Thursday, August 18, 2011

WYD 2011 - Day of the Lasallian Gathering

August 17, 2011

(NOTE: This is the second of two blogs that I´ve uploaded on the same day. To start with the first one, look at the next one, if that makes sense.)

Our day began early, given our full day yesterday, with breakfast available at the school and a group meeting scheduled for 9:00 AM. After some orientation comments, the answering of questions, and the outline of the day, we were off to our catechetical site, a parish about a mile away. We had received our WYD backpacks and so were ready to proceed with all sorts of guides, books, keychains and the like. Each of us packed what we thought we might need for the day and set out.

It took a while to figure out how to get to the church, but eventually we got there and joined the English-speaking crowd, moving to the balcony of the the really uniquely configured church. There was an extensive welcoming orientation, with representatives from the various countries describing their typical meal and generally having a fun time. A couple of songs were sung, and then it was time for the bishop from Brooklyn to provide some catechesis.

Although I don´t remember his name (Br. Ed Shields knew him, however, and spoke with him), he did a very good job over the next hour or so, speaking about his own experiences of faith and guiding the young people to reflect on how Jesus could and should be deeply present in their lives. The youth listened attentively throughout, and some asked pointed questions afterwards. There followed a break after which the bishop celebrated Mass for everyone.

At the conclusion of the session, we set out to find a place for lunch, wandering about the neighborhood. Finally, Br. Peter asked a policeman who guided us to a large shopping center that included a number of restaurants. We wandered around the shopping center, which could have been located anywhere in the US, and found a large restaurant with a special menu for the WYD pilgrims. Luckily, we were among the first ones there and were able to get our food pretty quickly. Again, it was fine meal with lots of options. This was the place that had internet access, which I tried to access, having brought my computer with me, but it was as slow as molasses and I finally gave up. But the food was fine.

From the shopping center - our robes created a bit of a stir - we proceeded to a Jesuit parish downtown where Peter had signed us up for a vocation faire for English speaking pilgrims. We arrived early enough to get good seat in the auditorium, where Cardinal Sean O´Malley from Boston would lead the adoration service. After the service, we were signed up to pray as a group before the Blessed Sacrament for the first shift, which we did in a small basement room that had been set up for the purpose. When we left at the end of our time there, we found out that crowds of kids were on the streets waiting to come in. They hadn´t anticipated such crowds (although they probably should have) and as a result were running things as best they could. Our group ended up in the street, speaking with various folks about the Brothers. I had brought brochures with me, and we passed these out to those who were interested. Several of the Brothers were interviewed by a camera crew from Canada doing a story on religious vocations today. And the wristbands that I´d brought were, of course, quite popular as well.

Finally, we had to move on and make our way to Colegio La Salle, another school of 1,700 kids, where the Lasallian gathering was to be held. We figured out how to get there via the Metro - a long distance - and walked another mile from the Metro station to the school. There we were met by a tablefull of Brothers, many of them young, who gave us little yellow plastic shawls (something they do here as an identifying marker) and a fine welcome. Solid red t-shirts with ¨La Salle¨on them were on sale for 6 Euros, and the next couple of hours were spent with Lasallians from around the world who were gathered here for WYD.

It was all very energizing to meet so many Brothers, Lasallians, and students from so many places around the world. They communicated in Spanish, French, and English primarily, but mostly in Spanish. Somehow, the students ran around with smiles on their faces, talking to anyone they could find and appreciating their Lasallian connections. There were Brothers there from through Latin America (RELEM was having its meeting at the same time)and a number of the General Councillors, along with Br. Alvaro of course. Photographs were being taken left, right, and center. Large groups of kids were playing games in large circles, or trading wrist bands and t-shirts. It was a Babel of voices and fun.

Gradually things settled down and the ¨official¨ program got under way. There was a welcome by the Visitor, some songs for the group, introductions of each nation - accompanied by cheers and running around - and a prayer service. After this, students were invited to go to a series of workshops being offered around the property on a variety of topics. I had volunteered to be part of a workshop on the Vocation of the Brother. We had about 15 kids and adults join our group. One of the Brothers, thankfully, was able to translate between Spanish and English, since some English-speakers had joined this group as well. We spent about a half hour talking about the vocation and the mission of the Brothers. The questions were serious, thoughtful, and sincere, as were the answers. I was able to understand most of them because of my studies in Guatemala. However, I answered in English, allowing the Brother to translate what I said into Spanish. (Side note: I don´t know if this had been planned, but the young Spanish Brothers had been in the red La Salle t-shirts until after we´d arrived in our robes, and soon a number of them appeared in their robes as well, much to the delight of their students who took lots of photographs with them.)

By now it was fairly dark and we were released for dinner (10 PM - remember, this is Spain), and then we were called back to the large group around 10:30 PM. Once we had settled down, sort of, Br. Alvaro was introduced and he gave a talk to the young people, pointing out their importance for today and for the future. At the end of his talk, there were several musical pieces, and then a musical group was introduced. By now our own little group was ready to return ¨home¨ and so we made our exit, took the bus to the Metro station and made our way back. It had been another very full day.

One closing comment: After my small group session, I spoke with an elderly Brother who was standing on the grounds, watching the kids with a smile on his face. He was 83 years old but still very active. It´s important, he told me in Spanish, to stay active and helpful in whatever way you can. But then he said something quite profound, to my way of thinking. He said that he was so happy looking at all these young people who were commited to their faith, to the Lasallian mission, and to each other. He said that it indicated that his consecration had been successful. This experience confirmed the success of his consecration as a Brother. That´s my best personal take-away from the whole experience.

Below is a short slideshow of some of the photographs that I took during the day. Click on the show to see the photographs individually, along with their captions.