World Youth Day… slowly catching up!!!
So when last I wrote, I ended up in Toledo… Right now, I’m in Valencia, Spain, traveling a bit with my brother and sister but I still want to share with you guys the experience of World Youth Day, while it’s still fresh in my mind… I hope you don’t mind too much that I’m a week behind… Hehehehehehehe
After the mass and humongous party that followed it in Toledo, we again woke up early the next day, thanks to the beautiful roosters (God bless the roosters!) and packed for the main event… Madrid! One of the big ways you’ll have to prepare for during the World Youth Days is not just spiritually, but also physically. As you’ll see when you get to Rio, you’re in the middle of a marathon… You’re up early everyday, in bed late every night… always on the go. It’s tough but it’s definitely part of the fun of the experience… I can’t say it enough, you’re a pilgrim, not a tourist… No sleeping in on comfty beds for you!
Upon arriving in our residences (another school) in Madrid, we were prepared for anything… We learned that we would be staying with two other groups, some from Croatia and others from (I think) the Czech Republic…
Challenge # 1: When we got there, the Croatians had already taken up most of the space (at least for the guys area) so we had to move some of them over to make some room for ourselves…
Challenge # 2: The showers are once again outdoors (for both guys and girls this time) and the biggest part is that there are only 3 of them for over 100 people. The people in charge decided that for the sake of chastity and prudence, the guys would take their showers at night while the girls would take theirs in the morning (because the warm day would give them the opportunity to dry their hair).
Challenge # 3: The showers here were much colder than in Toledo… I got into a bit of a debate with one of the Croatians here because I thought that it was about the same temperature, at least until I got in and stayed in the shower for a couple of minutes…. He was right… They are colder!
Challenge # 4: For the girls, their sleeping quarters, which was on the top floor of the school, were apparently too hot, so a whole bunch of them ended up sleeping on the parking lot/basketball court (which was basically where our showers were too) that was located within the gated compound of the school.
Ahhhhhh…. the pilgrim’s life is a glorious one, isn’t it…? Believe it or not, all these challenges are part of the fun of a world youth day because everybody’s going through the same thing and because it gives you the opportunity to rise above your normal, everyday, comfortable life…
After settling in, we hoofed it onto the bus to get to Plaza Cibeles for the opening mass with the host cardinal… The bus ride was quite memorable too because it featured a bus driver who, drinking so much into the spirit of World Youth Day, broke into song. With an operatic voice, he sang out loud the Ave Maria of Schubert… Then, on finding out that most of my group was from Quebec, he sang Alouette… It was fantastic and we enthusiastically joined in!
Plaza de Cibeles was absolutely crazy!!! Everywhere there were people!!! Plus, it was so hot and unlike in Toledo, there were no volunteers giving out free water for pilgrims… You had to make do with what you had! From our location, near the plaza but far away from the stage with the altar, we had a great view of the big screen but I guess they had some issues with the audio that we could barely hear all that was going on… The mass itself though, and especially the music, was beautiful. The orchestra that accompanied the choir was fantastic all throughout the week of World Youth Day… This particular mass was different from the opening mass in Sydney (2008) because rather than having everyone in the same huge area, everyone lined the streets and it was pretty much first come first served… We were literally shoulder to shoulder cramped with people. The archbishop, in his homily which was given in Spanish (duh…. hehehehehe)
In his homily, he talked of the importance of pilgrimages, relating it to the theme of this year’s World Youth Day, rooted and built up in Christ, firm in the faith. He said:
“When inviting us to participate in this 26th World Youth Day in Madrid, the Pope is calling us to place ourselves on the path towards a new encounter with the Lord, friend, brother, Jesus Christ! He is the only one who can understand you and lead you to the truth; give everlasting life, happiness and true love! Yes, the youth of World Youth Day since Santiago de Compostela until now and forever are pilgrims of the Church. They walk in communion with her on an exceptional spiritual journey of decisive consequences for the future of their lives. They verify that the path indicated by the Successor of Peter indeed leads to Christ and no human power can prevent it; the path for their search, but above all, the way to meet Him.”
The next day was an interesting one for Luke and myself (we are the two seminarians of the group, Luke being a seminarian from Maine, USA). We woke up early and had to separate from the group to get our accreditation as seminarians in order to get access to the special mass to be celebrated by Pope Benedict for seminarians. We went to the seminary of Madrid, passing the beautiful Cathedral of Santa María la Real de La Almudena on the way. Just a couple of words on the seminary… It’s definitely a lot older than the one I am in in Mission, BC. It looks like it’s a little bit more comfortable too… I mean take a look at their lounge and classroom! Hehehehehe
We beat them on the church though because our church happens to be the abbey church of the monks, which is a bit bigger than the chapel they have in the seminary… However, their being right next to the cathedral makes up for it…
Because we had to get our documents in order, we missed out on the first catechism of the week, given by a Cardinal from Lyons, France… Remember, I was with the group from Quebec meaning that all the catechisms, masses, etc. were in French for me… It gave me a great opportunity to experience World Youth Day a little differently from when I went to Sydney with English pilgrims… Though we missed the catechism (there were to be three of these, each given by a bishop over the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday… the catechisms by a bishop are one of the strongest hearts of World Youth Day) we were sooooooo happy to find out that we were just in time for the mass. The French catechisms were given in the Institución Ferial de Madrid, a place with lots of huge conference rooms. The mass was one animated by the Emmanuel Community in their usual upbeat, charismatic style… After mass, we two seminarians and one of the priests who was with our group (we lost the rest of the group) went for a quick lunch nearby before meeting the archbishop of Quebec and the rest of the pilgrims from the province during an event that was meant to gather all the people of Quebec who were in Madrid together. During that event, I found the rest of my group and we stayed together for the rest of the day.
That night was the Noche Alegria, literally “A night of joy” planned out by the Emmanuel Community in the Madrid Arena for the close to 10,000 people who came. Our group was heavily featured throughout the event and I was sooooo soooo proud of my friends. Some of the girls (and one of the guys) went up on stage to dance. They had been practicing very very hard for this over the days leading up to event itself and I was so proud to see them go for it on stage. In addition, one of the members of our group was asked to give her testimony (conversion story) on stage for everyone (all 10000 + people there). We were all whooping and cheering for her all the way!!
The night also featured a couple of numbers, most notably Priestband (the rock band made up of priests from all over the world, Andrés O’Hagan (a Catholic magician from Mexico) and a talk given by the new Archbishop of Philadelphia, Archbishop Chaput. One of the two highlights of the night though was definitely Tony Melendez, a guitar player who was born with no arms… Yes… that’s right, a guitar player who was born with NO ARMS… He plays his guitar using his feet… He played even for Pope John Paul II who was so moved by his performance that he came up to Tony afterwards and gave him a big hug, urging him never to stop playing because of the hope he gives to the world. And he never has…
The other highlight was definitely the Eucharistic adoration that took place that day too. Because it ran a little later than I guess the organizers intended it to run (most of us had a bit of a curfew that we needed to meet to get back to our residences… the volunteers needed to lock everything up after all of us were inside) the adoration was a little shorter than any of us wanted it to be. But that didn’t matter… Even a few minutes with Jesus is a few minutes with Jesus!!
So I’ll stop here so as not to overload you guys but I’m slowly trying to catch up… hehehhehehe Take care and God bless!!!