Thursday, August 18, 2011

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.