Catholic Leader journalist PAUL DOBBYN is preparing to travel to Madrid for World Youth Day. He shares his thoughts on what he expects on the pilgrimage
AUGUST 10 is D-Day – departure day from Brisbane Airport for Madrid, and the wonders (and maybe woes) of World Youth Day 2011 are just around the corner.
Pieces of a jigsaw puzzle are still being handed to maroon pilgrims, a big picture puzzle that might only be definitively completed once this “magical mystery tour” is over and we’re back on home soil again.
One new bit of information gleaned from the latest and final briefing is that we’ll be sleeping out in the open at Cordoba’s Plaza de Toros (a bullring).
Presumably there’ll be no actual bulls to worry our slumbers – though who knows what tormented dreams of wounded and dying beasts may wander the minds of sleepers?
This will be the first of two nights outdoors – the second being at the Cuatro Vientos Airport Madrid where we’ll stay overnight, along with millions of other pilgrims, in preparation for the final Mass on Sunday, August 21 (also my 60th birthday).
There’s still a degree of uncertainty about accommodation arrangements for the early part of our Days in the Diocese experience at the little town of Pedro Abad, south of Cordoba.
One thing that is certain though – we’ll either be put up with a family or in a church hall.
Given the scale of the logistics involved such uncertainty is inevitable.
Our Spanish Days pilgrimage group (spiritual director Bishop Joseph Oudeman, leader Anita Hendrie) is 40-strong.
The numbers quickly accelerate away from this point, however.
We’re part of the largest ever contingent of Queenslanders heading overseas to a World Youth Day event – a total of 220, 100 more than previously.
Some believe the outstanding success and lasting spiritual impact of Australia’s World Youth Day in 2008 is a key reason for this.
In turn the Queensland contingent feeds into the almost 4000 Australians headed Madrid’s way. A total of 24 bishops and 111 priests will accompany Australian pilgrims.
From August 15, this seemingly significant group will be but a tiny portion of a vast confluence of as many as two million World Youth Day pilgrims sweeping into Madrid.
More than eight million meals will be prepared to feed pilgrims in the week of celebrations leading up to the August 21 final Mass.
The mechanics of providing all the other human requisites for such a vast throng will also be intriguing, to say the least.
Which probably explains why the refrain “Remember you are a pilgrim not a tourist” has been so common at briefings.
We’ve even uttered on several occasions a specially prepared prayer reminding ourselves of this fact.
Planning and briefings by the archdiocese’s WYD team have been beyond reproach.
We’ve got checklists for packing, we’ve all been guided towards taking whatever vaccinations are deemed necessary when mingling with two million or so other human beings.
We’ve even got baggage identification tags with a psychedelic orange pattern over which is printed in black “Archdiocesan Youth Day”.
Not to mention a “Visual Language Card” with a multitude of images from sausages, to trains, to coffee (very important, I’m sure many would agree), ambulances, doctors, the list goes on.
There’s even a drawing of a pig.
“That came in handy when I attended Cologne World Youth Day,” one of the pilgrimage co-ordinators Michael Hart said.
He’d just taken the card from the pilgrimage information kit we’d received at the final formation day held at the Francis Rush Centre on Sunday, July 10.
“I wasn’t sure what I was eating. However, I thought it might be some form of ham,” he said.
“I couldn’t speak German so I pointed to the pig, and the people I was eating with nodded.”
Which reminds me – I need to work harder on my few phrases for Basic Survival in Spain 101.
But “firmes en la fe” (firm in the faith), part of the chorus of the World Youth Day 2011 theme song, is already engrained somewhere between heart and brain.
“A tourist passes quickly through places, but places pass slowly through pilgrims, leaving them changed forever.” (World Youth Day 2011 Pilgrim Journal) Given the abundance of nuts and bolts to tighten before this whole project leaves the ground, it’s been a challenge to focus on the spiritual side.
Pilgrimage Formation Day handouts have certainly helped and I’ve given “Tools for the Journey” concepts such as the Lectio Divina (meditation on a spiritual reading) a trial run and found these valuable.
The high point, spiritually speaking, so far was the Commissioning Mass celebrated by Archbishop John Bathersby at St Stephen’s Cathedral on July 10 with some of the priests and deacons who will be accompanying pilgrimage groups.
No doubt, I was not alone in being profoundly aware I will be leaving my family, friends and work (and in some cases study) associates and heading off on this journey separate from them.
It’s been interesting to read reflections of pilgrims who’ve attended World Youth Days around the world since the late, now Blessed Pope John Paul II devised this wonderful gift for the Church’s youth (and oldies) in 1986. In about half a dozen stories I read, a common theme was that at times the journey was difficult, uncomfortable, even chaotic … so much so that the pilgrims had vowed never again to undertake a similar enterprise.
But looking back they realised it had been a life-changing experience.
Canadian Guy Levac had this to say: “Nine months before the actual event, going to World Youth Day 2000 in Rome as a group leader sounded like an absolutely wonderful opportunity. “On a terribly hot and sticky August day, however, as I made my way through the two million young people who had gathered at Tor Vergata for a vigil and a Mass with the Pope, I resolved to have my head examined upon my return home.
“What was a 38-year-old husband and father of two doing at an event which was obviously geared to people who were much younger and more carefree?”
Looking back on the experience he later writes: “… World Youth Day 2000 was an extraordinary experience … I feel I have returned spiritually renewed …”
Quite likely, in the passionate and colourful whirl of Spanish culture, swept along, exhausted by the youthful enthusiasm of millions of pilgrims, at times bemoaning the absence of the comforts of home like a nice hot shower, I’ll be asking myself the same question as Guy Levac did on that hot, sticky day in Rome.
But I feel blessed that at no point has the answer seemed so overwhelming I was tempted to dodge this wonderful opportunity to make another big leap forward on the faith journey.
Now Pedro Abad, Cordoba and Madrid and my Spanish and indeed universal brothers and sisters in the faith await.
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