Sunday, October 2, 2011

Transformed by Love - Our Testimonies, Part 4

Dana Garber

Going into World Youth Day, I did not have many expectations.  I knew it would be a fun, blessed trip, but I really did not know the extent of what I would experience.  Our first stop was in Lourdes.  I figured that I would like Lourdes, but had no idea of the impact it would make on my life.  I did the 33 day consecration to Mary and was able to say the final consecration prayer in the grotto at Lourdes on our last day with our whole group.  It has always been difficult for me to surrender my life fully to God with complete trust.  On this day, I was able to consecrate myself to Mary and by doing this, surrender everything to Him through her.

Next came World Youth Day in Madrid.  Every night, we gathered with over 1.5 million youth, all there for the same reason.  Everywhere we  went, we would see people with flags from their different countries. The first night that Pope Benedict arrived, we were all lined up and down the streets.  Flags were waving, people were cheering.  When we were waiting for the Pope to get there, everyone was screaming, "Benedicto!" and "Esta es la juventud del Papa!"  (This is the youth of the Pope!).  Sometimes back at home, living out your Catholic faith can be hard, especially when there aren't many people your age doing the same thing.  It can be lonely and discouraging.  Being at World Youth Day with so many others your age, desiring the same thing, excited for the same reason, really helps to increase your faith.  I realized that we are not alone.  I can go anywhere in the world and I will find the Church.  No matter where I am, I have support, I have my faith, and I have people who will help me live that out.  No other church in the world can do this.

The last event of World Youth Day was the all night vigil at Cuatro Vientos.  It was hot, dirty, then rainy and cold.  Despite all the  hardships that came with this pilgrimage, we received so many graces.   There were almost 2 million youth at Cuatro Vientos.  It was crazy and loud, but the moment that the Eucharist was brought out for Adoration, 2 million people were completely silent.  We all fell to our knees in Adoration of our Lord with Pope Benedict XVI.  The Pope gave us several messages.  First, that he was proud of us.  On the last day, he told all of us that he is counting on us.  He is counting on us to bring back the gospel, the message, the grace that we received from World Youth Day.  He also told us to not let him down.  How powerful and beautiful a message.  Pope Benedict XVI is counting on us to bring about the new evangelization.  To be hope, love, and light to a world that desperately needs it.  This message is the same for all of us, still over a month later.  We must bring Christ to a world in need, Pope Benedict XVI is counting on us!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Transformed by Love - Our Testimonies, Part 3

Noelle Curry

Last year, on Tuesdays, I started praying the Rosary while reflecting on the image of the Sacred Heart at the Newman Center. I grew up with the same picture of the Sacred Heart in my home, and it always scared me. I decided that I would sit there until it didn’t scare me anymore. As I reflected on the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I would pray that I too could understand more and become a part of the Heart of hearts. One Wednesday in Adoration, I was prayed over, and as I held this desire in my heart, I fell to my knees and knew God was moving in me. In all of this I didn’t know what I was really asking or still quite fully understand, but I believe it all to be God’s desire.
We prepared for the pilgrimage with St. Louis de Montfort’s 33 day preparation for the Consecration to Jesus through Our Lady. In Lourdes, France we met Our Mother in the grotto and consecrated ourselves to her on August 15. I now have more understanding that everything I have is no longer mine and that is such a relief. In Madrid, our holy father, Pope Benedicto, consecrated us to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on August 20. It really happened! And Pope Benedict did not just bless us but he sent his love and blessings to our families and friends. Then we went on to the Holy Family Basilica where God brought us together as a family. Then again we went to see Mama Mary at the Miraculous Medal, then onto the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, and then to the home of St. Therese where Our Lady of the Smile smiled upon us and all of those in our life. To Jesus, through Our Mother, to let His love be shown unto our family, the world.
One of the messages I received on WYD was very simple: Jesus says, “Come just as you are.” His invitation is open to all of us no matter how broken we are or how much we don’t believe in Him. This is just the beginning. From here God’s graces will continue to unravel and there will be more climbs. Oh man! Praise the Lord!

Ali Lundstrum

Firstly, to prepare for pick-pocketing I put miraculous medals in my pockets in the hope that our Blessed Mothers love would move their hearts to conversion! The most powerful moment(s) was the 3 times I was dipped into the waters at Lourdes (and seeing Pope Benedict!!!) It was profoundly peaceful, I felt very close to Mother Mary in those moments – as if I was resting in her Immaculate Heart! The second time I went in the baths, Sister Faustina and I were walking past and saw the line was really short (hour wait instead of 3 hour wait), so we rushed to get in line and she started calling the other Sisters on her radio and I sent my guardian angel (Demetrius) to get the other pilgrims - Padre Pio would totally approve. Then about 20 minutes later Kristi comes walking by, and she gets in line with us. When I told her I sent Demetrius to get her and asked her what made her walk past the baths, she laughed and said that she wasn’t going anywhere specific: she actually was asking her guardian angel (Joy), “Where are we going?!”

The most beautiful part about the trip was the transformation the Blessed Mother made to my heart. Ever since I made the consecration to Mary, she has been giving me her heart in little ways – I’ve noticed my desires becoming more beautiful: desiring Mass, adoration, the rosary, self-denial for the conversion of sinners, and the blossoming of her virtues in my life. And when I was prayed over by Dana before NK42, she had an image of the Blessed Mother giving me her heart for mine (and I was so happy because the Blessed Mother loves Jesus with all her strength and that’s all I want to do!) Also, ever since Mother Adela encouraged me at the charismatic conference to ask for the Blessed Mothers heart, I knew Mary would do something powerful at Lourdes – and she did! She truly is the Mother of Mercy!!!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Transformed by Love - Our Testimonies, Part 2

Cassie Kowaleski

When I first heard we could drink the holy water at Lourdes I was confused.  In my mind Holy water was only for exorcisms and blessing things.  It was sacred, and I guess to me sacred meant special, unique, rare, definitely not for me.   Holy and sacred were words that described something other-worldly, from biblical times, about saints, and Jerusalem - not something I could experience in normal life in something so simple as taking a sip from my water bottle.  Holiness was something to be admired from afar, it wasn't something I could achieve.  Sure, two of the holiest people from our modern times, Blessed John Paul II and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta both agreed holiness is for everyone.  But this sinner thought that was easy for super holy people to say.

On our trip, the Sisters taught us about purity, both in words and by their actions.  They explained that saints had pure hearts, and having a pure heart meant loving only 1 thing.  Saints loved Jesus Christ and sought Him as their only desire, putting Him above all else, trusting Him in all circumstances.  Accepting every gift He gives you, understanding that our understanding is limited and His wisdom is infinite.  Saints say yes to everything Christ asks of them and always seek to know Him better.  I learned God is infinite, we can always know Him better and love Him more.  There is no end to His love!  Wow! 

When the Sisters asked us to think about our favorite miracle story, I didn't have to think long.  Mine has always been when Christ walks on the water.  Perhaps I can identify so strongly with Peter walking across the water with my eyes on Christ, wanting to be close to Him, but easily distracted.  When I look away from Christ and see the evil in the world and the sin in my own heart, I get discouraged and I start to sink.  I always used to think I was sinking because God was punishing me for not looking at Him, but I was wrong.  God is like any good father, he disciplines His children so that we understand what is good for us.  A two-year old may want to hold a knife and may cry if you take it from him, but every good parent takes the knife anyway.  Otherwise their child would hurt himself.  My sinking is my reminder of what I really desire, of where my eyes should be. God disciplines us because He knows exactly what we need and don't need.

Still unsure about drinking the water, I decided the water from the grotto in Lourdes was at least going to be colder than what I had brought.  So I got in line and watched horrified as people were wasting the water, letting it just pour out onto the ground.  It seemed a flawed design plan: people should be able to turn the tap off and on so that no water would be wasted.  And then my eyes were opened and I realized, God is infinite.  He didn't give us just enough water, He gave us much more than we need.  John 6:13 tells us that when Jesus fed the 5,000 there was enough bread left over to fill 12 baskets.  God is constantly trying to explain to us that He is not just enough for us, He is more than enough.  This doesn't mean we should take His gifts for granted or purposely waste them, but in this instance watching the water pour out, I could hear Him smile at me and remind me that all of the containers in the world can not contain Him.  It doesn't matter how organized I get or how carefully I plan, God gives His gifts as He pleases, and it pleases Him to pour His love lavishly upon us all.  Whether we choose to receive it is up to us.

I thought God was distant because I was asking Him to be.  I wanted control of my life, I wanted to be my own God, and good as God is, He lets us choose that.  But when we invite God into our hearts He comes!  He wants to be intimately associated with each of us!  He desires to be part of us, to be involved in every aspect of our lives, even the simple, everyday acts such as drinking water.  He is the best friend we've always wanted, He's always listening, always there, always in love with you.  Holiness isn't for other people, in other places, in times way past and over.  Holiness is for each of us, right here, today.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Transformed by Love - Our Testimonies

 Kristi Bergman

Scripture tells us, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 24:25).” In order to live life abundantly, Jesus tells us that we must die to ourselves, and like a seed, St. Paul tells us that we must be planted in Jesus Christ (Col 2:7)  In a beautiful way this pilgrimage was a sweet fulfillment of where I am to be planted and a sweet reassurance of the cultivation of my “seed offering”. With the Pope’s words of consecration I was planted in the Sacred Heart of Jesus by the hands of our Lady.  She tenderly prepared this seed and washed me clean in Lourdes.  On the feast of the Assumption, I was granted the graces to confidently renew my consecration at her feet in the grotto our Lourdes.  One year ago to that date I gave Our Lady My heart in Guadeloupe.  I believe in special way she brought me to Lourdes again to show me how she has been preparing the seed of my heart the whole year long to be planted in her Son’s heart. 

When I was in 4th grade I fell in love with a particular picture of Jesus that I cut out from a book and tapped it above my bed.  The black-and-white photo-like picture was Jesus with outstretched arms and His visible Sacred Heart burning in his chest.  Even to this day, this picture remains close at hand, and while I have seen many Sacred Heart images, I have never seen this particular picture.  That is, until we entered the Visitation Convent in Madrid, and my heart leapt as I saw the original colored version hanging in the chapel.  It was as though my Lord had been preparing me most my life for the events that were to come.  Our Lord also prepared our hearts for the consecration to His Heart through our providential circumstance in which we were able to celebrate the votive Mass of the Sacred Heart back at the Visitation chapel.  Of course the days following the Consecration the Lord offered opportunities for thanksgiving at the Sacred Heart Church in Barcelona and Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Paris.

Our trip began with our Lady’s preparation and ended with her maternal reassurance that we could trust her in cultivating the seed she planted in Her Son’s Heart.  Kneeling on the stairs before our Lady in the Basilica of the Miraculous Medal, I opened my heart to receive every grace streaming forth from her hands and enrolled myself in the school of Mary.  Finally, I wept with joy before Our Lady of the Smile in Liseux. The healing prayer of Our Lady of the Smile had begun our pilgrimage and, here she had brought us back to reassure us of her protection.  Never before had I felt her maternal love as tenderly as at that moment.  She sweetly wiped away all tears, replaced fear with joy, and in a graced-filled moment revealed her heavenly maternity as more authentic than my human perception of the relationship with my own biological mother. I have such confidence in my dear Mother that she will cultivate my dying seed into the fruitful flower God has intended me be. 
Immaculate Heart of Mary, I hope in you!
Oh Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in you!

Claire Kunkel

What hit me the most was the people that I went to WYD with. God works through every single one of them in a different way. Whether it was in praise and worship or just how they reacted to different things on the trip and especially how they brought out the best in me. They helped open my heart and feel so welcome and loved. My faith has grown a lot and I know what I need to work on in my spiritual life. By the end of the trip I was on speaking terms with God again and began a relationship with Momma Mary. The experience was amazing and I can't say thank you enough to God for calling me to go on the trip, and to everyone that went on the pilgrimage. I love you all so much. You have become part of my family.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Final Day...

We began our final day of pilgrimage with anticipation to see what the Lord would do through the intercession of St. Therese in these last hours. We were not disappointed, for our "little" Saint interceded very powerfully on our behalf. 

On our way to Lisieux we again enjoyed the gift of hearing more testimonies from those who had not spoken in the days before. Again, it was very moving to here everyone proclaim the glories of the Lord in their lives, and in a special way on this trip. 

We arrived in Lisieux early in the afternoon and needed her intercession immediately as we did not have a Mass scheduled.  We entered asking about the possibility and were immediately granted a chapel where we could have Mass. T our great joy, our dear Saint spoke volumes to our hearts by allowing us to end where we began....

On our first day in Lourdes, before we entered into the baths, we knelt before Our Lady in the grotto and prayed the prayer to Our Lady of the Smile that asked for the healing of our hearts, lives, and souls through the miraculous baths. It was the first significant moment in our trip. Much to our great joy, the name of the chapel today, in which we were to celebrate our final Mass was named none other than "Our Lady of the Smile!" We were very moved to see how St. Therese and Our Lady were again coming to seal the graces in our hearts that we had received throughout these days, and to bring about another grace of healing that we all so need. 
Mass was very sober and powerful, containing a profound grace that we could all sense but could not put into words. Fr. Adam in his homily spoke about our call to be a sign of contradiction for the world - just as St. Therese and St. Louis of France, whose feast we celebrated today. After Mass Sr. Silvia spoke to everyone very movingly about the Lord's desire to fill us; about how He really is our only peace and anything else that proposes to be our happiness is only a lie; about how "commitment is our freedom." Are we willing to truly give it all to Him? To trust that He can satisfy? To trust that He has a plan that is the best and most fulfilling? Are we willing? After taking some time of silence to answer this question in the depths of our hearts, we came before the image of Our Lady of the Smile and prayed again the prayer to her, asking her to heal our hearts of all that prevents us fully from being loved and loving. It was a very special moment and a fitting end to the whole of our trip. 

After lunch, we then proceeded to visit les Bouissonnets, the house in which St. Therese spent most of her life. Then we visited the Carmel Convent, in which St. Therese spent all of the nine years of her religious life. Finally, we ended our day in Lisieux with our visit to the Basilica built in her honor about 30 years after her death. The grand Basilica is certainly an apt and beautiful tribute to her truly grand life. There we were able to have some time to pray, meditate, and walk around the beautiful grounds. 
We then departed back to Paris. We finished with out testimonies and also shared more stories - some funny, some serious - of events that had occurred during our time here. Upon arriving many of us went out for a final meal together here in Europe. 

Our time here now comes to an is bittersweet. It has been a time filled with truly a multitude of graces and gifts from the Lord - both seen and unseen. It has been a time of great fraternity, in which we have truly grown to  become a family. It has been a time of falling in love...with the Lord, his Mother, his Vicar the Pope, and his bride the Church. He brought us first to the Heart of Mary to prepare our hearts for an encounter with Peter, his Church and his Sacred Heart. Hopefully, we are now "more firm in the faith, planted and built up in Jesus Christ," willing to give our lives over, in love, to Him and his Church. The path has ended, but only to continue in some form for all our lives. 

Each one of us holds a deep gratitude to the Lord for how He called us here, how He brought us here, what He has done in us, and what He will continue to due into the future. May He be praised forever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Day in Paris

Another day of travel began in the morning as we flew from Toulouse to Paris. We arrived in the early afternoon and had the great gift of being given a bus tour around Paris by our wonderful bus driver, and longtime friend, Alain. He took us to see all the major sights of downtown: Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, Champ de Élysées, the Eiffel Tower, and much more. It was a gift because we would have never been able to see so much in the short time we have in the city.

After our tour, we were dropped off in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. Here, over 150 years ago, the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Catherine Laboure and revealed the miraculous medal to her, asking her to spread it throughout the world. It became named so because of the many miracles that would continually happen through its presence and the intercession of Our Lady. Today the Lord and Our Lady promise a flood of many graces to all those who come with confidence before her and this image. We had the immense gift of celebrating Mass in the Chapel of Apparitions. Afterwards we were able to go kneel before the altar and the image and the actual chair in which she sat during her apparitions. It was a moment of great grace for our hearts. The Lord desired to do miracles in us today....He only needed our faith. 

As always, Our Lady prepared the way for her Son, for after leaving Rue du Bac and the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal, we went onto Montmartre and the church of Sacre Couer (Sacred Heart). Very beautifully, this Church dedicated to the Sacred Heart, just like in Barcelona, sits atop the highest point in Paris and over looks the city. Here in this extremely beautiful and majestic Church, the Blessed Sacrament has been exposed and adored in perpetual adoration for 125 years. How powerfully and how beautifully enthroned was our Eucharistic Lord in that place! We were all very moved at how powerfully we were able to sense the Lord's presence in this place. Yet again, the Lord brought us to his Sacred Heart and called us to enter there and remain. What another powerful confirmation of his call and invitation for our hearts and lives. May we be always be planted firmly within his Heart. 

Finally, we finished our day with a trip to the Eiffel Tower. We went down at night to the beautiful tower and were thrilled to see a light display coming forth from the tower. After taking pictures, we gathered in the grass at its base and enjoyed the scenery as we sang praise and worship music. 
Overall, it was a very joyful day in which we simply enjoyed being together and being a family, experiencing together the profound graces both from the Heart of our Mother in Rue du Bac and the Heart of our Lord in Sacred Heart. We simply pray that all the graces we have received remain and bear fruit. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Into His Sacred Heart

Another beautiful day in which the Lord continues to guide us into his Sacred Heart....

We began our day in Barcelona with a morning visit to Tibidabo, the highest mountain in the city on which was built a temple dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Atop the church, is an enormous statue of Jesus and his Sacred Heart with his arms outstretched. It was placed here so that the Sacred  Heart would look over the city, being both a beacon of light and hope, as well as a protection and guardianship over the city. The beautiful church sits atop the city, and from its heights we were able to see many miles in all directions. 

What is most beautiful about our visit here is that it was another unplanned part of trip that the Lord wanted to bring about. Originally, we had planned to go to Montserrat, but it was not possible, and the Lord brought us to Tibidabo. It became clear that this was his plan all along. Continually along this trip the Lord had been leading us closer to his Sacred Heart:

1. Twice we were taken to the Visitation Convent in which was given the revelation of the Sacred Heart.
2. The Holy Father consecrated all the youth at the WYD Vigil despite a great attack to prevent it.
3. Today the Lord diverted us to Temple specifically dedicated to the Sacred Heart.

Our visit there was very beautiful. We sensed the
Lord's desire to bring us into his Heart, individually and as a family. We were able to celebrate Mass there, which was another beautiful gift. Before Mass, one of the priests there gave us a tour in which he explained the history of the place. Originally, it began with some men trying to preserve the place for the Lord. They bought the land and then gave it to St. John Bosco as a gift. St. John Bosco prophesized at that moment that there would be a great church built that would glorify God in that place. This was the beginning of the sanctuary. We were grateful to have had the opportunity to be there for a short time. 

After that we departed from Barcelona and drove to Toulouse, France where we will spend the night. Our bus ride was very beautiful as we had a time of sharing and testimonies. It was very moving to see all that the Lord had done in all of our hearts. After dinner at the hotel, we had a time of good-byes as the Miami group will be flying home tomorrow. It was a bittersweet moment for all....we have become a family and it was sad to see some of our members go. The Lord has done great things in us, and we know that He will only continue this into the future....

Monday, August 22, 2011

Goodbye Madrid....Welcome to Barcelona

Good-bye Madrid.....

This morning we gathered for the last time at the parish to board our bus and say our good-byes to our host families. It was a joyful and bittersweet moment for all of us, as we had come to love those who so generously opened their homes and hearts to us. Many had tears in their eyes as they parted ways for the last time.

The drive to Barcelona was smooth and the landscape very beautiful. We arrived in the early evening, checked into the hotel and then departed for Sagrada Familia.

This grand church has great significance for us, and constitutes another important step in our journey. Very clearly, this trip and the whole year, the Lord has been showing us the path of the Church as a family. In the homily of Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday, he exhorted to the same thing: we are not simply independent individuals, but we part of a universal Body, a Family, and we must live out this reality in our daily lives. As well, we have seen that we have become a family in our days together, a more mature and authentic one. 

Moreover, it is intricately connected to the John Paul II Newman Center: on the same day that Bishop Jenky dedicated the Chapel of our new center - Nov. 7, 2011 - Pope Benedict XVI also dedicated the Church of Sagrada Familia. Moreover, we are here on this day - Aug. 22, the Queenship of Mary - which is the one year anniversary of the first Mass ever celebrated in our new chapel. Beautifully, when we arrived at the magnificent Church, the central image on the exterior was of the Coronation of Our Lady. 

After spending some time looking and learning about the Church and the meaning behind all its structures, we were able to celebrate Mass downstairs in the crypt chapel. The Mass was celebrated in Catalon, but the priest gave us a warm welcome in broken English. We felt very privileged in general to celebrate such a
special feast day in such a truly magnificent and beautiful structure. It is a place in which one sees the great gifts of men placed in the service of the Lord to create a masterpiece which gives him glory. 

Though it was a short visit, it was a moment in which the Lord was bringing together so many of the graces he had given us so far, and showing us very clearly through the dates and events that He had designed this moment from all eternity. He is calling us to a family....the family of his Church. And it is our choice whether or not to enter into this family - with both its gifts and responsibilities. The joys of being part of it are incomparable, but it requires a "putting ourselves to the side." As archbishop Dolan said "joy" is found by following its order: 
J) esus first
O) thers second
Y) ourself last

This is how we live in family.....may we choose to accept and live this most beautiful gift with all that it entails.....

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Esta es la Juventud del Papa

Esta es la Juventud del Papa!

It is difficult to put into words all that our hearts have experienced in the last days. Yesterday, (Saturday) we began our day again at the Love and Life Center, where we took part in the US Bishops Mass. The Mass was celebrated by over 50 bishops and about 200 priests from around the United States that had come with groups of young people. The arena was close to full with American pilgrims gathered to celebrate Mass with their bishops. After Mass, the pilgrims were given the opportunity to visit with their bishops, as they made themselves available for this purpose. It was a gift to be able to come together as a country, across the world, to be with our bishops and priests and one another. Cardinal George from Chicago was the main celebrant, and Archbishop Dolan was again the homilist. His homily was a beautiful reflection on St. Peter and how the Lord "turned his life around" especially on his encounter  at Quo Vadis, in which Peter, fleeing Rome, asked the Lord, "Where are you going?" and the Lord replies that he going back to Rome to be crucified. At this, Peter turned around and went back to Rome where he was crucified. Archbishop Dolan exhorted us all to go to Peter in these days, and allow this encounter with him, and through him our Lord, to "turn our lives around." 

In the afternoon then, we began our pilgrimage to Cuatro Vientos for the Vigil and Mass with the Holy Father. Before leaving, we gathered to prepare our hearts for the trip. We understood that we had arrived on "Calvary", and we were now beginning our ascent with Peter to Jesus. We knew these would be difficult days, but they were also the most important, the days to which our Lord had been leading us to the entire time. Though we were already very fatigued, we knew the Lord was asking us for more. And in the end, we did give all we had, but the Lord gave us so much more....

The trip was not an easy one, as nearly two million other youth were moving in the same direction; the Metros were scenes of mild chaos as well, the heat was  very difficult to bear; the temperature on Saturday was 100 degrees in the shade and 113 in the sun. The dry hot air made dehydration along the multi-kilometer walk. However, very beautifully, as we walked, people in the apartments lining the streets would relieve our heat by throws buckets of water from their windows. We were very happy to be soaked. 

This important and welcomed relief continued as we entered the airfield: the firetrucks spent the entire day and evening moving through the passage ways with their hoses going full blast. This was very needed, for the field of Cuatro Vientos was like a desert: very rocky, dry and dusty with no grass or shade. As well, the dirt and dust was a constant and heavy presence in the air. Add to this two million people in a scramble for precious water and bathrooms and food..... What a joy and a gift to be able to offer it all for  our dear Holy Father, the Church and those we love. 

In many senses this was the most prominent message that was sent to the Holy Father and the world - we are here for you, Holy Father, and the Church. We will mount Calvary with you and there we will remain....with joy. And joyful it was. None of this dampened the spirits or resolve or charity of those present. There was dancing singing, chanting, talking, and sharing. Everyone understood that we were here for a reason and nothing would deter us from. To offer the difficulties was a joy. 

This was tested even more when our Pope Benedict arrived to shouts of of joy and welcome. But as soon as he began to give his address to his children, the heavy storm clouds that had come behind us released their force: heavy rain, wind, thunder and lightning came upon the miles long expanse of people. 

The Holy Father did not yet leave the stage, but instead began to smile as the whole crowd voiced their support by chanting, "esta es la juventud del Papa" (this is the youth of the Pope). Finally however he had to exit the stage after he and the text of his speech were soaked. In the midst of the storm, we hovered under umbrellas and tarps, praying that it would cease. And when it began to abate and the Holy Father came back to cheers and joyful shouts.

The Holy Father told us, "Young people, thank you for your joy!....Thank you for your resistance! Your strength is greater than the rain!" he added. "The Lord, with the rain, sends us many blessings. Also in this, you are an example...Guard the flame which God has lit in your hearts tonight. Never let it go out, renew it each day, share it with your contemporaries who live in darkness and who are seeking a light for their way."

The vigil continued with the main portion of the program: a Eucharistic procession and adoration, and benediction.

He did not finish his address, but instead did the planned consecration of all the youth to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We had sensed before that this consecration would be powerful, which became more evident when the weather tried with all of its power to prevent it. Following this, we had time of adoration, in which the whole assembly fell silent; as one Spanish journalist reports, the field was converted into the largest temple of God on earth. 

At the end, the Pope said good night: "Dear young people, together we have experienced an adventure. Firm in the faith in Christ, you have resisted the rain....Before leaving I want to tell all of you good night. Rest well. Thank you for the sacrifice you are making. And which I don't doubt you will offer generously to the Lord. We'll see each other tomorrow, God willing. I await you all. I thank you all for the marvelous example that you've given. Just like tonight, with Christ you will always be able to take on the tests of life. Don't forget that. Thank you to all!"

After the Holy Father left, we were given a message from the Holy Father: first, "he is very proud of us." And second, he would like to drive among us tomorrow before Mass so he could see us. And this he did. Before Mass on Sunday morning, he drove through the crowds waving hello and greeting his children. Mass began at 9:30am after a night spent in the field. Thankfully, except for a small rain, the night passed without incident. Mass was a beautiful moment in which yet again, the dry and dirty field became a powerful temple of heaven, in which the Church united to praise and give glory and thanksgiving to our Lord.  May we too allow the Lord to take our dry and dirty souls and convert them into a beautiful place of worship. 

After Mass we pilgrimages back home. Mary opened the way for a small miracle for us and it ended up being much easier and shorter than expected. The rest of the afternoon and evening was a evening of rest. Some of the group attended a closing event: a soccer game in the World Cup Stadium.

Overall, in general, it was precisely the difficulties that made it so powerful. There was a deep joy in the face of the Holy Father that expressed a feel ing of consolation. We are his youth and we want to be there with him. What a witness it was to so many to see almost two million young people remain despite trial. What an important spiritual lesson for us: we must remain in the heat and storms and trials of life. Will we go seeking comfort elsewhere or will we stay with our shepherd? Will we remain with Christ on the cross? And our dear Shepherd was very consoled to see that "his youth" did in fact remain. 

The entire week was a powerful and moving encounter, as a father with his children, each coming to realize more deeply how much they are loved. It was a witness of of joy and zeal and charity in often difficult moments. The Church is alive and beautiful and firm in the faith with our shepherd. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Day Four of WYD

We continue our journey with the Holy Father into the heart of Christ.....
Today we began the day again by going to catechesis session in the Love and Life center, which was again filled to capacity. We entered to a beautiful time of praise and worship, which everyone thoroughly enjoyed.... A wonderful way to wake up in the morning. Following praise and worship, we were blessed by a talk by Archbishop Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York. He gave a wonderful talk about the necessity of evangelization, of giving away the gift we have received. He gave four key ways in which we can effectively evangelize: our charity, our joy, our hope, and our love for the Church. After the catechesis, he celebrated the Mass for the Spread of the Gospel, along with over 50 bishops and 350 priests. In his homily, he spoke more on this topic, going into the concept of "invitation" as fundamental to evangelization. We do not impose, but propose, inviting people to experience the joy we ourselves have received in following Christ.

In the afternoon we again headed over to Cibeles Sqaure to find a place for the evening Stations of the Cross. Again the Lord led us to a good spot, for to our great joy, the Holy Father passed by us on his way in and out of the square. What an immense gift and joy to see him so close yet again! What a moment of grace for our hearts.

The Sations were very beautiful and powerful. The life size stations lined the street, and the cross was carried to each Station along the way. The statues and images in the Stations were some of Spain's most beautiful artistic heritage. The meditation on the Passion of our Lord was a powerful gift to our hearts, especially in these days, in which the fatigue and heat and crowds begin to more and more overwhelm us. We needed this meditation in order to give us the strength and the grace to continue to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice. We thank the Lord for the many graces He has given us thus far and will continue to give. Please pray for us that we may imitate the generosity of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary in these coming days. We look forward with great anticipation to the Vigil which will begin tomorrow. Until Sunday.....

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Viva el Papa!

Another day full of dirt, heat, fatigue....and GRACE. What a gift was today. We again gathered in the morning after another night with our dear host families, and headed off to our morning catechesis session in the Love and Life Center. However, when we got there, it was full and we were not able to enter. The Lord had other plans....
Therefore, we decided to go back to visit the dear Visitation nuns again to see if we would be able to celebrate Mass in their chapel, since we could not enter the other. Beautifully, the Sisters again opened the doors of their convent and chapel to us. Upon our arrival, it was evident that the Lord intended it that way to begin with. On the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we celebrated a votive Mass of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in preparation for the consecration to the Sacred Heart the Holy Father will be leading the youth in making at the Vigil this weekend. Very powerfully, we were celebrating this Mass in the convent of the Visitation, the order of St. Margaret Mary, to whom was given the revelation of the Sacred Heart; a painting of this revelation was the prominent background of the sacntuary in the chapel. Therefore, we were able to celebrate an intimate Mass in this beautiful chapel together. It was a profound and moving Mass, a gift for all our hearts.

Following Mass, we picked up both lunch and dinner to then quickly head down to Cibeles Square to reserve a place for the papal welcome ceremony in the evening. We found a place along the way where believed the Holy Father would pass. The afternoon was very hot, as we were out in the sun, and very dirty, as the people and crowds increaded.....however, we joyfully offered all to be present for our dear Holy Father. As the afternoon progressed, they began spraying the crowds with water, and eventually the fire department brought out the fire hoses and began spraying the crowds all the way until the time the Holy Father arrived. Despite the heat, intense crowds, and dirt, everyone was in joyful spirits in anticipation for the arrival of our "Papa." 

Finally, the moment arrived....the Holy Father arrived! First, we watched on the big screens as he entered the city in his pope-mobile, being greeted by great crowd lining miles of city streets. He stopped at the gates of the city, for a ceremony in which the mayor of Madrid presented him with the keys of the city. Then he continued on to enter Cibeles square where he was greeted with roars by well over a million youth.....and we prayed he would come our way. And then much to our great joy, the pope-mobile turned and headed up the street our way! We roar increased as he came closer, and the crowds pressed us in. But we were right at the edge of the barrier, some in the first row awaiding our Shepherd. Finally, he passed by, just feet in front of us, waving and greeting us! What a jubilation! And the joy only increased when we he turned around and came back by us again! Some of the students found themselves crying with unexplainable joy.....

After passing by the jubilant youth who welcomed him with joy and open hearts, he passed back into the square, and commenced a welcome ceremony and a Celebration of the Word. After greeting all the pilgrims, each in their own language, the Gospel of Matthew, about building our houses on rock and sand was read (Mt 7:24-27), and the Holy Father followed this with an address, in which he exhorted us all to build our hearts and lives on the rock of Christ; to seek truth always and to be willing to live by it. What powerful words he offered us by which to direct our lives. May we live by them and thereby become a loving balm to

his heart and those that will follow him. After receiving a final blessing, we watched the Holy Father leave the square to chants and cheers, full of great love and affection.

What a powerful encounter it finally be able to greet our beloved Peter. All the difficulties of the day faded in the light of this joy. Everyone was deeply touched by the loving encounter with their Papa. What a connection and union of hearts we experienced between him and us. What joy he had in his smile as he waved to us one last time. We have deep gratitude in our hearts for all he is and all he chooses to carry for the sake of us his children. May we, just like today, always be willing to stand by and be present with and for him....even when it is difficult. We love you, Holy Father, and are proud to be your faithful children! 

Viva el Papa! Esta es la juventud del Papa!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Day Two of WYD

We finish today again very tired, dirty, hot.....and joyful. It was another beautiful day in which we received many graces and experienced again the beauty and the power of being Church.
Our day began again by gathering again at our parish after another night in our homes. Again, everyone arrived very well-fed and well-loved. We headed off to the morning catechesis session at the Palacio de los Deportes, a large area in which was housed the Love and Life Center. This arena, run by the Sisters of Life and the Knights of Columbus, was the home for English speaking pilgrims - over 12,000 of them. The morning session featured two talks - one by Cardinal Pell from Australia and the other by a Sister of Life - and Mass. Cardinal Pell spoke about faith and reason, and Sister spoke about our call to change the world through our faith and witness. The Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Pell, and concelebrated by over 30 bishops (including Bishop Noonan from Orlando who we saw after the Mass) and 300 preists from around the English speaking world. In the afternoon, we stayed for one of the featured talks by Curtis Martin, who exhorted us to seek greatness and holiness by living each present moment with our last moment and eternity in mind. 

We then proceded to the Prado Museum, which has been opened to all the WYD pilgrims. It was very special to visit this world-renowned art museum and to see first-hand some of the most beautiful works of art in man's history. We were all moved to see the original painting of Deigo Velazquez of Christ crucified, whose replica hangs as the primary crucifix of the Cathedral of Peoria. As well, there were many other famous works of the Blessed Mother and the Saints.

After dinner, we visited the Parque del Retiro, a beautiful park in the center of the city, which can be compared to Central Park in NY. After walking around for a while, we attended a concert for the WYD pilgrims in the Park in which all the pilgrims enjoyed singing and dancing together. 

In general, the day was filled with great joy, as we were constantly surrounded by excited youth from all around the world. More than anything, there continues to be a great sense of the power of seeing the young universal Church so alive with life and joy. All the students continue to enjoy interacting, singing and speaking with one another. There seem to be no language barriers.....because all speak the common language of the Church: Love. May it always be spoken.......