As a seventeen year-old Catholic student, I felt inclined to attend not only the largest Catholic gathering of the year – but the event which was attended by over two million people from one hundred and ninety-three countries from over the five continents world-wide.
Every day, aside from the main events, many different activities took place as part of the cultural program. Processions; Concerts; Guided museum tours; large Screens at the Vicente Calderon Stadium; plays and exhibits all took place throughout the action-packed week.
The event officially began on Tuesday 16th August, with an outdoor mass in the evening attended by around one million pilgrims, which took part in Madrid’s Cibeles Square presided over by the Archbishop of Madrid and concelebrated by the bishops and Priests participating in the WYD. This event alone deserved thorough recognition by the world’s largest broadcasting cooperation – instead, no report was published.
The next morning, again, the BBC failed to pick up on an extra-ordinary set of events which occurred simultaneously; after the official opening ceremony of the event which finished around midnight, hundreds of thousands of young pilgrims attended thousands of Catechesis sessions which were arranged in volunteering schools, churches, sports centres and auditoriums around the city providing access for all spoken languages. The British Broadcasting Corporation, did however, talk about the pivotal importance of migrant workers in Spain that very same morning.
His Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI arrived at Barajas airport shortly before midday, greeted privately by The Royal Family and the Spanish President – Jose Luiz Rodriguez Zapatero. In defence of the BBC, they did report the Pope’s arrival, but ignorantly focused on the reason why Madrid was the chosen city and concluded it must be due to the ‘rapid secularisation’ within its society as well as illustrating the fact that around one thousand protestors took to the streets to protest against the pastoral visit due to its cost – avoiding the undeniable truth that over a million pilgrims simultaneously filled Madrid’s city centre to welcome the Pope on his first day. Not only did I not see any protestors around the city centre, but I simply could not avoid the noise, hymns and chants which were a product of the Pilgrims and supporters adoration of The Pope wherever I went; an incorrect and arguably pathetic aspect of the story was placed in the public limelight instead.
That very same evening, following on a two hour flight; a state greeting by The Royal Family and the President; an hour trip around the streets of Madrid greeting over a million pilgrims from all over the world an 84 year-old man found the energy and willingness to ride in the Popemobile around the city, stopping off at various points to greet adolescents from all over the world elected to represent the faith for their continent – the ability for a man of that age to stay awake for six hours in one day would be very likely to reach the regional news in our beloved United Kingdom. After receiving the Pope in Cibeles, twelve images of Our Lady from around the globe were on display in Madrid for Pilgrims to visit and pray before them.
The Leader of the Catholic Church had little time to rest following his tour of Madrid as he was eagerly anticipated by young religious sisters in the Monastery of El Escorial early on Thursday morning. Proceeding from his two hour meting with the sisters he then spoke to 1,000 young college professors in the Basilica, with thousands of pilgrims waiting outside to catch a glimpse of the Holy Father. In the evening, over a million Catholics attended the Stations of the Cross illustrated by twelve statues from around Spain each one illustrating a Station of the Cross.
The climax of the event was to begin on Saturday at the military air base Cuatro Vientos – home to over two million people that very night. Arriving there, I promise to say I have never to this point seen such a mass number of people in one given place; that view alone was more satisfying than any other experience and I genuinely wish I could share it with those who could not attend. After spending hours eroding my voice away cheering on different countries and speaking to hundreds of people, the evening vigil began with the Pope thanking and welcoming all the pilgrims to the Cuatro Vientos Aerodrome. Even a man who has experienced large numbers before him seemed authentically proud and emotional by the sight.
Shortly before midnight an unexpected storm hit Madrid knocking over many tents and blowing over the Pope’s skullcap – do not doubt He was the first to improvise with a truly memorable speech which I feel obliged to ‘Copy and Paste’:
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.
By 9AM, before hundreds of thousands had rested enough to get out of their sleeping bags, The Pope was already circulating the aerodrome in his Popemobile as he willed to see as many Pilgrims as he could before The Final Mass. Benedict XVI concelebrated the mass with thousands of Bishops and Priests as well as encouraging all the young people to be a witness to their faith – a statement which was a product of undoubtedly the loudest cheer I will ever witness. World Youth Day ended with The Holy Father electing Rio de Janeiro as the place of the 2013 WYD – an event which I rigorously recommend all young Catholics – practising or not, to attend.
This has been a week I will eternally cherish – meeting people surrounding the globe, attending an event with such an astonishing number of people and most importantly, seeing the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.