Tuesday, September 06, 2011

World Youth Day

The QUO VADIS group gave its heart and enthusiasm to World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid – and shared in an experience of faith and prayer that was quite extraordinary.
No one who was there will ever forget the heat and dust of the Cuatro Vientos  airfield as some two million young people gathered there, nor the drama of the thunderstorm that erupted as evening fell, nor the beauty and peace of the great prayer vigil that began as the storm abated. To be kneeling there in silence with the Holy Father, with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament before us all, and to be part of that great gentle wave of prayer, was to experience the huge reality of the Catholic Church and all that it means.
The vigil, and the morning Mass that followed on the Sunday, were the climax to a week of prayer, talks, singing, international encounters, friendship, fun and pilgrimage.  At the core of the QUO VADIS group were seminarians training for the priesthood at Wonersh, Valladolid and Rome. They and all the others in the group shared in a great sense of unity during the unforgettable days in Madrid: morning prayer and Mass together in the church of Santa Maria de Cana where we were housed (and made very welcome) throughout the week, talks and concerts and presentations on many aspects of the Faith, a great celebratory gathering to greet the Holy Father on his arrival, opportunities for confession and Eucharistic adoration beneath the trees in a great park near the city centre. Bishop Mark Davies from Shrewsbury and Archbishop Peter Smith both celebrated Mass for us and spent time answering questions afterwards.
Part of the special quality of World Youth is the joy: a real sense of young people celebrating God’s love.  It spills over into exuberance so that the whole place becomes alive with it. Our QUO VADIS group made its own – often very noisy – contribution to the singing on trains and at street corners, to the shouts of “Benedicto!” and “Viva el Papa!”, and to the chatter as people from different countries exchanged greetings and jokes and news and general enthusiasm. We had brought with us a couple of big British flags and a Welsh flag, and these proved useful in helping to keep the group together on the various journeys around the city – and especially on the long walk out to the airfield for the final events.
The heat, throughout the week, was terrific – we’d all been warned about the need to carry water and protection from the sun. Our special WYD backpacks included hats and fans as well as a Gospel book, a copy of the new (superb!) YouCat youth Catechism, drinks, a teeshirt, tickets which obtained us meals at all the restaurants in the city that displayed a special WYD sign welcoming us.  We also had our own QUO VADIS teeshirts, and a special gadget that we all appreciated – a waterspray which we used liberally on ourselves and others throughout the sun-scorched days.
No one is unchanged after a World Youth Day. It challenges you, brings new friendships, gives a massive experience of the worldwide Church, brings you into contact with the successor of St Peter. It is a time of prayer, penance, and lively talk, of physical discomfort and sudden laughter, of solemn reflective moments and long late-night discussions.  The TV and news reports didn’t get it: they tried to focus on non-events such as discussion about the costs  (the city of Madrid of course did very well out of it –  restaurant meals , shops, train and bus fares, etc – so complaints about the funding petered out) or about people who disagreed with the Pope (not really news: protesters gathered and shouted but that was that). The reality was – and is – a great and moving affirmation of faith: the Catholic Church’s John Paul generation reaching its adulthood as the Benedict generation, and showing its love of Christ and desire to serve him. It was thrilling to be part of this.