(Sharing my pilgrim’s reflection during the World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid, Spain.)
“If you abide in the love of Christ, rooted in the faith, you will encounter, even amid setbacks and suffering, the source of true happiness and joy. Faith does not run counter to your highest ideals; on the contrary, it elevates and perfect those ideals. Dear young people, do not be satisfied with anything less than truth and Love, do not be content with anything less than Christ.”
-Pope Benedict XVI (Cuatro Vientos WYD Vigil, 8/19/2011)
It was a simple email invitation from a fellow servant leader in SFC to join WYD 2011 in Madrid, Spain. I have a lot of hesitations to join because I already planned out a high school reunion and my mindset during the vacation was to go back home in the Philippines. Lo and behold, plans changed when the deadline for the confirmation of WYD delegates came; there was a prompting of the Holy Spirit that I couldn’t ignore.
I submitted the WYD delegation form. I never knew that it was a start of greater things to come – a rediscovery of love, faith and hope.
It was the first time that Saudi Arabia would have a World Youth Day delegation. I became a part of the pioneer team. It moved me to pray more for our protection and for our security. Plane tickets were booked as early as February to avail the promo fare.
As early as March, we had WYD preparations– series of prayer reflections and talks by our group leader & ‘Tatay’.
My first intention was to explore Spain as a tourist but the WYD preparations made us realized that we are not going for a sight-seeing tour in Madrid but became a pilgrim of faith.
In one of my prayer reflections, I realized that one of the reasons why I joined WYD was that I never had a chance to participate in the 1995 WYD in Manila. I missed the opportunity of seeing Blessed John Paul II in my own country. The 2011 WYD or JMJ (Jornada Mundial De La Juventud – in Spanish) will be the last chance to participate in this worldwide youth celebration of prayer and pilgrimage before I went to the next stage of my life as a family person.
Part of the preparation were series of orientation about Spain as the cradle of Catholic faith and basic Spanish language lessons. We prepared a cultural presentation and chosen the Philippines’ National Dance- Cariñosa. Learning the steps were never easy but the enthusiasm of my fellow pilgrims were contagious.
SFC brothers brought me to the airport as early as 9pm for our early morning flight to Madrid. At the airport, I saw in the eyes of my fellow pilgrims the excitement of being a part of history.
Hola! Madrid Barajas International airport was teeming of fellow pilgrims from different countries. Participation in WYD has two stages – the Days in the Diocese and the encounter with Pope Benedict XVI.
For the Days in the Diocese, we stayed in the Diocese of Siguenza-Guadalajara specifically in the village of Marchamalo in Parroquia de la Santa Cruz (host parish)–where we experienced the finest taste of Spanish hospitality. We were welcomed by Fr. Benedicto, the parish priest and Mayor Rafa of Marchamalo.
I stayed with the Pascual De Garcia family. My foster father Enrique and mother Mercedes have two teenagers Juan and Marcos named after the Gospel books in the Bible. I enjoyed every moment of our stay- especially our sharing on faith. I emphasized to my Spanish brothers the importance of loving God more by being active in serving the church.
As a souvenir, I gave my foster parents traditional Arab dresses & photo frame of the seven sands from the different Middle Eastern gulf countries. I enjoyed the food a lot- from authentic Churros dipped in a hot chocolate in the morning to a sumptuous feast of Paella, tapas and Jamon. It was ‘I want to live in Spain’ moment!
The parishioners were very supportive and cooperative- we had a chance to do the Via Crucis together with the other pilgrims from Mexico, Colombia, USA, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the local delegates.
It was a poignant scene, when we left Marchamalo for the bigger Days in Diocese events in the main city of Guadalajara. We met a loving foster family and left them so soon. Believe me, I cried like a river. They treated as like their own son- it was a memorable experience.
Guadalajara was another experience of a life-time. I thought ‘Cariñosa’ as one of the Days in the Diocese workshops to pilgrims from Italy. After the workshop, there was a Fiesta at Concordia Park where we met a bigger delegations from other countries.
From Flamenco performances, traditional dances from Africa, joyful singing from the European pilgrims- it was ecstatic! We had a chance to meet also other Filipinos from other countries.
The Days in the Diocese ended by a Send-Off Mass by Bishop Jose Sanchez Gonzales, where he emphasized the importance of humility – it may not guarantee material success but goodness. He also urged everyone to communicate the service of love in whatever we do.
From Guadalajara we moved to Madrid – the main venue of WYD where Pope Benedict XVI met all the pilgrims around the world. Awemazing- was the best word to describe our experience with the Holy Father especially during the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in Cuatro Ventos (main venue) where a rainstorm occurred in the middle of the vigil. His zuccheto (Pope’s cap) immediately blown by the initial gusts, hair disheveled, soaked by the rains, he stood his ground, silently prayed and went on to adore the Blessed Sacrament! He endured the torrents with us and for us, perhaps suffered even more considering his age. I never felt so at peace and reassured of the Lord’s presence.
As a whole, the WYD 2011 experience was about love, faith and hope. The love I’ve witnessed gave me a better appreciation of the people around me. Beyond memories, it was always the experience of loving and being loved without conditions that I forever treasure in my heart.
As a servant in CFC- Singles for Christ (SFC) and as an alumni of Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila-Student Catholic Action (PLM-SFC), it was a rediscovery of being firm in the faith – standing for what you believe was right and relying on God’s goodness amidst adversity. It was also a rekindling experience of hope– God embraces us daily and we have to maintain a positive attitude on how we live our life.
I do hope and pray that every young people in the world would have a chance to attend the WYD celebration within their lifetime. Muchisimas Gracias Spain!
“… be prudent and wise, build your lives upon the firm foundation which is Christ. This wisdom and prudence will guide your steps, nothing will make you fear and peace will reign in your hearts. Then you will be blessed and happy and your happiness will influence others. They will wonder what the secret of your life is and they will discover that the rock which underpins the entire building and upon which rests your whole existence is the very person of Christ, your friend, brother and Lord …” – Pope Benedict XVI (Madrid, 8/19/2011)