Catholic Church Gets Hip for Pope's Youth Rally

Hip, young and fun are usually not words that come immediately to mind when describing the Catholic Church. But this is the mood the world's second largest religious institution is looking to create for the Pope's stop at a Youth Rally in New York next Saturday.

Youths attending the event at St. Joseph's Seminary Chapel in Yonkers on April 19 can forget the robe-clad choir, leave their rosaries at home and get ready to get their rock on!

Kelly Clarkson, the former "American Idol" winner, is one of several contemporary singers slated to perform before a crowd of 25,000 Catholics at the Papal Youth Rally, CBS Channel 2 reported.

The pop star will perform a few of her songs before the Pope's arrival and "Ave Maria" after his arrival, the Star-Telegram reported.

Clarkson, who said she grew up singing church music, told the paper that she was excited to sing the song before the Catholic Church head.

Most recently, Christian rock artist TobyMac was added to the musical line-up which includes Christian rock band Third Day and New York pop/classical trio "Three Graces."

It will be TobyMac's third papal performance. While he was a member of the CCM rap group DC Talk, TobyMac had performed at youth events in Denver (1993) and St. Louis (1999), both of which were presided over by the late Pope John Paul II.

"It's an honor to participate in this Papal visit. Not too many artists are given this opportunity. We have great respect for the work he does," the Dove Award-winning artist commented.

Tai Anderson of Third Day said he expects the papal performance to be one of the "cornerstone moments" of the band's career, according to The Associated Press.

Chris Wangro, the rally's producer, said the Christian rock band was selected to perform not only because they're recognized as a leader in Christian music but also "an important influence for today's youth."

"We wanted to bring the most current sound to the rally and Third Day definitely fits this bill," he said in a news release.

In the spirit of celebrating the hip side of faith, the Archdiocese of New York sponsored a skateboard design contest that was open to 11- to 18-year-olds in the region.

"This is part of the culture of the city," the Rev. Peter Pomposello of St. Elizabeth's Church told the New York Post. "The Holy Father encourages us to realize that we have to take the good in our culture and capitalize on that to get the word out about Jesus Christ."

The winner's design will be made into a skateboard that will be given as a gift to the Pope, according to Catholic News Service, although a public demonstration of the gift is not yet in the plans. Father Pomposello, who organized the contest, told CNS that replicas of the winning papal skateboard would be available for sale, with the proceeds donated to Catholic Charities.

The 2008 youth rally's purpose is to encourage youth to seek vocations within the Catholic Church, a news release stated.

The Church's younger generation considers religion important but doesn't necessarily attend church. A Barna Group survey last July reported 68 percent of Catholics said religious faith is important in their life.

Recent surveys, however, confirm that only 15 percent of college-aged Catholics said they attended mass, according to University of Connecticut Professor and Emeritus of Sociology William d'Antonio, author of American Catholics Today: New Realities of Their Faith and Church. Younger Catholics also hold more liberal views than their parents and grandparents regarding abortion, homosexuality, and divorce, studies have shown.

Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano reported last month that for the first time in history, Muslims outnumbered Catholics in the world. Catholics accounted for 17.4 percent of the world population – a stable percentage – while Muslims were at 19.2 percent.

But many are hoping that the Pope's six-day visit, April 15-20, to the United States will inspire young Catholics in their faith.

"So often they think of the church as just our parish. This will help them see the Catholic Church is universal," Krissy Brown, 26, a youth leader, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

"One of the things he said early on was the church is always young," said Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl, according to the newspaper.

"It's always there for young people. I think young people see that in this pope. They hear in his message words of hope, words of challenge."

The Pope will celebrate his 81st birthday on April 16. He is slated to hold an open-air mass in Washington, D.C., before heading out to New York on April 18 where he will address the United Nations.

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