Sunday, August 28, 2011

WYD 2011 - Departure and Completion

August 24, 2011

This is a simple entry to complete the journey. This morning we left Madrid for NYC and beyond. Starting before 6 AM, we gathered in the gym with all of our "stuff" and figured out what to leave behind as donations.

We arrived at the local Metro stop just when the trains began running, The trip out to the airport would take a while and we didn't want to be late. On the trains, other travelers seemed to be of the same mind, judging from the luggage they were dragging with them.

When we arrived at the Madrid airport, we were among the first in line for checking our luggage, getting our boarding cards and moving through the security lines. As before, once beyond security, it was a matter of waiting, sleeping, walking around, or looking at whatever stores were open early.

The plane was a simple jet, six seats across, and most of us were pretty cramped in our seats for the 7.5 hour journey to JFK. But it was all to be expected and the trip was uneventful.

Upon our arrival at JFK, the bus from Saint Raymond High School and JP Riley were waiting for the group. I remained at the airport for my flight to SFO three hours later, but I was able to get some last pictures as the group boarded the bus for the trip to Manhattan College where most would spend the night prior to moving on to their various home locations.

And so the journey comes to an end (on the outside). The inner journey continues.

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.

WYD 2011 - Final Day in Madrid

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.

WYD 2011 - Some Tourist Activities

August 22, 2011

Today was our day to relax and enjoy Madrid. In the morning, we had a prayer service and meeting in the school's chapel during which we reflected on our experiences thus far, especially those things that had surprised us over the last few days. It was a good way to share one another's impressions, observations, and thoughts. It can be quite profound to hear someone share a moment that, until then, had simply been a piece in a chain of moments but that now struck us with a new brilliance because of its personal significance.

Afterwards, we participated in a scheduled tour of the printing press next door. The Brother in charge took us through all aspects of the process, explaining as we went along. It was obviously a very extensive operation, with a lot of machinery and a fast variety of printing projects. Everyone was suitably impressed. The highlight for many was the machine that cut through stacks of paper with a razor-sharp electric cutter. Most of us could just imagine what it would do to an errant finger or limb. Clearly, this whole plant was a major player among the printeries in Spain and would certainly provide a good income for the District.

The group, without Br. Peter who decided to stay behind and rest, then proceeded to downtown Madrid on the bus, walking through the downtown area on the way to a large Daughters of Saint Paul bookstore where many shopped for small souvenirs to take back. Different groups went in different directions from there, the Brothers walking to where we thought the cathedral would be. Upon finding a small church that had "Cathedral" in its name, we also saw that it was closed. Since time was running out we proceeded a nearby Metro stop and returned to the school, since we Brothers had been invited to join the Brothers at the school for their 2 PM meal.

They were waiting for us when we arrived back at the community and we spent a fine hour with them, chatting in Spanish and enjoying the special meal (Paella, champagne, etc.) that they had prepared in our honor. At the end of the meal, the Director made a fine little speech, and Br. Ed responded in kind, having a good facility in Spanish because of his many years as principal in the Bronx. It was a warm gesture on their part and an enjoyable celebration of our common vocation as Brothers. We might not have fully understood one another's words, but we felt fully at home in our common life and consecration.

Peter had arranged to meet up with the others from our group who were already downtown, and we Brothers now tried to find the agreed-upon location. Emerging at a different Metro stop from those we'd known, we wandered around, finally realizing that this meeting might involve a bit of a walk. Nevertheless, we were able to see a good part of the city and eventually made our way to the actual Cathedral (not the "old" cathedral that had deceived us that morning), coming to it from below and visiting the crypt church before making our way along the street to the upper level. By now, we had missed our meeting time and thought we wouldn't be able to find our group. Then suddenly we say Thomas Gramc crossing a street about 200 feet ahead of us. We all shouted but he didn't seem to hear us. Then Ed used his NYC / Schoolyard voice and Tom noticed us, yelling at us to stay there while he retrieved the rest of the group.

And so we were providentially reunited. The reunited group visited the Madrid Cathedral and then followed Tom's plan to visit five historical churches in the area, saying a decade of the rosary at each one. First, there was the church of San Francisco (closed) where we ran into a group of primitive Franciscans of some ilk, several of whom were Americans. We chatted a bit and then said the decade together on the street before proceeding to the next church. This was a church that had been the resting place of the remains of St. Isidore (the farmer) before his body was moved to another, larger church down the street. Nevertheless, we stopped here and were offered a tour by a young man from Belgium who was part of an international religious group that does this sort of thing, offering tours in other countries at religious sites in a variety of languages. After we'd said our decade, he quietly gave us an extensive tour of the inside of the church, providing history and details that most of us would have missed.

On we went to the larger church where St. Isidore was currently interred above the main altar. A quiet decade in the back and then we wandered around the church, noticing the various artworks and side chapels. One interesting thing I found was a large wooden sculpture of the Dormition of Mary. This is a popular scene among icons of the Orthodox church, but I had never previously seen a Catholic depiction, let alone a sculpture.

We moved on to several more churches, ending up in a church where Mass was going and where each of said our decade silently. Along the way, we ran into a Dominican priest who knew the Brothers and an elderly lady whose brother had been educated by the Brothers. They both seemed happy to see us and eager to talk. It was all very friendly, serendipitous (providential?), and enjoyable.

The group ended up at one of the largest plazas in Madrid, lined with stores and restaurants. Scouts were sent out to check out the restaurants around the plaza. We ended up at an outdoor place in one of the corners of the plaza. Figuring out just what our left-over food vouchers would get us was a bit complicated, especially since our waiter was a Rumanian speaking a sort of Spanish that even our Spanish-speakers had trouble understanding, but eventually we settled down and enjoyed a good meal together. The group next to us was also from the U.S., with some having a connection to various Lasallian schools, and so we were soon trading small gifts and conversing together. When darkness descended, vendors with little neon-blue helicopter toys filled the plaza and the place was filled with small lights soaring up and down in the air.

On the way back, we were able to see the cathedral lit up in all its glory. Once we arrived at our "home" Metro stop, Peter spoke with the helpful station personnel in order to figure out how to get transit passes for the next couple of days, since our WYD passes would expire today. Eventually it was all figured out. He passed them out to us in anticipation of tomorrow's activities and we happily made our way back to the school for a well-deserved and peaceful night's rest.

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.

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.