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!!!
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!!!