SamanthaParedesSamantha ParedesFriday, Aug. 12

The last time I wrote, I just gave you a basic summary about what life is like here in Spain, but I feel that I should start from the beginning of the Spain experience, so here’s a little bit about our time in Loyola:
Our group from Marquette is currently attending MAG+S, a Jesuit program that runs about a week and a half before World Youth Day. We arrived in Loyola, Spain, on Aug. 5, where we stayed and interacted with about 3,000 other pilgrims from around the world for a few days before breaking up into groups and being sent around Spain and its surrounding areas. For those who don’t know, Loyola is a particularly big deal for the Jesuits because St. Ignatius, the Jesuits’ founder, was born there. The festivities took place on St. Ignatius’ grounds and I actually slept on the landing of the stairs in the building added onto St. Ignatius’ house!
Our time in Loyola was taken up by many activities: Adoration and confession in the Basilic, tours of the Holy House (I actually got to walk though the room where St. Ignatius was born and pray in the room where he was converted!!!), games and workshops with the other pilgrims, dancing and a cultural show put on by many of the countries, just to name a few. It was beautiful to meet so many other youth from all over the world, each one welcoming and inspiring in his or her own way. We all have different hair and skin colors, come from various cultures, and speak a wide range of languages, but through our love of Christ, we are all one.

This is only a basic summary of Loyola, but before I log off for now, I’d like to share one moment with you in which I believe I saw God’s face: The last day in Loyola there was a Mass outside in front of the Basilic (and yes, it’s Basilic here, not Basilica). Marquette was standing at the back of the congregation, right behind the last row of chairs. As a reading was about to start, an elderly gentleman turned around, saw us standing, and got up, offering his seat. He said, ¨Siéntate¨ to my friend Alyson and me. Alyson declined the chair, but told me to take it. I declined, but after the man kept insisting, I took the seat quickly and quietly avoid disrupting the beginning of the reading. After I took the seat, though, I realized that I’d been so focused on being quiet that I’d forgotten to thank the man. I felt terrible.
I looked around, trying to figure out where he had moved. I found him behind the Marquette group and we made eye contact. As I was about to say something, he smiled, winked at me, and shook his finger in a sort of ¨no no no¨ gesture, almost like a mother to her child. He made it clear that we weren’t switching back. All I could do was lamely mouth a ¨Thank you,¨ but in that moment, I knew I had seen the face of God from a distance. I absolutely HAD to find him and say thank you in person.
After receiving Communion, I wandered around looking for this man. I eventually found him in the back seats within another section of the congregation. As Mass ended, he turned to leave, saw me and we made a beeline towards each other. He shook my hand and kissed both my cheeks. In Spanish, I said, “Thank you, sir, for the chair.” He responded that it was no problem and once again turned to leave.

I knew I had to say something before he left, so in my stumbling Spanish, I said, “Puedo ver la cara de Dios en Usted,” which means, “I can see the face of God in you.” He smiled, looked around and said (in Spanish), “I can see it too.” He looked around at the 3,000 young pilgrims in the square, waving their flags and singing together and said, “I can see it in all of you.” His words went straight to my heart. Then, in a kind and gentle gesture, he turned back to me, touched my face and said, “and I can see Him in you, too.” With a final smile and an affectionate clap on the shoulder, he left.

I stood there for a moment, unable to stop the tears that started to slip out of pure joy. Never would I have thought that I would be in Spain, a completely foreign country, and be so blessed as to have that kind of deep and touching moment with a total stranger. I honestly believe that God gave me that moment to both to tell me how much he loves me and to give me the opportunity to share his love with someone else. I felt so blessed.
And we hadn’t even left Loyola yet.
Peace to you,

After her initial email, Samantha sent this second blog entry, dated Aug. 12:
I realize that there is no possible way I’d be able to cover everything on this trip so far, so I figured it might be kinda fun to send you a list I composed of moments so far I never want to forget. This might help to catch people up on the past six days or so: Moments I never want to forget:
•    the stranger who gave me his seat and told me he saw God in me
•    praying in the room in which St. Ignatius was converted
•    realizing that I don’t have perfect English to the rest of the world – I have an American accent.
•    being in Southern Spain with 30 other Americans, Mauritians and Spaniards, dancing with each other before lunch, singing songs in French, hand washing clothes, using communal showers, sleeping on the gym floor, having no air conditioning and eating meals prepared by two nuns with only two burners… and finding nothing but absolute joy in these conditions.
•    the sight of the world’s nations’ flags waving all across the plaza in front of the Basilic after Mass
•    being pretty much adopted by people from Singapore

•    having “Happy Birthday” sung to you both English and Chinese, with an extra “May the good Lord bless you” verse

•    watching a group member open up as she shares all that is weighing on her heart

•    a 15-hour bus ride with strangers, with a midnight dinner outside under the stars to end the night

•    hearing 30 priests consecrate the Eucharist in various accents, but realizing that they still speak in one voice

•    meeting with people who immigrated to Spain from Africa… those who were rescued from the sea by the Spanish and came here because they were fleeing the war in their country or because they have seven siblings to support

•    having immigrants tell you that you look like “the sister of Jackie Chan” – that was a good laugh 🙂

•    deciding that taking Spanish was the best decision of your life because it gives you the means to communicate with so many more people

•    spending 15 hours making very small talk with the stranger sitting next to you on a bus without making any real connection… then finding out later, after you share your stories in a group discussion, that perhaps that stranger’s life experiences make you much more alike than different. And perhaps that stranger naturally understands you better than most people.
So these are just a few. I’ll give you more the next time I can log on. Peace!