Votes : 0

Voices from World Youth Day

WYD Pilgrijms - Tue, Aug 30th 2011


Voices from World Youth Day

WYDHundreds of thousands of young Catholics have headed to Madrid for World Youth Day, the triennial celebration that culminates in a papal Mass. What’s it like to be there? Over the next few days some of the pilgrims will be reporting from Madrid on their experiences.

What next?

Christine Parreno in Madrid - 22 August 2011

I had got pretty used to a lot of things over the last week: the blasting heat, the lack of a good cuppa at breakfast, the pedestrian traffic lights that sound like Star Wars laser guns when you cross, the panic of losing your group in a million people, the relief of finding a bottle of cold water, the dismay when that same water reaches boiling point within 10 minutes. Oh - and the noise. The vibrant, round-the-clock noise that you only get in a city packed to its limits (and beyond) with people from all over the world - young people at that, who cheerfully scorn the idea of a good night's sleep.

I didn't have a problem bellowing chants dawn to dusk and grooving to Christian reggae bands/spontaneous Brazilian street-parties/Congolese traditional drummers until midnight (which was early).

So now that I'm back in London, and found that I needed to use a duvet last night, and that it was dark, cool and silent when I woke up in my bed - that I actually had a bed, for starters - it was actually a mildly discomfiting experience. I'd roughed it all week with my group. At the end during the Vigil we were blasted by heat as well as wind and rain, and the queue for the water taps was enough to make anyone faint (which it did). And yet - I'd do World Youth Day again and again and again.

During the long and hot walk to the Cuatro Vientos airport to see the Pope at Saturday night's Prayer Vigil and Sunday's final Mass, every time our group was on the point of sitting down and never moving again, we would be inspired by the other people walking around us. One time it was a group of Polish youth who whipped out their guitars and sang a beautiful song to Our Lady even though the sweat was streaming down their faces and some of them really couldn't sing; another time it was a family with three children who couldn't have been more than 10 years old, walking along without complaint, the rucksacks piled on their dad's back. And then, when the storm started in the evening, it was the Brazilians beside us who leapt to their feet and began chanting the Pope's name. Everyone in that field was worried about the Holy Father, not for themselves. How could we be miserable in the midst of all this joy and enthusiasm?

World Youth Day was never intended to be a one-hit wonder where we all party in the streets, praise the Pope, then go home to forget about it all. The youth of the world gathered in Madrid to change themselves for the better through prayer and hardship together with like-minded - and like-hearted - people. We're back now - back to our beds and showers and decent cuppas - to help society change for the better, just like we have.


The crush, the heat, the buzz

Liz Dodd in Madrid - 22 August 2011

It's approaching 9 a.m. on the morning of the closing Mass. There are approximately 2 million people with me on Madrid's airfield: over the last 12 hours we've weathered 45?C heat; a thunderstorm that blew away one of the chapels and brought Adoration to a standstill; and nearly been arrested.

Elements of this year's WYD have been magnificently executed. The Via Crucis was stunning and very moving: stations were offered for and carried by marginalised groups including recovering drug addicts, immigrants and young people from Sudan.

pope, umbrella, WYD, rainThe same cannot be said for the week's closing event - the all-night vigil and closing Mass. With temperatures soaring beyond 45?C and no shade, it was always going to be a gruelling experience. Then they ran out of water at all but one of our water points.

Tempers were flagging when a group of volunteers came and told us that we'd been told to camp in the wrong area and that - the heat and number of younger pilgrims in the group notwithstanding - we would have to move (it wasn't clear where to - campsites were fenced off and already heaving). One of our heroic Spanish-speakers was told either we moved or he would be taken to the police station: only the intervention of our group leader (armed with Italian and a cassock) eventually convinced the team to drop their sustained attempts to throw us out.

Some deep breathing later, we were ready to greet the Holy Father. Unfortunately, so was a staggering thunderstorm, scarring the black clouds behind the stage with forked lightening, the Pope hidden behind an umbrella.

WYD, pilgrims, hot, sun, heat, wakeThe service resumed (with Exposition, a brave move) once the storm had dropped. Two million young people simultaneously falling silent is a memorable experience; after the service, some intrepid group members ventured out to discover that many of the tents - including the chapel and confessional - had been blown over. In further devastating news, our bar had closed.

An uncomfortable night was followed by another searing morning and the WYD closing Mass. While communion was not offered in the wake of the previous night's storms, the closing Mass was beautiful, fusing a Latin liturgy with modern music. The Pope announced that next WYD - in two, rather than three years time - would be in Rio de Janeiro: Brazilians in the crowd (apparently tipped off) let off streamers, shooting silver glitter across the airfield.

We were faced with tidying up in the midday sun, a 3km walk to the Metro station and the crush of 2-3 million people trying to catch the same train home: World Youth Day was over. Exhausted, sleep-deprived and unable to distinguish suntan from grime, we could all agree on one thing: Rio 2013.

Liz Dodd is at World Youth Day with a group from the Oxford Oratory.

Above, top: Pope Benedict is shielded from the rain with an umbrella. Above: Pilgrims wake after sleeping out on the Madrid airfield. Photos: CNS


Amid a sea of shining pilgrims

Catherine Simon in Madrid - 22 August 2011

Crowds, heat and shouting – not the typical components of a relaxing holiday, and certainly a test of "health and safety" at its best. Perhaps I should have remained in the quiet comfort of my own home, glued to the television instead. Perhaps I should have taken the hint from the thousands of Madrileños who leave the asphyxiating heat of the summer months and retreat to higher and more distant locations.

I am extremely glad that I did not. Never have so many different people from, in some cases, radically opposed cultures, been so united under one banner. The arrival of the Pope on Thursday afternoon saw thousands of young people lining the streets in order to welcome him to the festival. In the long wait leading up to his arrival, we waited patiently with colourful hats, furiously-used paper fans and shiny faces from zealously applied sun cream. Occupiers of high-up flats hung their heads out of windows to observe the sea of colour below, drawn by the overwhelming noise of song and chatter.

WYD, pilgrims, sign of peace, MadridTheir bird's eye position did not go unnoticed, as all of a sudden pilgrims started chanting for "agua", in search for temporary relief from the sun's glare. To their delight, their basic need was met with good humour from the inhabitants, who began to fill up large buckets with the precious source of refreshment. The man who produced the hose received a cheer to rival even that of the Pope.

It felt strange to turn on the television that evening and to see the report of riots in a central square of Madrid. Having walked just about everywhere through the city (with dirty, blistered feet to prove it) and having met fellow pilgrims from America to China, and locals, if only to ask for directions, who have been more than cooperative, the news seemed to have missed the elephant in the room: just under one million young people from almost every nation were cramped into a city in up to 40? heat and were happy!

World Youth Day has contained joy, as opposed to hysteria, discernment of vocation, rather than unrealistic aspiration. All such emotions are not empty feelings, but are making a real and profound effect on hundreds of thousands of young Catholics around the world.

Catherine Simon is leading a group of pilgrims at World Youth Day.

Above: Pilgrims exchange the sign of the peace at Sunday's closing Mass. Photo: CNS/Paul Haring.


Hot and bothered

Liz Dodd in Madrid - 22 August 2011

The scout camp next to our college is woken up at 7.20 every morning by the World Youth Day theme song "Firmes en la fe" (Firm in faith), blasted in all its soft-rock glory across the campsite. This would be trying at the best of times: after a week of early starts and late nights, it's become something of a pet hate.

I was warned before I came that WYD wasn't a holiday (it was a pilgrimage). I'd take that a step further: it's an endurance test. Maybe it's because I'm at the upper end of the age scale here (25), but running around Madrid in 35? heat (40? today); up and down flights of stairs; shepherding teenagers on to packed Metro trains; clinging to what vestiges of sanity remain in the presence of millions of young people from all over the world (and yet all of whom have brought drums) is exhausting.

WYD, pilgrims, hot, sun, heatAt a talk on environmental solidarity on Wednesday night a Franciscan sister told us about her experiences walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route in northern Spain. She said that the physical strain was part of the stripping away that gradually brought you closer to Christ. Perhaps the same is true of World Youth Day.

The number of pilgrims is astonishing; groups pack Metro trains and restaurants. It's difficult to imagine anything happening in England on this scale and survival involves meticulous forward-planning. My group has darted from the Prado museum to Stations of the Cross; from a Mass in the extraordinary form with the Juventutem youth movement to a talk on ecology. Navigating a transport system at the upper limit of capacity means that transport is hot, crowded and difficult - but somehow the exhaustion has supported the camaraderie I was always told emerged - and I hope will continue to emerge - on pilgrimages like this.

Liz Dodd is at World Youth Day with a group from the Oxford Oratory. 

share :
tags icon tags :
comments icon Without comments


write comment
Please enter the letters as they are shown in the image above.