypothesis that WYD combines elements of traditionalistic festivals and modernistic events and that this combination yields a new event form – the “hybrid event” – was confirmed.
This paper presents some of the findings gained from an ethnographic investigation of the organization of WYD that was informed by an action-theory perspective in the tradition of Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann's sociology of knowledge. From this perspective, which focuses on the goals, strategies, and personal relevancies of the organizing team (German) WYD can be unequivocally reconstructed as a Catholic Church marketing event. The “product” – the Catholic faith, uniquely personified by the Pope – is presented by an elite organizing team in an atmosphere of fun and mystery that especially appeals to young people. Hence, the Catholic Church succeeds in shedding its sometimes fuddy-duddy image and in bringing young people to perceive it as a vibrant, modern religious institution. This should prove to be a competitive advantage in an age of religious pluralism.
Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.