Friday, August 19, 2011

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.