As of this post, it’s been a month since I was in Spain and I was a part of World Youth Day 2011. I won’t even wonder how fast time flies.
So, the World Youth Day activities culminate with an overnight vigil at some big place with all the delegates. This ends with a mass with the Holy Father the following day, with his address and the announcement of where the next WYD will be. I’ve been looking forward to the vigil because of the things I heard from those who came from Sydney: they say it’s going to be a night of prayer, with adoration chapels and confession all around. I wasn’t really expecting it to be easy, but I guess I wasn’t expecting it to be hard, either.
Funny how God challenges these expectations and then blows them all away.
So for the first time since the WYD activities started, we got to sleep in that morning since there was no more Catechism. That gave us permission to stay up later that night and run a load of laundry and bond with our host. The next morning, we had a full breakfast again (and wow, was it a big one!) to get us ready for the vigil. Our host mom also arrived that day and she made us eat (again!), and we got to rest a bit more while we got ready to go out.
Truth be told, we were all kind of wary about heading out in the Madrid summer heat. The hottest temperature the previous day was 41 C, and we were supposed to head off to Cuatro Vientos, the venue for the vigil, at around 2, when it was usually the hottest time of the day. Ah well, but it’s not like we can’t go, right?
So we went.
Of course since all WYD delegates were heading to Cuatro Vientos, the metro would undoubtedly be full.
We got to talk to some Irish delegates while in the train, and they were very nice. :) They’re also fans of Charice. :)
After waiting for the others outside the station, we started the pilgrimage walk to Cuatro Vientos.
Here was when things got slightly more difficult. We were supposed to head over to F5, our section up at the main area in Cuatro Vientos. However, as we were making our way there, we saw that they weren’t letting people in there anymore because it was too full. We were indignant at that — how can it be full? We aren’t even there yet! Maybe there were a lot of people who are not supposed to be there but were there! We should be there!
But what can our complaining do? Our main worry was finding where the others were, so we decided to look for a spot somewhere with a screen and wait there and hope to transfer later. It was kind of hard trying to find a place in a section where there are mostly non-English speaking delegates, but we found some really nice Colombians who let us settle behind them. :)
And so we settled. With photo-ops, of course. :)
The screens started showing Pope Benedict XVI’s arrival some moments later.
Then…things got even more difficult.
As the afternoon wore on, I noticed that the sky was getting darker, not because the sun was setting, but because there were clouds. Dark, ominous clouds rolling over the horizon, and the sky was not just dark, but red. It definitely looked like rain. And we had no rain gear, just umbrellas that will definitely not fit all 11 of us sitting there in the open field. The heat, we were ready for…but seemingly storm-level rains? No. We’re not.
And then it rained.
We hurriedly put our cameras in our bags and covered them with umbrellas. We had to resort to hiding under thin scarves to fend off the rain, which was cold and didn’t feel like stopping. Even Pope Benedict XVI had to stop speaking because the winds were blowing too hard.
Some of us started to pray the rosary, and as I joined in, I felt tears in my eyes. No doubt about it, I was scared. Not just because of the rains, but because we definitely do not have any way to get shelter there. Unless of course our neighbors let us in their tents that could barely fit them. What if the rains don’t stop? What happens to us?
Ate Sheh was whispering, “Stand firm, Tins.”
The rain stopped, and I noticed our Colombian friends just sitting in the rain and listening, waiting for the program to go on. When everyone has already settled down, the emcees said, “We were all praying for water, and God gave us the rain.”
After a bathroom break, we went back to our spot just in time as the Pope prayed and the Blessed Sacrament was exposed. And there was silence. Absolute, total and beautiful silence. There were more than a million people in that place but there was hardly any noise. Everyone was on their knees, gazing up at the screen or the stage, looking at the Body of Christ in the form of the host, exposed for all of us to see and adore.
Who knew such silence can be so moving?
Of course I cried then. I’m really a big crybaby at events like these, and that moment was just…wow. Everyone was praying. We were praying with the Pope (which makes me wonder: what does he pray for?)! In that moment, I knew Jesus was there with us. There is no doubt, even when the rain started to fall again.
After the silence, the Pope led us to a prayer, and we all went to settle down. But first, we had to get our food from somewhere in the venue so we can get through the night. So Blair, Shirley and I volunteered to get the food for the rest of the people. That entailed us having to walk for more than an hour, half of it carrying very heavy food bags for the rest of the team. But you know what? I didn’t mind. Because it led me to realize some things:
- Some people can be annoying or abrasive at first, but even so, these people have a story to tell. And sometimes, you just have to take the time to listen to these stories to appreciate the person. Oh, they will still be abrasive at times, but I found that I have more patience with them now because I understand them a bit more.
- You know how we were annoyed at how we didn’t get to be at our spot at the main area, and how we had to endure sleeping on the ground instead of a cemented area and looking at the screen instead of the stage? And how the rain was a bit of an inconvenience? Well, when we finally got our food, we saw the real situation up at the main area. People were really lying side by side to each other because of the crowdedness of the area, the cemented grounds were hot, and there were no big screens to see the Pope. So again, we realize that there was a real purpose to why we were where we were. And that the people at the main grounds really needed the rain because of the heat. See, God is wiser, and we needed that moment to realize that.
It was quite fun walking back because we got to see how other people did their vigil. Prayer vigils here in the Philippines were really just silence, prayers, rosaries and such, but other cultures go and dance in a circle, singing songs and chants for prayers. I think we saw about…5 prayer circles? So cool, and it didn’t really stop me from sleeping that night.
And then morning came.
It was a cold morning, but we had good enough rest. We picked breakfast from our food bags, and started getting ready for the Mass. As we were waiting, I saw some delegates having confession out in the open with priests in their delegation. How I wish we had the same chance to do that.
Talk about humility, too. I cannot cease to be overwhelmed at how beautiful it is to see Catholics all over the world.
So we had the mass, which was all in Spanish. There was no communion because they had to take down the adoration chapels when the rains and winds came so as not to disrespect the host. So we just prayed. The Pope had his final address, announced the next venue for the World Youth Day (Rio de Janeiro in 2013!) and then…WYD 2011 is over.
It wasn’t as anticlimactic as I wrote it, of course. :)
We decided to stay a little longer at the venue to avoid the crowds. So we had lunch, spent a bit on very expensive (but oh-so-good) ice cold Coke, talked and took pictures. My favorite:
We headed back, felt a bit lost because we didn’t want to squeeze with the crowds, but what choice to we have in the end? But it was still a pretty rewarding day, after being blessed by the Pope, and heading to our host home for a paella + churros + other food for a celebratory dinner to our two new registered nurses, Cienna and Leslie. Nothing like fellowship and food to celebrate the goodness of God to us. :)
There were still some discussions about the mission trip after (which got me losing sleep that night, eeps!), but that’s for another post. The last two days of WYD was probably one of the hardest experiences I’ve had for the entire week, but now that I think of it, it’s my favorite of all. I think that of all the things that happened in the past week, the vigil was the one that taught me the most, and taught me how it is to be firm in faith. Firmes en la fe, as the WYD 2011 theme song says. Even, or maybe, especially in the little things, like rain.
After all, Jesus did say: Courage, it is I. Do not be afraid.
I love it when God shows me how He just weaves everything together. Don’t you?
And now that this insanely long entry is coming to a close, I just have one more thing to say.
See you in 2013, Rio de Janeiro. :)
Dear Young Friends,
We have lived together an adventure. Strengthened by your faith in Christ, you have resisted the rain. Before leaving I wish you all good night. Have a good rest. I thank you for the sacrifice that you are making and I have no doubt that you will offer it generously to the Lord. We shall see one another tomorrow, God willing, in the celebration of the Eucharist. I am expecting all of you. I thank you for the fine example that you have given. As happened tonight, you can always, with Christ, endure the trials of life. Do not forget this. I thank you all.
– Pope Benedict XVI