Tuesday, September 20, 2011

World Youth Day: Madrid

Pilgrimage Events

Hello Dear Ppl!

I am glad that you're here again for another round of stories from World Youth Day. I had a few weeks to reflect on the impact WYD had on me. Even as I was there the experience was extremely profound, other-wordly, mystical and yet concrete. My faith, usually experienced in a climate not amiable to it became light rather than heavy because the Joy of the Holy Spirit was so palpable. There was a freedom to simply enjoy God as heartily as you wished in streets, metros, parks, malls, it didn't matter. The world was turned on it's head and it was the sanest insanity I have ever experienced. It was like living in the City of God for a week.

My group was recieved by two spanish teenagers in lime green t-shirts. Green t-shirts meant that they were volunteers. They took us to the parish where we would be staying along with many other groups from around the world. We were given our much anticipated WYD packs which had alot of informational books and goodies in them including a cross that we'd get blessed by The Pope the last day of our trip. Filled with hope for the week we were led around the building to be shown our sleeping quarters and the showers.

The Girls Room

The showers and even the bathing that ensued the following week deserves a full paragraph. After seeing where we'd put down our sleeping bags and so forth we followed a volunteer past a hall that led to the garage. Were our showers past the garage? We all looked quizzically at each other when we realized the showers were in the garage next to a huge SUV that was parked there. They had just been installed and they didn't have any curtains separating the stalls. We had been told that we'd have to wear our bathings suits anyways, but we had a good laugh and started joking around about it being just a car wash for people. That idea met a quick death when we were told there would be curtains by the evening. Wahhh, no carwash fun. But that wasn't really what made our showers so memorable. Something was broken and there was only ICE COLD water for the entire week. Unless you woke up at 5am for scalding water that would melt your skin off. My first shower was the first moment I really felt I was on a pilgrimage. In Cordoba we had been spoiled by our host families. Long showers, soft bed, privacy, etc. It was a nice vacation. But I went to WYD to get joyfully uncomfortable because I'm weird like that and want the full experience. The first few days of showering with water that must've come directly from Siberia were not the worst. I developed a good system in which I was able to splash some water on my legs in such a way that I wouldn't get goosebumps so I could shave then I'd get any kind of soap I needed on me so all I had to do was rinse really well but really fast. By day three or four I literally had to pray before I went in because I really didn't want to get in. I had to think of somebody that was going through a rough time and imagine them screaming for help or something and I'd quickly jump in and offer up the shower. I'm very creative with my prayer life ;) I think I've finally managed to channel my overactive imagination in a positive way.

Anyhoo... before I continue I should mention that at WYD you bring things from your country to trade with other ppl, mostly bracelets but anything goes. In Cordoba I had spotted some kids from Poland with Pope John Paul II bandanas and I made it my mission to aquire this item at some point. MUST HAVE, my brain said. Luckily then, there was a huge group of Polish people at the parish. I kept a fierce eye out. It would be mine! Then I snapped out of that zone and met some people. But not many since we were starving. We went out to eat, but some of us starting twitching with anxiety because we were going to miss some meeting, and by meeting I mean meeting of people.... cough, cough. In the end we got our apples* to go and were off and we didn't miss anything of real importance at all. Boys shower at night and girls in the morning, the end.

*A common desert item we'd get with our food vouchers. :D Apples!

The volunteers at the parish were nothing short of amazing. Even the parish priest came down at 2am when one of my Australian friends got sick. He treated us like we were literally his little children who he loved. We gave him a little statue of St. Paul when we left :)

(If your attention span is waning now would be a good time to get a cookie. )

Day 1- August 15, Tuesday!

I woke up the next morning with no memory as to when I went to bed. I showered! Then got my my little breakfast from the volunteers. There was a Y.H.O.P.E huddle and the following plan was laid out:

- Look at some churches!
- Go to a talk given by Christopher West on Theology of the Body
- Opening Mass with the Archbishop of Madrid

I had already been on the metro but even more than before each stop picked up more people in yellow t-shirts and backpacks and flags. There was spontaneous chanting of the Jesus or nationalistic sort and clapping. Some of the uninvolved ppl on the metro looked like they were trying to sleep but others had smiles on their faces.

We got off at our stop, went up the stairs into the fresh, hot air of midday Madrid. My breath stopped. People and flags were literally pouring through any street I looked down. A river of color and song decorated the already lovely Spanish scenery. And they wouldn't stop coming, more and more! Surely not everybody had decided to do the same thing? But it wasn't everybody, it was just some... and then I laughed a big laugh and sang along. This outpour of color and song was present all week, rain or shine.

Our little group made its way to the Almudena Cathedral. Incredible packed, but gorgeous.

This is the beautiful ceiling of the cathedral!

We bumped into other ppl from Boston there. Yay! including Sister Olga. The first time I met Sister Olga I literally sensed the holiness around her. No joke. I'd never felt that before. All she did was say hello. She's originally from Iraq where she tended to the homeless and imprisoned.

We continued to the Franciscan cathedral and it was beautiful but what I remember most is the south african group praying the rosary in one of the side chapels. Their devotion was beautiful. Quiet, bent bodies. Clear, knowing words.

I don't always want to pray, sometimes I'm genuinely annoyed inside when people suggest one more rosary because we have some free time. Then God and I have a good chat about those feelings. Watching them helped my internal dialogue with God and it softened my rebellious disposition concerning that. Praying the Rosary takes a good deal of concentration and full abandonment so you can say the prayers while meditating on moments in Christ's life and a lot of the times I don't want to put in that kind of effort. Again, during the pilgrimage when spontaneous rosaries happened A LOT I was tried and it felt like a pilgrimage; like Christ was working through some messy bits inside. It had more to do with my anger and annoyance at these occurrences when I just wasn't in the mood to do it than the fact that I did or did not want to do it. I believe a truly Holy person would trudge through and fight the annoyance for the possibility of having an encounter with God since you were asked to pray anyways. I dunno still I'm working through that one. If anything it was a continous reminder of my need for God and his transforming power.

After the sightseeing we broke off into a few different groups. I tried to go to Theology of the Body which was for english speakers but the sports center filled up and we didn't make it. We looked for some food, had some communication issues, but we took some deep breaths and survived. We finally met up with the greater group at another church for Taize Prayer*. Very necessary after the torrid afternoon. My favorite song from the prayer was this simple phrase:

Nada te turbe, nada te espante, quien a Dios tiene nada le falta.

Let nothing unsettle you, let nothing frighten you, whomever has God lacks nothing.

*Taize Prayer: Meditative prayer involving the repetition of songs. Slowly so that it sinks in.

The sun was still out and shining when the event concluded. The day still wasn't over and we went over to a square to see the opening mass on a huge screen that was set up.

I fell asleep quickly that night.

(You can get another cookie or maybe save the rest for tomorrow. I don't mind. )

Day 2- August 16, Wednesday!

I woke up the next morning completely enthused. It was the first day of Catechesis*

Catechesis means oral teaching.

Catechesis happened each morning, three days in a row and we'd be taught by a different Bishop or Archbishop each day. There were several places we could go for an english speaking Bishop, including our Parish so we decided to stay there.

Before the Bishop arrived a Nigerian Priest and choir were in charge of coordinating this event and they led us in song, prayer and witness talks. Afterwards we were joined by the Bishop of Dublin who looked a little like this:

He talked about the great desire he has to touch the youth of his country and his hope to rekindle the faith that has been so watered down in the past decades.

There was Mass and then we were off into Madrid for more adventure. We went to park where I found Winnie the Pooh (not as good as the Poohs you find at Disney World, alas), a Christian Aussie band, a Gaudi exposition and a Vocations Fair. Exhausted we plopped down on the grass sang some songs, were joined in song by some strangers and we met some cute kids who thought our american swag was the best.

My favorite part of the day though was going to a concert in memory of Blessed* Chiara Luce Badano who died when she was eighteen. Her now much older parents were there and they gave their testimony on the life of their daughter, who bravely suffered through cancer in total surrender to Jesus. While I was there my hard heart softened tremendously and I had great hope for the kind of great love I wanted to give during my own life.
Favorite song from the concert: 

Blessed means that Chiara was beatified or that she's on the 2nd of three steps to being declared a Saint by the Catholic Church.

Day 3- August 17, Thursday!

My New Zealander friend, Kathleen invited me to go look at a fashion museum, but that meant missing catechesis... I weighed my options... and I decided to go to the museum! It was breathtaking; the most beautiful collection of garments I have ever seen. They ranged from the 16th century to the present. Kathleen actually makes dresses so she was quickly sketching sleeves, ruffles and petticoats. I tried to sketch some things too but the light was dim, presumably to keep the items of clothing in good condition. Kathleen and I had a nice time getting to know each other and we were back by noon just in time for me to see that the Bishop of Brooklyn had been the visiting speaker.

The Pope was going to arrive that day so we decided to head into the city so we had time to do something before that. We went to an exhibit on Mother Theresa.

young Ratzinger!

Afterwards in the heat and after many attempts to find a place that would let us use their bathrooms we waited on the side of a street to wait for the Pope to come by. I sat right on the curb and the Popemobile whisked by! Alright, I cried just a little. I didn't really expect to but my religious emotionalism got to me. I didn't feel too awkward since the filipino girl next to me made weird sobbing sounds which I could only interpret as a good thing. If Walt Disney had shown up I would have died a happy woman.

We walked toward a screen to watch the Pope deliver his an opening address (BIG SCREENS were placed around the city during any big event because not everybody could fit in the square or area where said thing was taking place). I tried to translate things here and there for my american buddies but I wasn't that good at it and I think they weren't too unhappy when I stopped trying.

I vaguely remember going to dinner somewhere with a group but I think I was falling asleep.
Day 4- August 18, Friday!

A wonderful Bishop from Nigeria delivered catechesis in the morning and I was asked to read a petition (prayer asking for something) and I was so excited! I love reading at church. To my horror when I got to the pulpit and I realized that either the people in front of me were making their prayers up on the spot or were reading something they had prepared for themselves. Normally I wouldn't have minded at all but I usually need to be told I have to deliver something spontaneous. I went up there and delivered something sincere but illogical. A little red in the face I went back to my seat.

Today was to be my first successful visit to the sports stadium where all the english speaking events were going on. I didn't really know what we were going there to see but I followed happily since I had now acquired my JPII scarf from a very nice Polish girl named Luiza. I pondered on the fact that I could just wear a Pope scarf all day like it was totally normal and COOL. I had officially entered a pleasant version of the twilight zone.

The stadium was huge. Somebody said it fit 20,000 people and I couldn't believe it had been full for Theology of the Body. I sat down and saw that there was already a panel of people. They were talking about media, mainly film and art. My ears perked up. Art! That's me! Matthew Mardsen, a british actor talked about how important it is for us to strive for excellence in art. Art needs to inspire man deeply and there is no place for art to be mediocre. A "Christian" label does not make a work of art brilliant. I was writing all these things down when I noticed that one of the panelist was Father Robert Barron. WEEEEE! Brilliant! Here's a link to his website and the trailer for his latest venture!

Word on Fire:

I like him. He talked about a film that he thought spoke particular human truths. True Grit is apparently fraught with awesome storytelling. I'll probably write about that once I've seen it but one of his points was that there is a difference between a movie showing bad things and a movie advocating bad things. It is important to develop a mind and heart that discerns good from bad well. Being close to the Lord is key in doing so.

I rushed down the steps of the stadium after the panel finished so I could meet him. And I did! I told him I was an artist at a video game company and sometimes I watched his commentaries while I worked :).

I felt a little guilty about not wanting to stay for the next panel but I was getting a bit restless so I tried to go to a smaller talk in one of the side rooms of the arena but again it was overpopulated, then I tried praying in a small chapel that was set up with all these cool screens depicting the Mysteries of the Rosary* but I wasn't very successful. In the end I think all I needed was some fresh air. I went outside with Linda and got some snacks.

Mysteries of the Rosary: The rosary is divided by sections of one Our Father and ten Hail Marys, and while you pray them you're supposed to meditate on a mystery aka a moment in the life of Christ or Mary. For example The Wedding of Cana or The Cruxifiction.

I went back inside to watch one of the most important events for WYD: The Stations of the Cross on the big screens. Stations of the Cross is a devotion in which you "visit" different moments of Jesus' Passion all the way to the crucifixion. If you go into almost any Catholic church you will find depictions of these on the walls but for this occasion beautiful statues were brought from all over Spain and the Pope was there presiding over the prayer. Different groups of young adults who suffer persecution carried the WYD cross from one station to the other. This same cross was taken to Ground Zero in New York not long before, and it was originally a gift from JPII to the youth.

On my way back to the parish I bumped into badcatholic, a fellow blogger I have never met save through blogs! God is good.

It was a beautiful, beautiful day. I felt full.

This is the end of the Madrid events before the grand culmination of Mass with the Pope. That is the best story and it will be up soon. Thank you for reading.

Con Amor,


  1. Thanks for this awesome post! It felt like I was there with you. I wish I'd gone ...

  2. I think the iced water was a common thing... just to ensure the whole "pilgrimage" experience to everyone! I came across your blog and realized we were at the same parish in Cordoba (Sta.Teresa) We did not speak but I guess I just wanted to say Hi, and I would like to read about your experience at Cuatro Vientos. It's tough but full of blessings and excitement!

  3. That's so cool! I'm sorry we didn't get to meet! Were you with the Canadians?

  4. No, I was there with my sister, we are Ecuadorians but live in NY. Have a blessed week!