Brisbane archdiocese’s Youth and Children’s Team member ANITA HENDRIE offers a reflection on being a WYD11 pilgrim to Madrid
AFTER a 25-hour journey via Dubai, we finally arrived, among a sea of pilgrims, in Madrid, where we were welcomed by Cecilia, a lovely Peruvian lady who was to be our English-speaking guide to Pedro Abad and later in Madrid.
Once we finally got away from the chaos of the airport we were on a bus bound for Pedro Abad.
While Cecilia had made me feel quite at ease, I was soon feeling anxious again when I discovered that the bus driver did not know where Pedro Abad is.
I later discovered that he had a GPS -phew.
After what was now a 30-hour journey, we finally arrived in Pedro Abad absolutely exhausted.
I was feeling quite anxious about the language barrier as I knew the parish priest did not speak English and my Spanish was very limited and I also knew Cecilia couldn’t stay long as she was pushing it to make the last train back to Madrid.
As I stepped off the bus into the sweltering heat, I was greeted by the parish priest Fr Ricardo Castrillo with a kiss on each cheek, as is customary on first meeting someone in Spain.
As he tested out my Spanish, and I his English, we both came to the conclusion that we were going to be in for a challenge.
Cecilia made a quick exchange with Fr Ricardo in Spanish, asking all the burning questions I had, making sure we were all okay before racing off to catch the train – then we were on our own.
Having a minor freak-out inside, while trying to keep a calm and confident demeanour on the outside, we were ushered into what we later discovered to be the chapel of the order of the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
I was soon beckoned up to the front, where I looked out onto a sea of maroon on one side and a sea of Spanish ladies waving hand fans on the other.
Bishop Joseph Oudeman, Auxiliary for Brisbane, was then invited forward and the mayor of the town greeted us.
After being officially welcomed by the mayor and Fr Ricardo, we were sent off with our respective hosts.
This is when my four housemates for the next few days – Vien, Grace, Dieu and Mena – and I met our host mum Delores who we came to know more affectionately as Lola.
Lola did not speak a word of English, and with me being the leader and having indicated that I was learning Spanish, she turned straight to me and started speaking Spanish, assuming or hoping I would understand.
Right at that moment I wished I had been more determined to master Spanish.
All in all though, apart from the odd moment of “smiling and nodding”, we managed to communicate fairly well.
What we all clearly understood from the outset was that we were very welcome.
I had been worried about whether someone would have a guitar we could borrow for Mass so my jaw hit the floor when we walked into the first room in Lola’s house to discover 15 guitars lined up that had been hand-made by her late husband.
After Lola showed us around her beautiful home, out came the food and cold drinks, including beautiful fresh green olives, like we’d never tasted before, various delicious salamis and cheese.
Lola’s daughter kept leaving the room and reappearing with more food or drinks and it wasn’t until later that we realised she was disappearing across the street to the supermarket which they own.
When I went to bed that evening I realised that although we did not speak the same verbal language, we did speak the universal language of love.
As well as being fed with beautiful food, over the next few days we were given tours of Pedro Abad, Cordoba and its magnificent cathedral, formerly one of the biggest mosques in the world.
We also attended Mass together in both languages, on the second night at 10pm, with the locals leading the singing.
On the Saturday night I thought I was preparing to lead the singing for our group of 40 and a few others, but when I arrived at the church I realised it was the parish Mass and it looked like the whole village was there waving their fans.
We led most of the singing and the locals led the rest.
We sang our hearts out but were completely outnumbered.
After Mass we stepped out on to the main square where the village was hosting a party for us – a party to end all parties and a night none of us will ever forget.
This was the first time we could really interact with everybody without worrying about not speaking the same language – it didn’t matter because we had the universal languages of music, dance and food.
I haven’t danced or laughed so hard in a long time.
Many tears flowed the next day as we said our good-byes to our wonderful hosts, before heading back into Cordoba to join the other pilgrims who were hosted in other parts of the diocese.
This gave us a taste of what to expect from World Youth Day before hitting the massive crowds of Madrid.