Sunday, August 28, 2011

WYD 2011 - the Longest Day Continues

August 21, 2011

There's nothing like a night of tossing and turning on the ground in the open air with a million and a half other people to make you appreciate the benefits of a quiet room and a soft mattress. I'm just thankful that there was no need to answer the call of nature. Every once in a while one would notice trucks rumbling by or see groups of all-night folks walking around, but generally the night passed peacefully.

Around 5 AM, I'd had enough rest on the hard earth and got up to walk around. Br. Ed was also up and about, standing in one of the main roadways, and I joined him there. We were impressed with the sight of several priests listening to confessions out in the open, walking about with their albs and stoles and quietly speaking to whomever walked up to them. Evidently they had been doing so all night, since I'd seen them the night before inside of the adoration chapel tents. Those tents were now empty and stripped of their tent covers because of the wind the night before. The organizers had taken that precaution once one of the chapels had had its cover torn off by the wind.

We decided to walk about, and for the next hour or so we made our way through the main lanes of the fields covered with a million sleeping bodies, small tents, sleeping bags, and tarps. Along the way we met several groups of nuns, already up and fully dressed in their habits, some of the volunteers who were guarding the entrances to the areas near the stage, and other early morning risers. At one point, Ed said that we were watching the church awaken. I must say that this is one of my favorite memories of the entire experience - seeing all these young people gradually awaken with the increasing light of the new morning, seeing the young church slowly come alive.

Back at our own camp, various people awoke at various times. Some, who had stayed up half the night wandering about and making new friends, remained asleep until the beginning Mass at 10 AM. A group of Italian youth nearby was brewing coffee for themselves and offering free expresso to whomever wanted some. Around eight in the morning, the speaker system came alive and we were all welcomed to a new day by the two perky young announcers - way too perky for that time in the morning. Right afterwards, there were twenty minutes of loud commercials on the big screens followed by scenes of the Holy Father from the previous evening. It wasn't until a little after 9 AM and activities began in earnest.

One surprising and upsetting thing was an announcement that was made that morning, and repeated several times, about communion during the upcoming Papal Mass. They said that because of the "hurricane" last night, some of the tent chapels had been damaged and that it would not be possible to provide communion for most of those attending. Only the priests and some of those in front would be receiving communion. (Actually, I think they were simply overwhelmed by the numbers and took the easiest way out.) The more I thought about that, the more ludicrous this excuse seemed. Yes, there were a lot of people there. Yes, there were some strong winds last evening (for about 10 minutes). But saying that because of this there would not be communion bordered on the inane. There were some 1200 priests up front, concelebrating, and several hundred bishops, not to mention the thousands of Catholic youth who had been volunteering and carrying the bulk of the labor organizing the event. To think that they couldn't figure out how to distribute communion, even with some limitations because of the weather, was just beyond me. It's one of the things we do well, distribute communion to many people. This was THE sacrament of the Church, and the reason why we were there with the Holy Father, and they were asking us to engage in a "spiritual" communion? Very, very strange, and a first in the history of world youth day, as far as I could tell. I couldn't help thinking that JP II would have told them "Figure it out! These youth came here to receive Jesus Christ, and we won't deny them." It showed a whole different sense of what liturgy and full participation meant.

The Mass itself proceeded fine, but many groups were making their way to the exits during the second half of the Mass and during the interminable speeches afterwards. Finally, the pope announced that the next WYD would be in Brazil in two years (World Cup Soccer would be the following year, hence the abnormal two-year gap instead of three) and we knew we were at the end. We cleaned up our area, piling up the things we would leave behind in a neat stack (tarps, stools, mats, etc.) since they would be collected and donated to charity. Then we gathered our things and began our way for the exits ourselves.

Remarkably, the journey out went very smoothly. They had closed the streets toward the Metro and there were just a few places where the crowds slowed down - primarily because some group had decided to stop and consult in the middle of the street before proceeding. Eventually, we came to the Aluche Metro station and stood in line to enter it. Only 100 people at a time were allowed in; enough for one train, so as to prevent accidents on the platform. It was recommended by one of the police officers that we should instead go to the train station 100 meters away, make our way downtown, and there pick up the Metro. And this we did. The journey involved a bit more walking, but the trains, while packed, were on time and we soon found ourselves back at the school.

We were all able to have a nice rest before the evening's activities. Meeting later in the afternoon, we first went to the Brothers chapel where Br. Stephen led a communion service - the completion of the morning's Papal Mass. Then we searched around and found a local pizza place where Br. Peter treated us to dinner (they didn't take WYD vouchers). By previous arrangement, most of us had committed to going to a demonstration soccer game at a downtown stadium that evening and we made our way downtown via a packed Metro. Once there, the rain returned, but we were able to get our tickets and find our wet seats. The place was filled with pilgrims, and the game was to be between sets of retired soccer starts, most of whom seemed to be in their thirties and forties.

When the rain didn't let up, Peter, Eddie, Len and I decided to see if we could sneak into the empty seats underneath the upper tiers, but these sections were guarded much more conscientiously than those at the airfield had been. Funny how priorities are lived out. So we decided to make our way back home, being little interested in watching old soccer stars run around in the rain surrounded by thousands of screaming fans and air horns.

We ended up quietly sitting for about an hour on a balcony outside of the Brothers dining room, enjoying one another's company and talking about our experiences in Spain. The rain had stopped, there was a nice breeze, and it was a fine time to enjoy our evening time together. It was a good end to the "official" part of the pilgrimage.

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.