Friday, Sept. 2, 2:04 a.m.
I apologize for the delay in entries! This was our first week of classes at Marquette, so between moving in, starting classes and clinicals, and just adjusting to campus in general, it’s been a busy week!
Regardless of campus craziness, the World Youth Day experience hasn’t evaporated from my life. Many of my friends can attest that I’ve been talking about Spain a lot. Trust me on that. And I also know that I’m not the only pilgrim who somehow manages to talk about Spain every five minutes; One of my housemates does it, too 🙂
But back to World Youth Day. The final weekend took place at Cuatros Vientos Airport, a dusty open field about a three-hour-walk from Madrid.
Yes. I said walk.
I feel like I truly learned the definition of what it means to be a pilgrim that weekend. It got to be about 105 degrees, backpacks were heavy and the road was long, but the entire time I just kept mentally encouraging myself. I kept repeatedly thinking, “Don’t complain” during that pilgrimage. I also remember the feeling of continuing to push myself to stay positive and focus on our true purpose at World Youth Day, which was to unite from around the globe for the glory of God. This was all for him.
The Spaniards were so welcoming to us as well. Streets were lined with pilgrims trekking in the heat. Cars would pass by and honk. People would smile and wave and cry out things like, “El Papa!” And local apartment residents eased our trip by splashing buckets of water out their windows from several stories up to help cool us off on our journey. One man even whipped out his hose and sprayed passing-by pilgrims. With all the local support, encouragement and care from the Spanish residents, it was hard not to feel loved. Loved by strangers, no less. Nothing but God could invigorate and use such joy and excitement to unite total strangers.
Vigil was… interesting, to say the least, but I mean that in a good way. It was a powerful experience. Two million pilgrims in itself was overwhelming; Despite being in one of the sections closest to the stage, I still had to rely on one of the nearby giant TV screen stations to follow the proceedings.
That is, until it rained.
Drops came down and mass chaos broke loose. People started running everywhere, but no one had shelter, nor did they have anywhere to run. The sky turned pitch black and the grounds turned to mud. Thunder and lightning crashed down. The TV screens went blank. They started shielding Pope Benedict’s face with umbrellas (which, to say the least, was rather amusing because it’s not every day that you see the Pope being protected from the weather).
And in the face of all this insanity, people only started praying harder! They pooled into groups and started chanting even louder and harder! “ESTA ES LA JUVENTUD DEL PAPA! ESTA ES LA JUVENTUD DEL PAPA! ESTA ES LA JUVENTUD DEL PAPA!” From what I could tell, very few pilgrims actually left that night to seek shelter. Mostly everyone braved the weather and remained outside for the night. The storm eventually passed and Pope Benedict told us that it was the first World Youth Day to ever experience rain, and he commended us for our spirit and endurance of the storm. Words can’t do the experience justice, but it was incredibly beautiful and powerful to see that, in the face of hardship and difficulty, we all chose to stay. We weren’t going anywhere. Two million people trusted God and trusted that He would keep us safe, and they shouted their hearts out to him together to show how much they really believe in him, how much they love him. We were one and we were strong in our faith. Nothing could have brought us down at that moment.
The next morning dawned the proceedings for the final Mass. It was a beautiful day, with blue skies, sun and a cooler temperature than the day before. Very few people were able to receive the Eucharist; during the storm before, the Holy Body had been transferred off the site to protect it from the weather, but it was never returned to Cuatros Vientos. That’s alright, though – spiritual fulfillment was more than enough.
I’ve got to head to bed soon (it’s 2 a.m. and I have to wake up before 7 a.m.), but before I go, I want to share with you an experience I had during the final Mass.
The Gospel for the Mass was the one where Jesus asks his disciples who they say he is (Mark 8:27). They respond that he is the Christ.
When I heard the reading, I asked myself the same question. I looked to the sky and felt my heart being asked the same question. “Who do you say that I am?” Instantly, I knew the answer. It came without even trying. Somehow I’d managed to discover it on our trip. For me, God is Love.
This realization tied my entire trip together. I came to World Youth Day for three reasons: To find God in a radical, yet tangible way; to serve others and make a difference in their lives; and to have a freeing experience that would ultimately be the making of a new beginning. And in this moment, I felt all these missions being united. Each one had been fulfilled in its own individual way, but now they were becoming linked.
Every time I found God on this trip, it was through interaction with another person: The conversation with the stranger at the Basilic… Growing to love my friend Faco at the nursing home… Playing Spanish games with the two sons of a local immigrant shopkeeper… The beautiful look of awe and love on my friend’s face as Maria, her chosen companion at the Residencia, kissed her on the cheek… The expression of constant joy that was rarely missing from our chaperone’s face… The Spanish woman who opened our home to us after the final Mass to provide us with bathrooms and food… The transformation of 30 international strangers into one loving family with an unbreakable bond… The voices and faces of pilgrims proclaiming their praise… I found God in people, especially through my service. He was in everyone I met, within their actions, their shared gifts and talents and their hearts. God was everywhere and he continuously showed himself to me.
I was blessed with the opportunity to have spiritual direction with our chaperone when I hit a bump in my journey. A couple instances had taken place where it was seemingly easier to withhold my heart rather than give it fully. At one point, my chaperone asked me when I most feel like myself. My answer? When I’m able to love others or perform random acts of love for them.
And that is how God is present in me, too. For me, God is Love. I did find him in everyone else through acts of love, but I found him in myself as well. If that’s not a freeing experience, I don’t know what is. With this realization, all my hopes for this trip were united and resolved. Talk about coming full circle.
So, to all of you reading this now, I have some food for thought. Who is God to you? And how is he present within your heart?
Try sleeping on it. That’s what I’m about to do right now.
(Post-Reflection to come!)