August 23, 2011
Today was our final day in Madrid. Most people wanted to visit the Prado Museum during the day, and a small group wished to visit the stadium where the REAL Madrid soccer team played. I decided to join the stadium group and visit the Prado afterwards.
We began the day, as in the past, with morning prayer together and a short meeting. Then our small group departed for the bus into town. It wasn't hard to find the stadium once we came to the general area. It was the biggest thing out there. This soccer team is somewhat of a legend in the soccer world, not only because of its winning history but also because of its outreach programs to the needy and to kids. Tickets for the tour were a bit steep, but I think we all decided that finally it was worth the expense.
We bought our tickets and commenced the tour, along with many others who were visiting today. First we went up to one of the highest levels, where you could really get a good view of the entire stadium. From there we walked through various museum levels, showing the trophies, outreach programs, famous players, history and the like. Eventually, we reached the ground floor where the playing field was located. We were even able to sit in the seats that the players occupy during a game. What struck me most was the fact that there wasn't a bad seat in the house. Whether on top or near the bottom, everyone had a great view of the entire field. My guess is that the tickets to games would be quite pricey.
We ended up in the team store, of course, but none of us were willing play the somewhat outrageous prices that they were charging for simple jerseys or t-shirts. Instead, we simply looked and then made our way out and on to the Prado Museum. Along the way, we passed locations on the street where we had stood or sat during the WYD activities. Now they were completely abandoned and normal traffic was flowing. It was interesting to see these places in their "normal" state after being there when thousands of people had squeezed into these spaces in hopes of seeing the Holy Father and participating in the various WYD activities.
The Prado Museum was a great experience. The quality of artwork there was simply amazing. I spent about three hours walking through the various exhibits. I particularly likes the Velazquez, Goya, and Caravaggio paintings that they had, although there were also some surprises - paintings that jumped out of the wall or became more interesting the longer you looked at them. This was the kind of museum that required regular and intentional visits over a period of years in order to fully appreciate. But I did what I could and think that I absorbed as much as one could in an initial visit.
The group had split up initially and met up later in the afternoon, returning to the school via the Metro for our scheduled final gathering and prayer service. During the day, others had tried to get into the Prado but had found it too packed. They instead toured around on foot, ending up in a Benedictine Church where they were able to join into a Mass that was about the commence. They commented that this was exactly the thing they had been looking for and happily joined in.
When we had all gathered back at the school, in the small school chapel, one of the Brothers took our group photo in the yard outside of the chapel, and then we spent an hour or so talking about our pilgrimage experience - what it had meant to us, what stood out, what we had learned, etc.
The session turned out to be a great summary and celebration of our time together. A number of people said that the real value of the experience lay not so much in the WYD activities as in the life of our small ad hoc community. In the short time that we'd spent together, we had become a genuine community, gathered around a specific pilgrimage, purpose, and prayer. Our common experiences in the Lasallian world easily wound themselves into something larger than any one of us could have anticipated, a quietly joyful and significant journey of faith. In some ways, it was simple, straightforward, and direct. In other ways, it was profound, insightful, surprising, and filled with grace. Sort of like Lasallian education, it had aspects of practicality and whispers of eternity. By the end of the prayer service, I felt that we had come to a comfortable and solid place of completion. Much credit is to be given to Br. Peter Killeen for facilitating and organizing a structure by which all that was able to be accomplished.
After the service, we made our way to a nearby restaurant for our final meal together - simple, relaxed, comfortable, and fitting. We had had a wonderful time, and we were now ready to move ahead. I believe that we had also been able to convey a good sense of what the Brothers vocation was all about, perhaps not in so many words as in the example and experiences of the various people and situations that were part of this pilgrimage. In many ways, the value of a pilgrimage such as this lies with those who participate in it. Their intentions, personalities, expectations, behaviors, interactions, mistakes, conversations, prayers, frustrations, joys, and challenges shaped the character of the final impression - vaguely discerned but deeply felt.
No wonder that for centuries people went on pilgrimages, much to the chagrin of friends and family who couldn't quite figure out why they would do so. Like anything that emerges from a nascent passion and builds upon its exercise, the dynamic lies in the doing of it. All the rest is commentary.
All of the photographs from our WYD experience are here. Below is a slideshow of the photos from just today. For individual photographs, you can also click on the slideshow to go to the album.