Catholic Leader journalist PAUL DOBBYN has been in Madrid with Queensland pilgrims experiencing the wonder of World Youth Day 2011. He reports on the Australian Gathering and Opening Mass
TUESDAY August 17 in Madrid unfolded the World Youth Day Australian Gathering and the Opening Mass – two different events, but at their heart beating a common faith.
Appropriate to a country as young as Australia, the launch event held in Plaza de Deportes (sports stadium) in central Madrid was exuberant and up tempo, filled with modern music and telling an upbeat story based around video images of Sydney’s triumphant World Youth Day and the witness of youth who had attended the 2008 event.
Later that day, Archibishop Antonio Rouco Varela of Madrid, together with 800 archbishops, bishops and cardinals and 8000 priests from around the world, celebrated a Mass reaching back to ancient traditions.
More than 500,000 youthful pilgrims attended. The setting at Plaza de Cibeles Square in front of the magnificent 18th Century Banco de Espana was truly inspirational – though falling short on practicality.
Thousands of pilgrims were left to bake for hours in the relentless Madrilean afternoon sun.
Ambulances ceaselessly scuttled to and fro bringing assistance to heat-affected pilgrims.
Putting this to one side, the Mass was an extraordinary spectacle, the exuberance of youthful pilgrims balanced by the solemnity, dignity and reverence the Spanish Church can so effortlessly muster.
Massed voices accompanied by an orchestra amplified the beauty of the Latin Mass.
And I Am the Resurrection will never sound the same again for those present who were unfamiliar with its non-English equivalent.
Awesome to witness was the seemingly endless white-clad line of priests despatched on a mission to administer Holy Communion to their far-flung and multitudinous flock.
Australian pilgrims at the Opening Mass had earlier taken part in an enthusiastic declaration of faith in the refreshingly air-conditioned interior of the Plaza de Deportes.
National WYD projects officer Bernadette Kreutzer said “the Australian Gathering provided an opportunity for the Aussie pilgrims to come together to celebrate for the first time since their arrival in Madrid”.
“With bands, music and testimony the pilgrims were patriotically ecstatic and the atmosphere was electric,” she said. A statement from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference said the gathering aimed to generate national spirit in the midst of the international festival of faith, and give the youth assembled a sense of pride in the youthful strength still present in the Australian Church.
Numbering nearly 4000, this was the largest ever Australian contingent to an international World Youth Day event.
Australian ambassador to Spain Zorica McCarthy said the enthusiasm she was witnessing at the gathering was “extremely moving”. Those sharing her mature years could not have helped but agree.
Cardinal George Pell of Sydney also gave a closing address of support and a blessing to the Australian pilgrims.
The Australian gathering program skipped briskly from live music presented by musicians including Gary Pinto, Fr Rob Galea and Sydney’s The Revelations to witnesses by pilgrims from World Youth Day 2008.
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference’s senior youth ministry projects officer for pastoral life Malcolm Hart announced an Australian Catholic Youth Ministry Convention in Campbelltown, NSW, next year.
A possible Australian youth gathering was also announced. “Research into this is underway,” Mr Hart said. “I would request our youth to keep this project in their prayers.
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