Saturday, August 20, 2011

Images from Madrid

I write this from Madrid where I am participating in the World Youth Days, an event that, every couple of years, gathers young adults from across the world in a celebration of faith in Jesus-Christ within the Roman Catholic tradition. It is difficult to give a coherent account of what is happening here, so I’ve decided just to note some of the many images that stay with me. Here goes.

Hundreds of thousands of young people gathered to welcome the Pope in the heart of Madrid.

Thirty-eight degrees centigrade in the sun at six p.m., with no hope that the night will get any cooler.

Talking with a young man from France who is all excited to meet a bishop from Canada because his mother is originally from Vancouver.

Listening to the questions that young adults have: Why did God give us freedom when we abuse it so much? How can you love someone who makes himself unlovable? How can you share your faith with someone who just doesn’t get it? How can you keep the joy of World Youth Days alive when you go back to the ordinariness of daily life? Does God really want me to become a priest? Does God really love me?

Trying to answer their questions in five minutes or less.

Having lunch at 2:00 p.m., siesta at 4:00 p.m., and supper at 10:30 p.m.

The deep silence of a thousand young adults crammed into a church, just after they’ve received communion at Mass.

A young woman showing me her notes taken during my catechesis, scribbled in ink on her arm because she had no paper with her.

Eight hundred young adults sharing the floor of a school gym for the night, with only four showers and five bathrooms for all… and yet singing on their way to the first activity of the morning.

Chatting with a young bishop from Cambodia where, a couple of decades after all that country’s Catholics were basically slaughtered during Pol Pot’s regime of terror, there are now 20,000 young converts trying to rebuild the Church.

Seeing flags from a hundred different countries being flown side by side in peace, goodwill and harmony.

Listening to the Pope remind young people that faith in Jesus is key to a joyful, meaningful life.

Sharing a prayer service with the 6,000 Canadian delegates to this event, and then moving quickly to allow the 6,000 Australian delegates to take over the space and do the same.

Singing the theme song in Spanish, French, Italian and English.

Learning to say “Muchissimas gracias!” to all the citizens of Madrid for their generous welcome and hospitality.

Smiling and crying at the same time.

Planning to do it all over again in 2013 in Rio de Janeiro.

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