by Luis Conteras
Editor’s Note: World Youth Day took place in Spain, not Rome as was in the print edition. The Eagle regrets the error.
This summer a staggering 2.5 million Catholics from around the world gathered in Madrid, Spain to celebrate Mass with each other and with Pope Benedict XVI.
This gathering of Catholic brothers and sisters from every corner of the globe fostered an unmistakable sense of unity and Catholic fellowship.
Among the truly blessed travelers to attend the event known as World Youth Day was a group of four students.
Juniors Evan Richard, Jeremy Lohr and Luis Contreras and senior Chris Garza all participated in the amazing event this summer. Together with a group from their parish of St. Cecilia, the four students traveled to Europe on the morning of Aug. 7.
The crew flew first to Madrid, but then got on another flight to the simple town of Assisi, Italy, the hometown of St. Francis and St. Clare.
Here they explored the town and saw some truly breathtaking sights. Among the spiritual highlights were the tombs of Sts. Francis and Clare and the hermitage in the mountains where St. Francis spent his time.
A hermitage is a retreat site. Every couple months, St. Francis and his brothers would climb up to the mountains to get away from the world and eventually they built a shelter and a small monastery at the site. The only road to get to the hermitage was a long uphill climb filled with winding curves and the sun’s sweltering rays. It was a tough walk to say the least but it was also a time to reflect.
“The cool thing about the walk was that we knew that it was a long walk but we didn’t know how many more hills we had to climb to get to the top,” Richard said. ‘”All we could do was keep on walking. This parallels our faith because we don’t know what twists and turns lie ahead but all we can do is trust that God will lead us in the right direction.”
The walk up the mountain was a testing ordeal, but upon arriving back at the bottom, everyone got to relax in the town.
The real beauty of Assisi was found in the peaceful, right-at-home feeling it gave off. According to the guys, they could step out of the hotel late on a weekday night and people would still be relaxing in the town. Everyone seemed to know everyone and treated strangers like life-long friends.
After a few days of taking in the relaxing atmosphere, the group grabbed their bags and took a bus to the historic city of Rome.
Here they saw the places you see in textbooks: the Colosseum, the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel, St. Paul’s Basilica, the Forums, the Spanish Steps. All of these sites took their breath away with every glance.
“The best part about Rome was the way it prepared us for World Youth Day,” Lohr said. “Getting to learn so much about the early Catholic Church and the example given to us by the saints was a great preparation.”
After gallivanting through Rome for a week, the group hopped on a plane back to Madrid for the actual event for World Youth Day. Upon arriving, they immediately felt the scale of such a global event. Thousands of people packed the streets and made their way to the various Plazas for opening events in their native languages.
Throughout the week leading up to World Youth Day, speakers from every corner of the globe gave awesome talks at some of the lecture halls.
Some of them were big name theologians and scholars, such as Jason Evert, Jackie Francois and Vicki Thorn. There were some very excellent talks about many topics, including purity and evangelization, but the real meat in the week leading up to the vigil was the unity found in every corner of the city.
World Youth Day was home to roughly 2.5 million people. Everyone knew to expect to see the massive amount but no one could really imagine so many people in one place. So surely enough, it was a true breathtaker for the group to walk into the site and see what amounts to almost the population of Houston in a single place.
“When we got to Madrid, we got to see thousands of people from different places and throughout the week we met people from different walks of life and different cultures but it wasn’t until World Youth Day itself that we really saw the plethora of people, and it wasn’t until I saw those people that I realized what the true meaning of the word Catholic is,” Richard said.
The event was hectic to say the least.
The heat was unbearable. The people were tired. And the chaos seemed to dilute the amazing experience at times. But right when most people thought they would get up and leave to escape the heat, the Pope arrived. And as if on cue, as he stepped up to the mic, a refreshing rain began to sprinkle down on the millions of overheated people.
As the Pope continued to speak the rain came down harder and harder. Normally the people would have become irritated by the torrential downpour but they were too transfixed by Papa Benedict’s words. All other things lost importance.
This concentration came to a pinnacle when the Eucharist was brought out for adoration.
All of a sudden, 2.5 million people stopped in their tracks, dropped to their knees, and worshiped in unison. This was truly the highlight of the trip for most and absolutely worth the struggles of the day.
The next morning, Pope Benedict led a Mass and then closed with a farewell remark that opened everyone’s ears to one simple message: we are God’s people and we are not alone.