Welcome back to the blog which, after my break, springs back into action. But before diving back into the world of all things Catholic, I want to spend a moment looking back at World Youth Day in Madrid which I attended.
I do not propose in these lines to complain about the lack of organisation – that has been done and done rightly – I simply wish to tell something of my adventures across Europe.
Simple Prayer Book in hand, I left by coach, visiting Paris, Lourdes and Toulouse in France. Staying in school dormitories and universities meant that this, my 5th and possibly final World Youth Day, was not the most uncomfortable one. Crossing into Spain, I spent time in Barcelona visiting the inside of the Sagrada Familia for the first time; sometimes that place looks more like something from the Lord of the Rings trilogy than a Church but it was stunning.
We were a group of more than three hundred from all over the UK and in a group that size it takes a long time to do anything or go anywhere; but the constant changes in location meant there were a great many opportunities for prayer while travelling, including the Divine Office and the Rosary. Spending time with God in that way was a massively important part of the trip for me.
As we got nearer to Madrid we heard about anti-Pope protests and people clamouring about the use of public money to finance the event, just as they did when the Pope came to the UK last year. I smiled watching my fellow pilgrims descend on any petrol station, shop or refreshment stand we found, pumping Euros into Spain’s failing economy in exchange for vital ice-creams, drinks or sandwiches.
Walking – or in my case being wheeled (see picture) – towards our place in Cuatro Vientos airbase, it got unbearably hot, I thought of the Israelites needing water in the desert, and just when things looked really bad, the fire brigade arrived to hose down pilgrims – it was the answer to all our prayers!! I have read of people being turned away or refused food; as veterans of the WYD circuit, we had been supermarket shopping in the preceding days to stock up on supplies so, other than avoiding ants’ nests which seemed to be everywhere, we were relatively comfortable.
Then the storm struck, and the fireworks we saw at the end of the festivities were no match for the natural ones. But for all the pyrotechnics, the highlight of the night was the moment of Eucharistic adoration. In that moment, we pilgrims understood what we had come for, for adventure and for fun yes, but most of all, for this meeting of a community of believers with Jesus – and it was wonderful.
Mass next day was great with a perfect gospel, Peter’s profession of faith; but the storm had made receiving Holy Communion impossible. Even so, I left with a sense of having done what I had set out to do, travel into the heart of Europe with Christ and his Church and listen to and support the successor of St Peter who clearly warned me and all of us:
“We cannot follow Jesus on our own. Anyone who would be tempted to do so ‘on his own’, or to approach the life of faith with the kind of individualism so prevalent today, will risk never truly encountering Jesus, or will end up following a counterfeit Jesus.”
Of related interest: