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.......

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Day One of WYD

What a powerful day. We finish the day very tired, dirty, and hot, but filled with a great joy for the gift of the faith and the Church. What a powerful experience of both today....

We began our day each at our homes, and met at the parish in the morning to gather. Everyone arrived full of joy and gratitude for all the love they had been shown in their homes by their host "parents." They were well fed and well loved!

From there we boarded the metro and went to visit the First Monastery of the Visitation Order. What a powerful gift for our hearts! We arrived and were welcomed by the Sisters that tend the door and led into their very beautiful and majestic chapel, where we had the gift of listening to Sr. Michelle speak on the virtue of generosity, where we were moved to give ourselves more fully and more lovingly over to the plan of God for our life. It was a very fitting reflection for this place, for this monastery was the home of the Seven Visitation Martyrs that were killed in 1936 and beatified by JPII in 1998. The relics of their bodies were there and we were able to kneel in front of their relics and pray for their intercession, so that we could too live with a generosity willing to die for Christ. Next we were given the immense priviledge of of visiting with the Sisters of the monastery and listening to them tell the story of their seven sisters who were martyred only years ago. Since the Sisters are cloistered, we visited with them behind the grill. However, this only was a physical separation, as our hearts enjoyed a beautiful communion of hearts with the joyful and generous nuns. Each one of  us left enflamed with the desire to respond with the generous giving our lives. What a perfect beginning to WYD, which, according to JPII, was started so that he could "greet the martyrs of the third millenium." May it be so.

After lunch, we went into the heart of Madrid to visit the Cathedral. Here we encountered for the first time the  WYD crowds. What a moving moment for all to see the young Church, joyful and alive with life, gathered from all corners of the world. From that point on we were immersed in the crowds of singing, chanting, and excited youth from all languages and nations. It is very difficult to desribe with words how beautiful it is to see so many joyful youth united for one reason - Jesus Christ. 

In the evening, all came together in beautiful Cibeles Square to celebrate the opening outdoor Mass. The crowds reached as far as the eye could see, an estimated 600,000, all joined in the celebration of the Holy Mass. Long before and after Mass, groups interacted, cheering and singing and speaking with one another.

In general, it was a long day filled with heat, fatigue, thirst, and crowds. However, all this became secondary to the experience of the joy of being part of our young Catholic Church. To be able to come together and unite ourselves, despite being separated by language and culture, is an irreplaceable experience of the power of being Church. We see a miracle - we really are one Body in Christ.