Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Esta Es la Juventud del Papa

Well, World Youth Day proper has come to an end, and most of the pilgrims of the world, 16 of our pilgrims among them, have returned to their homes.  From all appearances, though, it has been a great success.

Following our troubles finding the location of the school where we would be staying in Madrid, things went more smoothly.  Our first day in the city found us exploring the Cathedral n which is buried St. Isodore the Farmer, and acclamating to big city life.  The pilgrims spent the day wandering around the area near the Cathedral while the priests and seminarians went to find the special credentials that they would need for the remainder of the pilgrimage.  That evening we attended the Mass of Welcome with the Cardinal Archbishop of Madrid and about 400 thousand other people.  It was eeply moving to me to see wave upon wave of priests seated in the area reserved for us.  Because we arrived late, we were placed in a corral-like structure with little room and lots of sun.  Following Mass, the priests found our group in the mob of people and made the commute to our hosting school.

On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday we attended Catechetical sessions hosted by a bishop from the phillipines, by Bishop Anthony Fisher, and by Archbishop Charles Chaput.  These prelates reminded our young people of the need to cling to the faith and to live and defend it publically.  They seemed genuinely inspired by the words of these bishops.

As we traveled the metros, we encountered a good deal of anger and resentment from locals.  The Church is widely hated here, even though th majority of the population is baptized.  This anger seems to date to the Spanish Civil War and the perception that the Church had alligned herself with Franco.  Our kids had the amazing opportunity to respond with love as protesters shouted at the priests on trains, and as our Blessed Mother was mocked while they sang the Salve Regina.  It was incredible.

On several occassions we had hoped to take time for adoration, and arrived at the place where it was to occur only to find that we were late or that it was in another location.  One evening, in deperation, we decided to take a long walk on our way to the last event of the vening, and to stop in small churches to pray along the way.  To our great relief, we happened upon a small church in an upper room where adoration was occuring.  We were stopped at the door by a priest telling us that we could not enter and that if we wanted to see the pope who would be driving down the street, we would need to do it from ground level.  The expression on his face was priceless as I explained that we did not know that the Pope would be drivving in that area of town, and that we simply wanted to pray.  He warmly welcomed us into his little chapel.

On Friday evening we celebrated the Stations of the Cross with the Holy Father.  The images of the stations were all staues used by various different pious goups within the city for the anual holy weeks processions.  Some of the images were centuries old.  Several hundred thousand people gathered for this event as well.  One of our pilgrims climbed a tree to see better, others clung to lamp posts, and most of us simply stood and were crushed.  We found more protesters, and in this case, refused to let them move past us in the crowd until they lowered their ridiculous signs.  That evening, thousands of people, awaiting the arrival of the Pope chanted, Esta es la juventud del Papa.  We are the young people of the Pope.  That chant would ring out again and again throughout the remainder of World Youth Day.

Saturday we made our way to the place where the papal vigil and Mass were to occur.  As with all world youth days, it had the appearance of a refugee camp, but with the added bonus of te hot, hot Spanish sun and not even a shadow in which to find some cool.  Our pilgrims were troopers, and when the Pope arrived around sundown, we were ready to pray with him.  It rained that evening, and though some beds nd blankets were a litte damp, none of our spirits were.

1.7 million people joined the Pope for Mass on Sunday morning.  It is the largest crowd ever to gather for B16.  After Mass we escaped the feild relatively quickly and went a occurpied a nice shady park until things settled down on the metro line.  After a few hours of waiting, we made our way to out last parish stay, cleaned up, and ate a marvelous dinner together.

That night we bid farewell to fourteen of our pilgrims, and then we slept.  It was a beautiful end to a hard, but fruitful pilgrimage.

The graces in Spain are still flowing, and I have much more to say, but i will try to do that this evening.  For now, all are safe and, though having enjoyed Spain, I think all are ready to return to our own country.  We will be home Friday night.

Nos vemos.  Adios.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Granada et al.

We arrived safely in Madrid after a long, and for many, restless plane ride.  Spanish immigration control was a breeze; they barely glanced at our passports as we passed through.  Outside the immigration gate, Fr. Tim and I purchased international cell phones so that we can call home in case of emergency.  <We collected our bags and headed to the place where our bus was to meet us.  An hour or so later, we were met by the last three pilgrims arriving on different flights and we made our way south to the Diocese of Granada and the small town of Compotejar where we were assigned our host families.

The drive south was beautiful.  An hour or so outside of  Madrid we began to encounter olive groves.  They covered the land from horizon to horizon, rising in green swells over the landscape as the flat plains began to rise into mountains.  Here and there, these groves gave way to small ranches where cattle with wicked looking chewed their cud in the shade.

After a short stop for water and a bathroom and a three hour ride, we finally found ourseles in Compotejar.  Unfortuntely, upon arrival, none of our hosts were to be found.  They were at siesta.  After some frantic calling, a helpful woman came to the bus and explained that they were not expecting us for some time yet, and that most of the community was resting away from the midday heat.  We asked permission to celebrate Mass in the Chuch while waiting for our families to arrive.  This was granted, and after a beautiful celebration of Thanksgiving,  we were finally introduced to our hosts.  I spend my days in Compotejar with the other two priests and four seminarians.  All of the family, except for the oldest so who was left to host us, had abandoned the house and gone to Granada for the week to make roo for us.

Compotejar was amazing!  In this pueblo of 1500 people, we were fed like kings, and we all quickly adapted to the slow maƱana approach to life as lived by the people in the village.  All of us were overwhelmed by the generosity of the people.  On our first full day in the village every girl received an authentic flamenco skirt to be worn that evening for a dance in the town square.  The boys received authentic pieces of flamenco clothing as well.  We learned that all of the women in the parish had spent a month sewing these articles.

Highlights of the week included a day trip into Granada to visit a monastery, the Cathedral, the tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella, and a long and difficult walk to the top of a mountain for lunch with the parish community who had assembled there to feed us.  We also danced flamenco, visited an olive oil plant, and celebrated Mass for the Feast of the Assumption of Mary on top of a mountain as the sun was setting.

The next day, amid tearful goodbyes, we returned to our bus and made our way bak to Madrid.

We arrived here in Madrid yesterday.  It was one adventure after another until we finally, aound 10:00 PM, found where we were supposed to be staying (we arrived in the city around 4:00 PM).  >As it turns out, we are among four other groups staying at a high school.  The gym is too hot for sleeping, so we are roughing it in the school yard.  Four other groups of pilgrims will be joining us at the same facility, so who knows how many of us will eventually be staying there.  For now, it is at least a place to leave our heavy bags during the day.

Graces abound so far.  We are learning the value of living simply.  We are seeing the presence of Christ in the hospitaqlity and generosity of others.  we are learning that we need not rush headlong into every moment of the day;  it is ok to relax a little.  Likewise, we are reminded that a pilgrimage always entails a degree of suffering and sacrifice, and that these can have redemptive value.  I wish I could say more, but I am currently at an internet cafe paying for this computer by the minute, and we have left the pilgrims in the center of the city to fend for themselves until our return to them.  Suffice it to say that all of us are safe, everyone is in relatively good health, an no one seems ready to jump ship and reutrn home.  These in themselves are graces.  I will write again as soon as I have acess to the internet again (there was no access in compotejar). 

Until then, Dios les bendiga.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

So Far, So Good

After a very early morning for the first twenty of our pilgrims and a long wait for the remaining thirty at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., I am pleased to announce that we have all been reunited to make the final leg of our trip into Spain. As I write, the pilgrims have separated into their small groups to pray Vespers, and when they have finished, we will gather to hear one of our group tell the story of St. Ignatius of Loyola, one of the patrons of the WYD Madrid. Spirits are high even as heads nod while we wait to board the plane. So far, Day 1 has been a rousing success.

We have encountered several other pilgrim groups already, some going to Rome, others to some other holy site before making their way to Madrid. One thing is for sure: Madrid is soon to remember why she should be proud to be Catholic.

It is now time for me to go pray Vespers as well. Today we celebrate the feast of St. Clare. May she keep careful watch over us as we prepare to cross the Atlantic.

Hasta pronto!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Crunch Time

The first pilgrims (I, among them) will arrive at Rapid City Regional Airport at 4:30 on Thursday morning.  The rest will follow a little later, and by late in the day, we will all be restlessly hanging around our departure gate at Dulles International in Washington, D.C.  I saw one of the pilgrims at Mass this morning.  She is so excited that she woke up early enough to come to the morning Mass.  I will be seeing other pilgrims this evening as they arrive at my house in order to catch a ride to the airport tomorrow morning.  As luck would have it, we have a seminarian in residence here.  He drew the short straw; it falls on him to deliver us there by 4:30 AM.  Seeing no other practical way to do it, I will be up to celebrate Mass at 3:30 AM.  Is it even worth going to bed tonight?

In the meanwhile, there are still a million details to attend to.  I need to buy batteries for our radios.  I need a watch.  I need to get a camera.  I need to find a keyboard for the iPad from which I will be blogging (assuming that we can find wifi).  I need to pack, and try to remember all the things everyone else needs plus the things I need as a leader.  I have found my passport, and it is sitting on my desk waiting to be transferred to my day pack.  I need to get cash to be converted upon arrival in Spain.  All these details that I have been "getting around to" suddenly require immediate attention.  So be it.  By this time tomorrow, I'll already be on my way.  You Holy Patrons of World Youth Day, pray for us!  Hasta la proxima vez!