As with any of the main events in Madrid that involve the presence of Pope Benedict, all the crowds gather with great anticipation. Ensuring early arrival to Plaza de Cibeles, was essential in order to achieve one purpose: to get the smallest glimpse of the Holy Father.
Even four hours ahead of the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI, the roads were already blocked by the police, which resulted in us winding our way through narrow side streets to the venue. We arrived at the security gates three and a half hours in advance. We were searched, and then made our way through hundreds of other pilgrims towards the front.
As a pilgrim at World Youth Day, the time spent waiting for any event to start is as enjoyable and as precious as the event itself. It provides the opportunity to share experiences, stories and memories with the rest of the pilgrims, who are literally from all over the world. Today at the Way of the Cross, we were surrounded by Americans, Italians, Moldavians, Venezuelans, Ecuadorians and plenty of Spanish from across the country. During this time, wonderful things happen. We spent ten minutes praying Vespers in Italian (not our native language!) with two ladies from Switzerland, a priest from Italy, and a nun from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Every time the Pope’s name was mentioned, there were chants of “Viva el Papa!”, “Benedicto!” and “We are the Youth of the Pope” (in Spanish). These reached a crescendo when he came out of the popemobile in the Plaza. We were so lucky to have moved slowly but surely to within 60 meters from the altar – an area elevated on a large white majestic stage, designed by a local spanish architect. We could see the Pope on a large screen in front of us, but we could also see him in the flesh as a tiny red and white figure on the altar. Suddenly, it all seemed so real and so moving.
The chants continued as he stood up and greeted us all, but they quickly subsided as the Way of the Cross began.
The Way of the Cross had fifteen stations, where beautifully crafted traditional pieces of art and sculpture had been brought from all over Spain to Madrid. Between each station, fourteen young pilgrims carried the Cross, who passed it on to another group at the following station. These were young people, from different backgrounds, including some with disabilities, and they were serenaded by different music groups and choirs. This Cross is very important for the Catholic youth that attend World Youth Days as it was given to us by Blessed John Paul II 26 years ago. It is the foundation of the faith of pilgrims and the cornerstone of all World Youth Days – thus the importance for us to celebrate the Way of the Cross together.
In terms of the content of the prayers at each station, focus was placed on the suffering that young people endure around the world – a parallel with the suffering of Jesus on the cross. At one of the stations, they said “The cross does not mean wood, but everything that is hardship in our lives. Every human carries a cross, and that is the cross of sin, which is redeemed by Jesus who gave his life for us.”
The sixth station, ‘Jesus falls under the weight of the cross’, was dedicated to all the young people who are suffering from dependence on alcohol and substance abuse. The way they fall into addiction, and the pain that they feel, is mirrored in the suffering that Jesus felt when he carried His cross. At the ninth station, ‘Jesus is stripped of his garments’, the cross was carried by a group of youths from the African continent. They were accompanied by a male vocalist, singing a traditional song used in the Holy Week processions in Southern Spain. It was very moving, and the message was that Jesus was not only stripped of his garments, but also of his integrity – similar to what happens when people suffer human rights abuse.
The messages of all of the stations were very strong, striking a chord with everyone present. They are especially relevant in today’s world, with events such as the recent acts of public disorder in the UK; the global youth unemployment rates, and the recent concert disaster in Belgium.
After the final station, ‘The Sorrowful Mother’, the Pope spoke to us about faith and art coming together to tell us about God, and to call us to conversion. He told us that Jesus loves us, and that He gave His life for us – what will we do for Him? The Pope, in this manner, asked all of us to give the best of ourselves, which is a realistic and achievable mission for us.
After attending the Papal visit in London and the 2 events officiated by the Pope in Madrid, we have come to realise that whenever the Holy Father addresses crowds of pilgrims, the atmosphere is amazing and this is because his message is relevant to us. He is able to easily connect with the youth of the world, and delivers concise words of encouragement, advice and hope. The Pope speaks to us in a direct but loving manner and essentially the message is: find happiness in God, and find God through prayer. Viva el Papa!
By Paula Mendez and Jonathan Wyles