Thoughts from a young theologian

Esta es la juventud del papa!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


One of the great cheers of this year’s World Youth Day… This is the youth of the pope!!! Thursday and Friday were days that changed the mood of the crowds dramatically… It was still hot… still sticky… We still had super cold showers… none of that had changed. But still, something was different… You could feel it. The pope was here!!!

The morning of the Thursday began as usual… We made our way to the conference rooms for our usual morning catechisms and mass. The archbishop was once again from France but for his catechism, he basically summarized what we had been spending most of the days leading up to World Youth Day following, namely the 14 marches. These are 14 days made up of reflections, teachings, quotations from the catechism or saints and the message of the pope divided up to try and prepare pilgrims spiritually for the event. It was made up by the Archdiocese of Paris… Because we already followed these marches closely, we were slightly less interested in the catechisms of that day and a few people took the opportunity to get some much needed rest (if you know what I mean). I gotta show the human side of World Youth Day too you know… Hehehehehe None of us are saints yet, though we’re all hoping to make our way to sanctity…

After the mass, we divided ourselves up into smaller groups depending on who wanted to go where… I stayed in a slightly larger group of 10 with Fr. Frederic, the cure of parish where most of the guys in my group belong to. We began by eating a very hearty lunch of tapas, bocadillos (sandwiches) and salad. While I’m on the topic of food, I would like to say something about that aspect of World Youth Day. While Sydney 2008 was better than Madrid in many ways because of all the logistical work that was put into Sydney (e.g. portapodies with plumbing, private shower portapodies with hot water, more organized mass gatherings, etc…) the biggest one up that Madrid had on Sydney was their food. Normally, the way World Youth Day food works is that we’re all given tickets for the meals, we need to group ourselves into groups of 6 and one member of our group goes out into a very long lineup waiting to pick up the bag lunches for the group of 6. Sydney did a very good job of that but many people had to endure slightly long waits because of the fact that often, microwaves were used to reheat the food… Yes, Sydney was that organized. In Spain, they did things slightly differently… They gave us something we never had before… choice. They basically coordinated with hundreds of restaurants, from the big time fast food chains like McDonalds or Burger King to the typical family-run Spanish restaurants to the tapa bars. All these restaurants offered us what’s known as a pilgrim menu, namely a set meal that once you came in and handed in your tickets, you would be well taken care of. Something that really touched me from the residents of Madrid was the fact that lots of these smaller restaurants didn’t really stick that closely to their pilgrim menu. Yes, they did give us all that was on their menu but they usually went a little further… They would give us a little more wine or a little more desert or whatever… You could really feel the Spanish hospitality. One of the best aspects of World Youth Day is that it really immerses you into the culture of the host country, and one of the ways it does that is through the food… Madrid definitely gets an A+++++++++ for its food.

One of the interesting things that happened during lunch was the fact that we met, once again, the Egyptian Catholics who were also having lunch in the same restaurant. They were extremely friendly and they told us a little about their history as, not Roman Rite Catholics but (I think) Coptic rite Catholics. Someday, I’ll have to blog about the different rites within the Church, but not today… After dinner, we tried to make our way to a church near Plaza del Cibeles, where we were going to a bit of adoration. One problem was that I was leading the group there and I got us a bit lost. When we found the right way, the girls saw a nearby slushie store and went in to buy some drinks… Hehehehe By the end of it, it was already close to the time when the pope would arrive so Fr. Fred jokingly thought we were all conspiring against him. We secured our spot at the Plaza del Colon, right in front of the giant screen while he went off to pray saying that it was best if we all stuck together and didn’t go with him because it would be easier for him, a priest, to make his way through the crowds back to us. We spent most of the afternoon while waiting for the pope to arrive speaking to a few German priests nearby and meeting some of the Argentinians next to us…

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When the pope arrived, everyone broke out into loud cheers… We were all soooooo happy to see him. He seemed to be a little weaker than the last time we saw him in Sydney and that manifested itself in him not making it all the way to the Plaza del Colon where we were waiting for him. Instead, he drove mostly around Cibeles before making his way on stage to greet us. We were lucky to be in front of the big screen, so we saw all that was going on but those in front of the barriers who were hoping to see him weren’t quite as fortunate. Fr. Fred, who was hoping to touch the pope (beating his old record of being a few meters away from the pope) was running back and forth to the barrier area because I was convinced that he might be coming there… Oops… hehehehe He ended up “touching” the pope through the big screen…

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After the papal welcome, we made our way to a little bar to drink some sangrilla and beer and say goodbye to one of our two priests, Fr. Fred, who was flying back to Quebec the next day to preside over a wedding.

Friday’s catechism was much more Canadian themed… It was first of all, our group from Quebec that led the worship in the morning, so most of the group was onstage. The bishop who spoke to us was Canadian and he gave an extremely moving reflection on the need to be a witness to the world. He also celebrated mass for us. What made mass a bit extra special for me was the fact that I served in it… I was the book bearer for the mass so, for the first time since heading out here, I actually performed some seminarian duties. It was so much fun and was definitely something I missed a bit.

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After mass, we tried to stick together in our little organized fraternities… Being the leader of my fraternity, I was hoping to bring my group to a little restaurant somewhere near downtown to get them some authentic paella and to give us a place and time to share some of our experiences with each other. My mistake (yes, I made a lot of them over the last few days) was that everyone else in the city had the same idea and the lineups were far too long… We ended up using our tickets to get some small sandwiches and drinks and we were separated into different tables because of the enormous crowds… I was disappointed in not being able to foresee that at about that time, everyone was looking for something to eat so it was best to stay away from the center of the city. In any case, after lunch, we once again separated into groups depending on where we wanted to go. My small group and I spent the afternoon visiting some of the souvenir and religious stores along Plaza del Sol as we made our way to the cathedral to check that place out.

After that, we went to a little restaurant near Cibeles, where the stations were to take place that evening, for supper. This restaurant was way better than that of lunch because they offered, for our tickets, not just one or two, but three sandwiches, pop and ice cream!! The most fantastic part was that in front of the restaurant was a barrier with a few people lining it. While we were having dinner, we saw a number of people running around towards it and heard a few cheers so a few of our group ran outside towards the barriers and there he was!! Pope Benedict XVI driving by!! I was literally so tired that I waved at him from my chair inside the restaurant before nodding off a little bit more… Hehehehehe Then, providentially, many more people from our larger group had the idea of going to the same restaurant we were in (out of the hundreds that were in the city) so we joined up with them and made our way to the stations of the cross. The two pictures I have of the stations here, I took from the official WYD site…

The stations were a little different this year. In past World Youth Days, they were re-enacted throughout the streets of the host city by actors playing the role of Jesus, Mary, the guards, etc… This time, there were pilgrims from different parts of the globe carrying the World Youth Day cross to different statue scenes of different stations. It was, in some ways, more prayerful and moving to see the emotions on the face of Christ and the people around him captured by the Spanish sculptors and painters. Pope Benedict apparently really loved this new WYD way (but in many ways, more traditional way) of doing the stations of the cross…

Because we were all sooooooo tired, we took up the last empty spot behind some trees where, while we couldn’t see the screen, we could at least follow along with the music and the prayers. It was, though more difficult, also very special for us. We ended that day exhausted and turned in early that night to get ready for the last two big events of WYD, the vigil and the final mass. Last WYD post coming up!!! God bless!!!

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