World Youth Day Madrid 2011

A post by: Chiara Kadelburger, Daniel Cunningham, Jenny Badcock, Becca Harrison & Rosanna Cassidy

World Youth Day is a youth-orientated event which is held every two or three years in a different country, where young people from all over the world come together to celebrate and deepen their faith. It is an amazing opportunity for young people to experience the universality of the Church and, therefore, the true meaning of the word Catholic. While the event itself celebrates the Catholic faith, the invitation to attend extends to all youth of any religious conviction. As St. Peter writes, “…always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you have” and World Youth Day is a great chance to share this hope with thousands of like-minded young people and indeed the entire world.

The week leading up to World Youth Day began with an opening Mass celebrated by the Archbishop of Madrid, Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela. During that Mass we were reminded of the words of John Paul II when he said, “the spiritual tradition of Christianity not only underlines the importance of our search for God but also it highlights something even more important: it is God who seeks us. He comes to meet us.” That Mass was the beginning of the end of our pilgrimage, a pilgrimage during which we all opened our hearts to allow ourselves to be found by Christ.

In Madrid we all stayed with host families in the parish of St. Edith Stein. They welcomed us with open arms and could not have done more for us. Every evening they were always keen to know what we had done that day and if we had managed to catch a glimpse of the Pope. The families were always amazed to hear about our enthusiasm for the Church and to see the joy with which we embraced the different events offered for WYD. The Pope also took strength from the spirit of the youth, in his final homily he said, “Dear young people… seeing you here, gathered in such great numbers from all parts of the world, fills my heart with joy.” This spirit of love was evident everyday as we walked through the streets, even when they were unbearably crowded, joy was written on the faces of the young pilgrims from all over the world. The jubilant gathering of millions of Catholics was an amazing testament to the hope that the Church brings to its family and the strongest rebuke to those who suggest that it can’t survive our secular culture. Being in the midst of so many young people who were clearly living out the joy of Christ in their lives, it was clear to see that not only are we the youth of the Pope but that the youth of the Church heard loud and clear when he said, “Do not be afraid to be saints!”

Rosanna’s experience:

‘Some non-Catholic friends of the host family that I stayed with in Madrid told us that they had gone into the centre of the city just to watch so many young people smiling– they said that we were a beautiful contrast to the youth rioting in London. It was so uplifting to hear that just our presence had inspired people in such a way.’

The Love and Life centre, at the Palacio de Deportes in the centre of Madrid, served as a base for English-speaking pilgrims at WYD. Every day there was catechesis given by a bishop or cardinal who later celebrated the Mass. The catechesis changed each day as the personality of the priest changed; whether it was the priest who gave young people high-fives as he recessed from the altar, or the bishop from New York who joked that he would have dressed more formally had he known there would be such a crowd, the teaching given was truly special and was able to touch each one of us and prepare us to fully take part in the Mass that followed.

Rebecca’s experience:

‘The most powerful experience of World Youth Day for me was the first mass that we attended at the Love and Life Centre. The main arena held 12,000 people, and each day when we had mass, it was full to capacity, with others waiting outside the door for a chance to gain entrance. Having heard Father Julian’s words during our retreat in Samos; “We should go out as an army of walking tabernacles to share Christ with the world”, each mass at the love and life centre presented the reality of that statement. Watching 12,000 young people receive Holy Communion and become an actual army of tabernacles was extremely powerful, and filled me with awe. The Holy Spirit was tangible, and God’s work and his plan for all of us were truly evident.’

One of the priests noted in his homily, that not only was it reassuring to see so many young people gathered to attend the WYD events, but that he also saw a pilgrim quietly sitting with a homeless person having something to eat. It is during these quiet moments, when we are away from the crowds of other people, that the true love of Jesus is able to shine through us. As the Holy Father said, we need to see Jesus Christ when He comes to meet us in the Word, the sacraments, “as well, and most importantly, in the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance, the poor and the sick, in those brothers experiencing difficulty and in need of help.” Many of us were able to experience these quiet moments when we spoke to the FOCUS missionaries or any of those who have dedicated their lives to Christ.

Chiara’s experience:

‘The few days I was able to experience of WYD in Madrid were a true blessing for me. The atmosphere of pure joy was just overwhelming. What seemed to be one of the most difficult times for me turned out to be filled with blessings. Because of health issues I was neither able to stay with my friends in our host family nor join the Focus group on the first day of WYD. On top of that my mom and sister had to come and get me home before the end of WYD. This was heart breaking for me, but apparently God had other plans for me and for those around me. I had the incredible blessing of spending one and a half days with two Focus missionaries, Kate and Stacy, who stayed with me in a (4 star!) hotel. We laughed, shared stories and experiences and prayed together. I thank God for being able to get to know them and spend time with them. They, as all the other missionaries who’d helped really showed me the gaze of Christ. And I cannot be more grateful. Another grace I received those days was my mom and sister’s experiences of WYD. Had it not been for the circumstances, they’d never been able to see what was really going on in Madrid. Especially for my sister, this was a very positive experience. Being someone who doesn’t even attend Mass regularly she’d never even considered attending such an event as WYD. So hearing from her ‘This is amazing! Chiara, I’m so gonna come with you to WYD in Rio de Janeiro 2013!’ meant the world to me.’

There were many WYD events organised all around Madrid and it would have been impossible to attend all of them…but that didn’t stop us from trying. A group of us had the opportunity to visit the Prado art museum. As a special event for WYD, the museum had a Caravaggio painting on loan from the Vatican of the entombment of Christ. This painting was only one of the many famous paintings held in the museum of Christ or the saints. It is such a witness to the endurance of faith that a painting that may have been painted 500 years ago can combine art and faith in such a way that it still, today, moves our soul and engenders within us a sense conversion, and that it does this to such an extent that simply viewing a painting becomes an act of prayer.

The climax of our pilgrimage, and perhaps one of the most challenging parts, came at the end of the week when we all walked out to Cuatro Vientos airfield to await the arrival of the Holy Father for the vigil and closing Mass. It was perhaps the most challenging part as there was no escaping the heat of the sun as we walked in large crowds of people. Luckily the fire brigade was always near at hand and always happy to soak the crowds of pilgrims in the hope of cooling them down. The weather decided to give the fire brigade a break when during the vigil with the Pope we got to experience a summer storm. Far from dampening spirits, the rain and lightning gave us an unexpected opportunity to practice Christian charity by sharing ponchos, umbrellas and even sleeping bags in order to find some shelter from the elements. The power of prayer was also powerfully demonstrated when the rain stopped just in time for Eucharistic adoration and right on cue resumed again as soon as the Blessed Sacrament was taken of the altar. Luckily the rain stopped and we were all able to get some sleep in time for the closing Mass the next day.

Jenny’s experience:

‘One of the highlights of the trip was when we were at Cuatro Vientos. The Mass itself was said in Spanish (which I neither speak nor understand) and was celebrated by 2million young people which was unbelievable. The best part of it all was when it came to the sign of peace where everyone turned to their neighbours to shake hands. On the big screens dotted around the area (as it was so vast), you saw people of all nations shaking hands with anyone and everyone – English, German, Italians, Brazilian, Spanish, African, Americans, etc. It made you think that even though there was war still in the world people could still be unified in Christ.’

Daniel’s experience:

‘On a personal level, one thing that stuck with me from WYD was something the Holy Father said in his homily. He said, “…having true faith means drawing support from the faith of your brothers and sisters, at the same time as your own faith serves as a support for the faith of others.” Being a cradle Catholic, I was always brought up to say my prayers and attend Mass…but it wasn’t until I went to University and had a large group of friends who all went to Mass and spent time in prayer together during the week, that I really began to deepen in my faith. For me, WYD was this same experience but on a much larger scale and it created within me a desire to know Christ and make him known to others in a way that I thought was reserved only for those of Holy Orders. The Pope reminded us that we are the apostles of the twenty-first century and the messengers of his joy and he challenged each one of us to respond in love to the One who for love gave himself up for us.’

The sheer scale of the event was a fantastic testament to the living faith of the Catholic Church. To be one of about 2 million people filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit, gathered in one place for one reason; to proclaim the glory of God, was unbelievably faith affirming. We are the next generation of the church. One of the American bishops who spoke to us at the Love and Life centre challenged us, and all the youth of the Church, saying “Don’t let the flame of faith go out on your watch, don’t let it weaken in your generation.” If the vibrancy and passion that was so evident at World Youth Day is anything to go by, it looks like we will not let that happen. The youth of the Church is alive and well: “Esta es la juventud del Papa!” (We are the youth of the Pope!)

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