Friday, August 19, 2011

WYD 2011 - The Palacio de Deportes

August 19, 2011

(NOTE: Again, this is a double blog entry. The first one is the one that follows this one, since these blogs are uploaded as the latest one first.)

Today we decided to forego our local catechetical session and instead participate in the session at the "Love and Life" center downtown. This large venue was created by the USCCB (the bishops of the U.S.) and others for the English-speaking pilgrims. They provided talks, liturgies, resources, workshops, and a vocation cafe, along with various displays and the like. It was a good decision on our part.

In the morning, we had our group prayer and meeting in the open basketball court next to the gym, while the vietnamese group had theirs in the gymnasium. And afterwards, we also met one another in the Metro and traveled part of the way downtown together. They were off to a different venue while we were off to the Palacio de Desportes, a large stadium that can hold 15,000 people.

We quickly found the Palacio upon exciting the Metro and stood in line to have our bags checked. We apparently also needed our credentials from WYD, which some of us had left at home. During the bag check and general fussing around for our credentials, it became clear that this may be a problem. But rescue was on the way in the person of Br. Paul Bernarczyk, CSC (Executive Director of the NRVC and friend of the Brothers) who came out and convinced the security folks to let us through. He explained inside that they had been blocking anyone else from coming in, since the place was packed to the rafters. But he saw us and wanted to make sure to help us. "Anything for the Christian Brothers," he said. It was good to see him, although he had to immediately dash off to deal with another problem.

We made our way upstairs and found seats in generally the same area, although we had to split up into smaller groups. Soon the program began and out stepped Maggie McCarty and her husband to begin the morning´s activities. She was just appointed as Executive Director for the Regional Council of Lasallian Association for Mission (RCLAM for short), a new position for the Lasallian institutions in the US-Toronto Region, and it was great to see her in this prominent role. In her introduction, she stated that she was now working for the De La Salle Christian Brothers, which brought a cheer from various parts of the auditorium (including ours, of course). She and her husband spoke for a bit and then she introduced Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York who would be the catechetical speaker for the morning.

Here followed a very good talk by Cardinal Dolan on the qualities needed for a firm faith. He quoted others, told stories about himself, and generally was both relaxed, personable, and learned. It was a fast 30-40 minutes of catechesis and we showed our appreciation for his teaching skills at the end. After a break, there was liturgy with some 250 priests and over 50 bishops in attendance. The parades (I mean processions) alone took 10 minutes or so. The whole thing went well, expect for two little niggling things. Cardinal Dolan introduced and had stand for applause the bishops in the audience, the priests in the audience, the sisters in the audience, and the Knights of Columbus. (Anything missing here?) I was waiting for something about others in consecrated life, or Brothers, or anything even vaguely similar. But it was not to be. I should accept this as part of our practical humility, I suppose. The other thing was that the guitar-based musical selections seemed to clash with the chant of the Gospel, the intonations of prayers and the like. I find both musical styles appealing in their own way, but mixing them seemed to be too promiscuously eclectic. But maybe I´m just being picky in my old(er) age.

Afterwards, we joined up with Br. Chris Patino and his group from Cathedral High School (Los Angeles) who were also there, and both groups went out to find a place where they would take 50+ for lunch. It ended up that we all split to different restaurants, and most of the folks in our group went to a small place where the highlight was the Chorizo Sandwich. Add a beer and you´ve got your full meal.

Although it was very hot and humid, a group of us decided to visit the Vocation area in a local park. It was interesting but strange. Here it was over 100 degrees and the "booths" were all in the open. Nevertheless, there were crowds of young people coming and going, picking up free trinkets and talking with the religious and priests who were promoting their lives. We spread out and spoke with folks as well, giving out whatever brochures we had brought. Many people recognized the robes and some enthusiastically so, recalling their own education or Brothers from within their own countries. I was not all that comfortable in my robe in the heat, but the ability to provide that witness to others made it all worthwhile.

After about an hour, we´d had enough and made our way back. Three of us returned to the Palacio for a presentation on prayer in main AIR-CONDITIONED arena. Along the way, we met several young men seeking their vocation and had some really fine conversations about the discernment process. The presentation on prayer was really very good, with four different speakers, and upon its completion we made our way "home" via the Metro where we joined the Brothers in the community in watching the Stations of Cross prayer service downtown with the Holy Father. A whole series of traditional floats were the main feature of the service. Some of our guys had decided to go downtown to watch it up close, and they came pretty close. But they said that once the Holy Father had arrived, the crush of people became too much and they made their long way home.

And later in the evening (are we becoming more Spanish, since it felt like the right time to eat?) we walked a block to a nearby restaurant to have our evening meal together. Other Lasallian groups were nearby, including some young Brothers from Brasil, and it seemed like a fine way to end the day.

The papal/pilgrim marathon begins tomorrow.

Below are photographs taken today. Click on the show to open up a page with all of the individual pictures with their captions.

WYD 2011 - The Pope Arrives

August 18, 2011

Today is the day that the Holy Father arrives in Madrid, and the activities of the day are pretty much geared around that pivotal event. We sort of know that we will likely not be able to get "up close and personal" with him, but we are going to try to experience as much of the day as possible.

For the catechetical teaching, the group was going to go back to the parish that we attended yesterday. I didn´t go because of the need to process the photographs and figure out how to get them online along with the blog. They told me later that the presenter was a bishop from Australia who was okay, but a bit dry for this group of youth. Afterwards, they had some lunch at the same restaurant as the day before and then returned to the school to prepare for the afternoon.

In the afternoon, we made our way to the now-familiar "Colon" station, where you pop up pretty much in the middle of all the action. Already, a large crowd had gathered around the main intersection (one of those circle interchanges made popular by Britain) to await the Holy Father´s motorcade on the way to the public evening prayer service. He had arrived around noon, when most people were in their catechetical sessions (who organizes these things?), and was now in the nunciature - a term that´s probably unique to the Vatican. The main body of our group, once we´d popped out of the ground, decided to grab a piece of sidewalk near the Barclay´s bank building, in the shade but close enough to be able to reach the street when required. I found a spot along the barricade and parked there behind some short people - I was thinking ahead - to wait the hour or so before the motorcade was to come by.

Nearby, there was a bit of a rucuss, and all sorts of police quietly but quickly moved into the area. Later on, I found out that there had been some sort of silent protest that was neutralized before it had a chance to develop further. But perhaps as a result, we were later told by the volunteers (folks in green shirts with a giant "V" on their back) that the motorcade would not be coming this way after all. So I made my way, with Br. Ed and Antonio, to a nearby plaza area where there was a giant screen clearly visible and active.

For the next couple of hours we parked there and watched the activities unfold. Every once in a while, someone would start the "Be....nedetto" clap, clap, clap chant and that would go on for a couple of minutes. But we mostly reacted to what we were watching on the screen. In today´s virtual environment, I guess it was as good as being there. It certain took less energy, a key component in this heat.

There were at least two times when there was some sort of medical emergency near our location, almost all of it having to do with the heat. Each time, the volunteers would be there first, quickly followed by the medical team (in orange shirts) and one time by the police, who cleared the area around the person so that medical folks could do their thing. I was impressed with the timeliness of the response and the thoroughness with which they addressed even apparently minor conditions.

At the end of the prayer service, we all regrouped at "home base" and decided to quickly jump into the Metro - in order to avoid the fiasco of two days ago at the same location - and make our way back to the area around the school for dinner. And so it went. The Metro ride was relatively smooth, although already there were lots of pilgrims making their way home. If we had waited even 5-10 minutes, it would have been impossible to return within two hours. Back in our own neighborhood, we went to a Burger King that we had seen and were able to use our meal coupons to receive a very nice dinner that even included 2 "shots" - some sort of desert concoction that came in a shot glass. I still haven´t figured out how or why they had those, but it was all very tasty. The only strange thing was that the eating area was taken up by a group of families with young kids, and these kids had no sense of discipline whatsoever. They ran hither and yon, had squirt guns with which they were spraying water around, while screaming their lungs out. The mothers even squirted them back! Some of us were passive participants in the action. But this was Spain and maybe that´s how things go here.

Our conclusion at the end of the day was that, while the day´s experience was generally good, the atmosphere downtown was not as devout or quiet as it had been for the Opening Mass. There was a lot of goofing around by kids and talking by adults. It probably had to do with the excitement of having the Holy Father present, and the fact that this was a prayer service. At the same time, the young people were beginning to really enjoy the fact that there were so many others of their ilk around. They now felt comfortable approaching others and asking where they were from, trading little gifts, and the like. God only know what all this will lead to in the next couple of days. But it´s all good and the spirit has been very posotive.

Below are some photographs of the day. Click on the show to go through the individual photographs along with their captions.

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.

WYD 2011 - Things are Different Here

August 16, 2011

Things are different in Spain. This may not seem like a revelation, but it comes across in a variety of ways (some positive, some less so). Take for example this blog. For the past three days, I´ve been trying to figure out how to get a connection to the internet. The internet setup in the Brothers house is such that only dedicated computers can access the internet, despite my best and constand efforts. The wireless at a restaurant we went to had sporadic ¨free¨access that seemed slower than some of the lines in the stores. Finally, I´ve figured out that the only practical thing to do was to prepare the photos, etc. on my mini-laptop, transfer everything to a community desktop, and work with the somewhat strange keyboard to upload and complete the entries. It´s taken a whole bunch of hours, most of today in fact, but that´s what happens when you´re somewhere different - you adapt.

We all arrived at Manhattan College on the 15th and spent some time getting to know one another. Although it was raining torrentially in New York, we spent our time mostly indoors, venturing forth only for Mass and meals with the Brothers community. Brother Peter Killeen had things well in hand in terms of organization, schedule, and introductions. There were several meetings of the group, some relaxation, several discussions (including one on the letter from Pope Benedict to the pilgrims), and a general settling in.

On August 16th, we were hosted by the community at St. Raymond High School in the Bronx for lunch, traveling there in a schoolbus driven by Br. J.P. Riley, who would also take us to JFK afterwards. At the school, Br. Richard Galvin welcomed us and we were able to take a quick look around the neighborhood, including the renovated church across the street and the work that´s being done at the school. Very impressive stuff.

Finally, it was time to go to JFK where we checked in with AA94 for our flight to Madrid. The airline is using only kiosks now, so we had to figure out how to put in our information, scan our passports, and the like. But eventually everyone received their boarding pass and we stood in the security line for 40 minutes before being able to wander around the shops in the boarding area. The flight was delayed on the ground for about an hour, but some of the guys received a break when the flight attendant noticed that many of those in the exit rows were not English speakers. And so they had to change places with a bunch of guys from our group, who now were able to enjoy plenty of leg room.

A long flight later we arrived in the super-modern airport in Madrid, standing in line again at passport control, picking up our luggage, and eventually making our way out. At the exit, two Brothers were waiting for us with a ¨LaSalle¨sign, and so we were on the road within 15 minutes to La Salle Sagrada Corazon, one of the schools that the Brothers operate in the city.

At the school, we were welcomed by a number of Brothers and shown to the gym, where most of the guys would be staying. Peter had arranged that some of us would be able to stay in the community with the Brothers - a blessed thing. The first thing that we did after putting down our stuff was to have breakfast, since now it was around 9 AM (in Spain), and afterwards we got ourselves organized for the day.

Our WYD backpacks filled with ¨goodies¨ hadn´t yet arrived, but we did have our meal cards and a couple of other things. By the time lunch rolled around, we took off for a restaurant nearby where we had a fine meal, paid for by one of the vouchers that came from a meal-ticket book for all pilgrims. In a very smart move, the organizers had arranged with almost all restaurants (including fast food ones) to offer specific choices to the WYD pilgrims in return for these coupons, which would be turned in later for reimbursement. As a result, no one from the WYD group had to prepare a million meals for others to consume. It was all dealt with from within the established food service structure. And the meals we´ve had since then have all been very good.

Then it was off to the venue for the Opening Mass, somewhere near the center of Madrid. We followed the suggestions on the map and emerged from the Metro onto an avenue with an increasing amount of youth pressing in from all sides. We walked around a bit before deciding on a spot of grass along the main avenue with a good view of one of the giant screens set up for those not able to squeeze into the main square. As it was, it was a good spot, but one that increasingly became tighter and tighter, as more and more people tried to get in and fit onto any small piece of ground that was available. Some of the nuns, with a smile, could be a bit pushy. I would guess that each of us had about 3.5 square feet, if that.

Nevertheless, things moved along smoothly. There were loud, boisterous moments, and there were quiet, solemn moments. Once the Mass started, everyone quieted down and it was as if we were part of an immense open cathedral, with a million or so people inside of it, all listening intently and devoutly. Communion was a bit of a zoo, and many a flower lost their lives, but somehow it all worked pretty well.

At the end of the Mass, we made our way up the avenue but couldn´t even come near any of the Metro stations, fully blocked with crowds of kids. We found a nearby bar and restaurant and tried to get some food there. We managed to slip into some booths and tables for an hour or so, but there was to be no service; they were simply overwhelmed (and looked it). Peter and I did meet a lawyer from Caracas, who greeted us in Spanish and ended up buying both of us a beer - very happily on our part. He had been a student of the Brothers as a youth and obviously carried very fond memories, partly tearing up at times as he saw us in our robes.

We finally decided that it would be impossible to get any food there and so left for home via the Metro, which by now had eased up. Once back in our neighborhood, pretty much on the outskirts of Madrid, the roads were very quiet - it was 11:30 PM or later - and all restaurants, save one, were closed. I decided to turn in but many of the others went to the one restaurant for a hamburger (the only thing on the menu) before turning in.

And so our first full day of WYD in Spain came to a close.

Below is a slideshow of some of the pictures that I took during the day. You can click on the show to go through the individual photographs, along with their captions.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Last Week in Antigua

This part of my Guatemalan journey came to an end this week. My teacher, Silvia, introduced the future tense and had me use it in different kinds of formats, but mostly we simply had conversations - which I find the most helpful. As I'm struggling to speak, she will correct me quietly while also encouraging me to proceed, and then she will speak about something a little more quickly, in order to improve my comprehension - slipping in the new words we had been studying. It's a very effective method that may even be called enjoyable.

On Tuesday, I was invited to Chata's house (see previous blog) for almuerzo (lunch). Her son, Joshua, picked me up with his two girls, and I spent the next 90 minutes or so with Chata's family. There was another American who had been invited, a student of Joshua's wife, who also teaches English. Because it was her birthday, it was a very festive meal with other relatives and friends in attendance. As it turned out, there were three birthday cakes, two of them brought by a couple of the guests.

This was a nice way to round out my experience in Guatemala, since clearly Chata and her family were more like the "typical" family of the town. It was a simple home with extended relatives living there and everyone working at some sort of job. Even Chata had opened a small store out of her front room facing the street. Lots of kids around, and a comfortable family atmosphere. The lunch was carefully prepared and appreciated by everyone. Between my limited Spanish and those who spoke English, everyone communicated just fine.

At the end of the meal, I took a picture of the whole family in their backyard, which abuts a coffee plantation. They have access to the larger property, since there is no fence, and therefore the kids have a huge "backyard" in which to play. Joshua hopes to build an addition to the house in the near future so that they can have Spanish students staying with them (64 language schools in Antigua), which would provide another source of income for the family.

The rest of the week went by quickly, and soon it was Friday evening. The Brothers had a small "fiesta" or social before dinner in my honor. I'd figured that something like that might happen and had prepared some remarks in Spanish. The tradition seems to be that prior to starting the party, the Director makes some remarks and then invites the person being honored to do the same. I just hope that what I said made sense, since I hadn't had a chance to check it with any native speakers. I either thanked them for their hospitality or told them that I would be going to the hospital. In any case, they seemed to smile and nod enough to indicate that they understood my intent.

We had a couple of guests from Chicago that evening as well. They were part of a foundation that supports the education of poor kids in the Americas and had been involved with Br. Francisco and schools in the District for some years, especially the school in Nestor (way in the boonies). Most of the people involved were retired professionals who wanted to do charitable work that required some sort of sacrifice and personal effort. Clearly, they were getting at least as much out of their efforts as their beneficiaries.

Later on, after dinner, Steve brought out his guitar and began singing and playing all sorts of songs and musical styles. He's very talented in both his guitar playing and in the variety of songs that he's learned by heart, and soon we were singing songs from the 40's and 60's and beyond. His passion is playing and singing, and it's clearly a "vocation" for him. His father always listened to John Denver - so he had that repertoire down cold - and he had a singing voice very much like John Denver's, clear and pure. We were all taken by his performance, joining in when we recalled the words - or rather singing in semi-fragments of phrases with sung mumbles in between. After he finished, Br. Francisco brought out his guitar and we finished the evening with a bunch of fine Spanish songs, throwing in a couple of popular Mexican tunes that have world-wide appeal.

Subsequently, I spent several hours packing up my stuff. Amazing how my suitcase seems to have shrunk! Everything was able to be packed into my two bags, but it was a tight squeeze. Even so, I left a couple of things for the Brothers there to use as they saw fit. Early the next morning, at 4:00 AM, I was standing outside of the house on the street waiting for the minibus that would take me to the airport in Guatemala City. Sounds from one of the bars around the corner could still be heard, but generally the place was quiet and abandoned. A good, quiet, semi-reflective way to end my very happy stay in Antigua.

Now it was on to Miami and NYC, where Br. Peter Killeen met me outside of JFK for the ride to Manhattan College. But that's another story.

This Antigua experience has been one of the highlights of the summer. I was able to learn a bit of Spanish and learn much about the Brothers and the people of Guatemala. If possible, I'd like to come back in another summer to study some more. The key now is to practice, practice, practice. So if you see me at some point, feel free to speak Spanish to me. I'll probably greet that with wide eyes, a wane smile, and a halting attempt to reply in Spanish. But know that this is a good thing, a helpful thing, and finally the needed thing. You can stop speaking Spanish when I'm completely spluttering in some sort of Spanglish mix and you can no longer understand my attempts at either language. It means that I've stretched just a bit further, and education is in process.

Welcome to the world of learning. Thanks for being part of my school.

For more pictures, see below. Click on the show to go through the individual photographs with their captions.