Thoughts from a young theologian

Double Mass Effect!! The final two days of WYD Madrid


So as I’m writing this post, I’m currently on a high speed train traveling next to the ocean on the way back to Barcelona… Barcelona was the first stop I made with my group on arriving in Spain but my brother and sister have not yet been to the city so it’s definitely on the agenda… I’ll be giving a quick update on what happened in Valencia next post but for now, I’d like to finish my story on World Youth Day.

After an early Friday night, I got up extremely early on the Saturday morning… By early, I mean 5:00 am… It’s a time I’m kinda already used to from seminary life but I haven’t gotten up this early since the seminary… I got up early because I wanted to be in the metro station by the time the first metro came around at 6 am… Why? To try and get to a very special mass celebrated by Pope Benedict exclusively for seminarians at the Madrid cathedral… I ran into a couple of American and Polish seminarians while in the metro and by the time I got off at Opera, the station closest to the cathedral, I saw many many others… Seminarians are super easy to spot especially since most of them were wearing their cassocks… It was quite a sight to be roaming the darkened, empty streets of Madrid following the dark robed seminarians…

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By the time I got to the gates of the cathedral, a huge surprise awaited me… There were already over a thousand seminarians in line ahead of me… Apparently, everyone thought the exact same thing… In fact, I even ran into some seminarians who had spent the night lining up outside the gate… How they did that is unimaginable because we were told not to bring any bags so they must have slept in or on their cassocks!!! By the time I got into the compound with the cathedral, it was already 8 am, the sun was up and the cathedral was already full… I had to stay on the outside since there was no more room…. I put a couple of stuff down on my seat then made my way to the barrier right in front of the cathedral door to take some pictures… After taking pictures, I decided to stay there… Mass would not be for another 2 & 1/2 hours but right next to the barrier, I had the best spot in the house!!! I was right at the corner!!! To my left was the red carpet leading up the cathedral steps while to my right was the driveway from the gate of the cathedral leading up to the entrance… I waited for a very long time standing up under the hot sun in that area. To pass the time, I met the seminarian next to me who came from a religious order in Mexico and together, we prayed the morning prayers (in Spanish). At the end of the day though, in spite of the heat, the exhaustion from standing up the whole time, and the crowds around me, it was well worth the wait… Pope Benedict riding his pope mobile pulled up the driveway directly in front of me and I was only a few feet away from him… I was close enough to even touch him, though I didn’t because he wasn’t touching anyone…

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He looked a little older, a little weaker and a little more tired than when I saw him last… The papal office must be wearing him down a little bit… He really does need our prayers to keep going…

I sent the rest of the mass in my seat and towards the end of the mass, I made my way back to the barrier (nowhere near as close as I was on the pope’s arrival) and prepared to take a very nice picture of myself “touching” him.. This was the best I could do…

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But nevertheless, I was thrilled to have been able to see him… Please pray for him, dear readers… I can’t stress it enough but he really needs our prayers. I’ve attached the transcript for the homily he gave us on a link below… If you’ve got some time, it’s definitely worth the read…

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/homilies/2011/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20110820_seminaristi-madrid_en.html

After the mass, I met up with Luke, the other seminarian who slept in a little bit and we both made our way back to the school to try and leave with everyone else for the vigil and final mass… We met all of them just as they were getting ready to leave so we all made our way to Cuatro Vientos, the site of the final mass, together.

It must have been the hottest day of the week for the entire city… Cuatro Vientos was the place EVERYBODY was making their way to so the roads to it were absolutely packed with people all carrying their respective country’s flag and trying to stay together… The heat, as I’ve said, reached it’s climax at this point and it took an immense, courageous effort from all the pilgrims to make it to the site… Even the water in our water bottles became hot because of the scorching sun… The residents of the houses and apartments lining the roads started pouring down water on the pilgrims down below… At some point, even the firefighters arrived with their hoses to hose us all down… Yes… It was that hot!!!

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Cuatro Vientos is an old airport that stretches out in the south of Madrid… It is so extensive that it took us close to an hour to walk from the entrance where we came in all the way to the other side of the airport where we were assigned to stay… All the way were floods of thousands of thousands of people… People and flags as far as the eye can see… It was a magnificent sight and one which I would have enjoyed more if it wasn’t for the heat… One. Holy. Catholic. Apostolic. This is my church… and she is beautiful and she is young…

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Along the way, a few people in our group were overcome by the heat and needed to stop for a breath… It wasn’t uncommon to see a small crowd gathering around one person who collapsed on the ground out of sheer exhaustion and until this point, my group of 50 had been spared of that… Now, in the long walk to Cuatro Vientos, we had two people who couldn’t make it all the way… And so we did what any and all other groups did too, we carried them… Carried them in the sense of carrying all their stuff, giving them lots of space, water, love, and care… No one would ever get left behind… We’re all tired… We all lack sleep… We all smell bad… We’re all a little sick. And despite all of that, we’re all moved by a peace and joy that, although not always outwardly expressed is, at least in my opinion, inwardly felt… That is part of the magic that is World Youth Day… It’s not a vacation… It’s a pilgrimage…

By the time we got to our site, we only had a few hours of light left so we picked up our bag lunches and ate our dinner in anticipation of the vigil which was to begin soon… People would be going around a little bit trading various trinkets and things that they had brought along from their home countries… In many ways, WYD is more international than even the Olympics… This I can say confidently, having experienced Vancouver 2010 first hand… Nowhere else can one meet, not the dozen or so superstar athletes from the different countries, but locals from all corners of the globe in one same place… If you want to travel the world but don’t have enough money to do so, why not do the next best thing… Go to a World Youth Day… the one place where thousands from all over the world will be…

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The heat made this World Youth Day especially difficult but the surprises did not stop there… Right before the vigil started, the pilgrims were buffeted by a strong hurricane carrying with it winds and rain… Our group was worried earlier on as we saw the dark clouds and lightning strikes looming ominously close in the distance… So we packed all our stuff… the stuff we just recently unpacked… into large garbage bags to protect our gear from the elements… In the middle of the vigil, the hurricane hit us pretty hard and the pope had to stop for a little bit… Pilgrims flooded into the only shelters available, namely the little chapels set up to house the Blessed Sacrament for prayer and for communion for the mass the next day… Some of these chapels were even destroyed by the winds, the main reason why we didn’t have communion the next day…

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When the winds died down, the pope came back on stage… For an 84 year old man, he is pretty resilient… He exhorted us saying that our faith is stronger than even the winds… I was reminded a lot of the theme of our event throughout the whole thing… Rooted and built up in Christ, firm in the faith… One of the Gospel passages during mass that week came from the parable of the man who built his house on rock versus he who built his house on sand. The winds came and buffeted the house on sand and it tumbled down, while that which was built on rock stayed firm and solid all throughout… Seeing the determination and joy of my fellow pilgrims was enough to sustain me through all the way in spite of what else may come… That night was especially memorable as we all knelt in adoration with our Holy Father before Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament… Then, something very special happened that told me in my heart that all of this was planned… providence…. Immediately after benediction, the skies opened up once more and a very light rain fell on everyone present, as if God Himself was blessing us all from above…

One last surprise awaited us, just for good measure… Our “home” for the evening was already occupied and its current tenants were not very thrilled to see us as they made it evidently clear through the night…

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Yes… We had ants too… There were a couple of holes in the ground that was the entrance to their underground necropolis and any unlucky pilgrim who installed himself directly on top of one of these entrances was in for a bit of a surprise… After a little bit of shuffling around, we finally turned in for the night, exhausted but content and peaceful…

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At the end of every night, there is always a morning… a new day… almost like the resurrection that followed the cross… We awoke to a gorgeous, slightly cooler summer day refreshed and ready for any new challenges that awaited us… After packing our stuff, we got ready for the final mass which was, after the difficult night we had come from, exquisitely beautiful… Though we could not receive communion, we united in spiritual communion with the Holy Father and the magisterium of bishops, archbishops and cardinals around him… In his homily, speaking of the importance of building up a personal relationship with Christ, and in union with the Church, he told us “Faith starts with God, who opens his heart to us and invites us to share in his own divine life. Faith does not simply provide information about who Christ is; rather, it entails a personal relationship with Christ, a surrender of our whole person, with all our understanding, will and feelings, to God’s self-revelation.”

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I’d like to end this little story of World Youth Day 2011 with something very special that Fr. Alexandre told us in his homily during the last mass when we were all more or less together as a group for the last time… He said, also sticking closely to the theme of WYD of the need to be more strongly rooted and firm in our faith that when God led His people out of Egypt, He also used that experience to strengthen them all… They complained against leaving Egypt where they all had enough to eat, enough to drink, a nice warm place to stay and showers galore (he may have modified that a little bit… Heheheheeheh) God made them grow stronger as a people neither in Egypt, where they came from, nor in the Promised Land where they were going but in the harsh and barren desert that lay between… A pilgrimage is not a journey of luxury and comfort but a road marked with of challenges and difficulties. What you get out of it though is not some fluffy memories, a mind full of information and some petty souvenirs but an experience of none other than God Himself… “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you (Genesis 12: 1) See you in Rio!!!

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2 responses

  1. Loved reading about your experiences! Cuatro Vientos was an amazing adventure! Great post 🙂

    August 25, 2011 at 3:15 pm

  2. Timothy

    I met the ants as well, they may not be big but goodness they hurt.
    Very well done sir! It’s good to know someone else in the world loved this as much as I did!

    September 19, 2011 at 6:54 am

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