Vargas Llosa said there were “two possible readings of this event:” one which sees World Youth Day “as more a superficial than a religious festival” and the other which interprets it as “proof that the Church of Christ maintains its strength and vitality.”
After noting that statistics show only 51 percent of Spanish young people say they are Catholic, but only 12 percent practice their religion, Vargas Llosa said the gradual decline in the number of Catholics is not so much a symptom of the Church’s “inevitable ruin and extinction” as it is a sign of the vitality and energy that remains present the Church, especially under the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
“In any case, setting aside the theological context and looking at things solely from a social and political point of view, the truth is that although it may be losing numbers and shrinking, Catholicism today is more united, active and assertive now than in the years in which it seemed to be on the verge of becoming unhinged and splitting apart over internal ideological struggles,” he continued.
Vargas Llosa went on to say the question is whether this is good or bad for the West. “As long as the State remains secular and independent of all Churches,” he said, “it is good, because a democratic society cannot effectively combat its enemies—beginning with corruption—if its institutions are not firmly supported by ethical values, if a rich spiritual life does not flourish in its bosom as a permanent antidote to destructive forces.”
“In our times,” Vargas Llosa said, the culture “has not been able to replace religion nor will it be able to do so, except for small minorities on the fringes of the public at large.” This is because “despite how many amazingly brilliant intellectuals try to convince us that atheism is the only logical and rational consequence of the knowledge and experience accumulated throughout the history of civilization, the idea of definitive extinction will continue to be intolerable to the average human being, who will continue to find in the faith the hope for a life beyond death, which he has never been able to renounce.”
“Believers and non-believers should rejoice at what has taken place in Madrid in these days in which God seemed to exist, Catholicism seemed to be the only true religion, and all of us like good young people walked towards the kingdom of heaven led by the hand of the Holy Father,” he concluded.