Update: on the way to Madrid (yeah… I’m a bit behind on my blog)
I really wish I could have shared with you this incredible experience of World Youth Day day by day as I had intended but as you know, Internet is not at all easy to get when you live in a public school and have a small space on the floor as your room. What I can do from this point on though is blog all throughout the rest of my travels with my brother and sister throughout Spain and Paris next week… I’ll try and summarize in this blog and possibly another one (or two) what it was like to be in a WYD in hopes that maybe, 2 years from now, I’ll be seeing you in the next World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
So where to begin? How about by summarizing from where I left off… Toledo. Toledo is an absolutely beautiful city with some of the most beautiful walls… It’s a city that kind of reminds me of Quebec in that way.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, if you’re looking for comfort, super relaxation and solitude, World Youth Day is not the place for you to go… We realized that very very quickly upon our arrival in Toledo, particularly our school… Gone are the days of hotels and hostels with beds and private showers… Instead, in Toledo, we got stuck with this:
Outdoor showers!!! The accommodations weren't that bad and we made do with what we had and worked to keep our positive, enthusiastic attitude, which is crucial to getting through this pilgrimage. Because there are soooooo many people in the city from every corner of the globe imaginable, the host city really needs to make do with what it has…. It gives us a fantastic opportunity to appreciate what we've been given and what we so often take for granted. But amidst any difficulty, you always also know, in the back of your mind that everyone else is going through the exact same thing that you are. The fact that everyone retains a spirit of pure joy throughout the whole thing is one of the most powerful witnesses to everyone else of the love we young Catholics have for our pope and our Church.
So yes, we had outdoor showers (which were also super cold… like taking a shower with your garden hose), the guys did sleep outdoors (thankfully under a roof, nevertheless). The cold showers weren't that much of a problem and in fact, they were very much appreciated at the end of a long, hot, Spanish summer day… The biggest issue were our neighbors who, conveniently around 3 am, decided to make sooooooo much noise to try and wake us up… At first, we woke up to the sound and thought that someone in our group was fooling around a bit (maybe the Italians or the Belgians… Hehehe) But very soon, we realized what was happening and all of us just broke out into laughter at 3 am… Allow me to introduce you to our noisy neighbors..
Yes, we had roosters next door… Note that that is roosterS, meaning there were way more than one of them there… At first, we all wanted to kill the monsters, like St. George did his dragon… Then maybe have a nice chicken dinner afterwards too… We learned quickly though that it is forbidden to kill the cocks and after a while, it didn’t even matter because we got used to their shrieks and squeals… I love being a pilgrim.
We only got to spend one day in the city of Toledo because we spent most of our time in the youth forum with the Emmanuel Community. The forum itself was beautiful… Definitely a grace-filled time… Each morning began with some time of praise, where we would all (about 4000 of us from all over the world, but mostly from France, and a good group from Egypt) sing songs composed by the Emmanuel Community… That would be followed by a teaching given by a member of the community and would end with some time of Eucharistic adoration and the Holy Mass. The afternoon was a bit more free… There were some workshops we could attend if we wanted to, but not many of us were able to go.. One of the days of the festival was devoted to seeing the city with a guide… It was amazing to see, especially some of the sites decorated by the famous artist who lived in toledo, El Greco… Toledo’s cathedral is famed to be one of the most beautiful in Spain and it certainly is very easy to see that it has earned that reputation.
The most memorable part of the forum was easily the evening devoted to Mary on the eve of her feast of the Assumption on the 15th of August… The evening started with an international flavored rosary with the Hail Mary being recited in the different languages of the countries present. It ended with one magnificent, candlelit Marial procession through the streets towards the little parish church that hosted us. One of the best aspects of Catholic worship is how it really involves every part of you… We worship not just with our hearts and souls but with our bodies too… That’s part of why the liturgy is so important for us… We don’t just hear the Word proclaimed to us, we see it through our images and our beautiful churches and basilicas, we smell it through our incense, we taste it in the Eucharist and we feel it from the warmth of our candles. Our faith and spiritual life is truly a very sacramental one that involves every aspect of our being!!!
Our last day in Toledo was the mass and youth festival outside one of the city gates for all pilgrims in the city, not just those from the Emmanuel community with the archbishop of Toledo, the primate of Spain.. In all, we were about 10-15 thousand there… You can see how, slowly but surely, little by little, the ascent towards the millions in Madrid grows. The mass was superb with an amazing homily by the archbishop… At least, it sounded amazing… It was all in Spanish… The main difficulty we had, which as you’ll see was a common theme throughout all of World Youth Day was easily the heat… Let me just say that the Iberian sun is soooooooo hot!!! Wow!!! It was hot enough that throughout the mass, people were fainting here and there and emergency services had to come constantly to bring people out of the crowd to safety… In spite of that though, Toledo was well prepared for the thousands at their doors… The volunteers walked constantly through the crowds giving out free bottles of water.. The best way to fight the heat is to stay as well hydrated as possible… All throughout, the crowd was as enthusiastic as ever, breaking out in chants at the end of the mass “Benedicto!!!” and “Esta es la juventud del papa” (We are the youth of the pope…) This last cheer, I think, is uniquely Spanish and it’s the first time I’ve heard it chanted, though I’m sure it won’t be the last…
After the mass, it was time for the youth festival… As the Franciscan rapper, Fr. Stan Fortuna says in his song, There ain’t to party like a Catholic party… I’m going to try and paint a picture for you… You walk through the middle of the street, which is completely closed off for all of us and you see thousands of people of different nationalities, languages, races and cultures dancing… You see Spanish dances, French dances, Latin American salsa, anything imaginable… all dancing to the tunes played by the superb bands on stage… There’s a very very long line of people dancing their way through the crowd… You walk a little further, squeezing through the immense crowds filled with priests, monks, nuns, people carrying enormous flags and you see a little pavilion filled with people making a big circle… There’s a couple of break dancers in the middle showing off their skills… You’re near the middle of the park, surrounded by outdoor restaurants with all kinds of Spanish food and cerveza (beer). There’s a part of the park that’s a bit quiet, with people chatting with each other, some talking with their priests, others taking pictures of the beautifully lit city wall… You keep walking and reach an area with a whole bunch of tents… There’s a couple of stores selling religious goods but also some stalls of a number of religious orders giving out information on who they are and what they do… All in all, you feel united… one… truly catholic in the sense of being universal… belonging to the same faith and professing the same creed. And deep in your heart, you know that’s merely a taste of what’s to come in Madrid… A tiny piece of the ginormous pie that is the Catholic Church, young… alive… one…
I cant believe it but I’ve run out of room and of time to continue… In spite of the fact that World Youth Day is already over, I think I’ll continue blogging, day by day, little by little on what I had experienced here, in hopes that maybe you will consider coming with me to Rio de Janeiro in two years time… God bless!!!