KAPADVANJ, SEPTEMBER 7, 2011: On August 20, the morning preceding the climaxing events of World Youth Day, all the participants of WYD congregated at various source venues in Madrid City from where they would embark on a walking pilgrimage to Cuatro Vientos the venue planned for the entire congregation to gather. The participants under the Salesian Youth Movement (SYM) world over gathered at Don Bosco School where we were animated by a team of youth volunteers who lead us in prayer before the pilgrim walk. Wearing blue JMJ (WYD in Spanish) T-shirts as the SYM colour code, we marched out in our respective countries holding aloft our respective national flags towards the mighty venue whose logistics were brilliantly planned to accommodate almost 1.7 million pilgrim participants.
We were allotted Zone C-2 amidst the myriads of planned zones, and the journey to those allocations were a test of endurance given the blazing heat of the sun overhead and the fiery stone-cast muddy ground under-feet. It was heartening to see many good hearted people showering generous dozes of water through water pipes and buckets from their houses, some even distributing umbrellas expressing their solidarity towards the heat harassed pilgrims who in turn acknowledged their thoughtful kindness with enthusiastic shouts of gratias (thank you) and ahua (water).
On reaching the main venue, we were given our food packs which covered supper for the eve and breakfast and lunch for the next day. It was a generous spread of bread with meat, fish, tinned meals, juices, biscuits, desserts, olive oil, chocolates and nuts. It was a site to see how the participants lounged on their bed bags in their respective allocations trying to defy the inclement heat with coping strategies that ranged from umbrellas, national flags, tarpaulin sheets, creams, caps, t-shirts, cardboard boxes and whatever else that could be converted into a make-shift shelter from the sun. All through the ordeal there was a great spirit of endurance and at the same time a lively interaction of people within and around their groups. There were dehydrated pilgrims being attended to with great care in the twenty four hour dispensary set up at the venue.
The World Youth Day began on the night of August 20 with the arrival of his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. The electrifying atmosphere at his arrival was awesome with youngsters running to take a closer look at the Pope, and others clapping and shouting joyful slogans in various languages, ‘Long live the Pope’, ‘Benedicto’, ‘Viva Papa’.
As dusk overtook the day, it brought with it a totally unexpected visitor - a spell of storm and a shower of rain as though the heat of the day was destined to taste sweet revenge. It was fun to see how a crowd of this magnitude responded to this spectacle of nature’s gimmicks. There was no stampede, but only brave-hearts improvising shelters by slipping into the bed bags, and plastics, summoning creative wits to cope with the situation. And through it all, the Pope in great solemnity presided over the Vigil Adoration Service which marked the beginning of the climax to the entire event.
The site of youngsters bowing in adoration, amidst the seemingly chaotic but contained scenario, was mind blowing. It spoke of the unity of purpose for which all the participants world over had gathered - to witness to the catholicity of their faith in Jesus. Following the Vigil Adoration Service, the participants were free to participate in the Eucharistic Adorations held at various Adoration Chapels set up for the purpose. Opportunities for the Sacrament of Reconciliation were made available at these venues. The pilgrims kept themselves busy in their groups, singing songs, chatting, praying, some trying to catch sleep under the star-decked sky that gleefully appeared after the storm and rain.
All were now ready to participate in the concluding Eucharistic celebration presided over by the Pope. Priests who wished to concelebrate with the Pope had to be in their allotted places between 5.00 a.m. and 8.00 a.m. with their accreditation cards on their person. Every concelebrating priest was gifted a WYD Chasuble and Stole as a sweet take-away souvenir to the memory of this grand and holy event.
The Mass began at 9.30 a.m. amidst the euphoria of participating in a Eucharist having the successor of Peter as the main celebrant. At the end of the Eucharist before the concluding prayer the WYD Cross was handed over from Spain to Brazil who has been announced by the Pope, to be the host for the next WYD in 2013.
WYD is a sublime tribute to the Catholic Church’s hope in the youth of this generation who have proved themselves to be sincere in their search for the truth embodied in the Lord Jesus. May all of us be touched by the experience of the intimacy with God available in Jesus