Saturday, July 14, 2012

Ten insights from Catholic youth, Part III

III.                   Love the Pope
For those who travel to World Youth Day, a great moment of anticipation is seeing the Holy Father, in real life, feet or yards or half a mile away, and to hear his voice and know he is speaking to you. In fact, as we spent a day in Burgos, Spain during our pre-WYD pilgrimage, I told our teens that Pope Benedict, an eighty-something-year-old man was undergoing the rigors of travel for them. Very beautiful, very moving, very true.
Yes, I took this picture of Papa B.

So, when Thursday arrived, and every young pilgrim knew that the Holy Father would be in their midst by the end of the day, I asked our group if any of them would like to spend the afternoon in the blazing Spanish sun with the chance (not the guarantee) of a good spot to see the Vicar of Christ. Four of them said yes.

Following our morning catechesis and Mass, Fr. Tim Ralston (our group's chaplain) and I set a brisk pace through crowds of pilgrims, seas of flags and chants about the Pope in order to attempt to secure a good spot. Eventually we arrived at the plaza where the Holy Father would begin his welcoming ceremony. We followed the barricade until we found what I do believe was the last remaining three feet of space along the winding barricade. And like a veteran of scouting ideal places to see the pope, I barked out commands about not moving for any reason, not letting anyone invade the space, how to create our own personal barricade of backpacks and where the most strategic places to sit for the next five hours would be.

Yes, we had five hours in Madrid's intense heat to wait for a glimpse of Pope Benedict XVI. And the heat was so great that volunteers began running near the barricades to spray people's faces with little spray bottles. But this was not enough. So they brought out plastic containers typically used to distribute lawn chemicals, but instead they sprayed us with water. But that was not enough. Eventually, the firemen came onto the scene, lugging their fire-hoses and grinning with glee. Yes, the fire-hoses were enough! We were showered with enormous gushes of water as we all cheered on the firemen, "Agua! Agua! Aqui! Aqui!"

With our hats dripping and our sunscreen battling the effects of the makeshift Madrid waterpark, we waited for the big moment. There was music and videos and reports and footage of Pope Benedict alighting from the plane earlier in the afternoon.

And then it was a little after 7, and we watched on the screen as Papa B came through the streets of Madrid in his popemobile. We readied our cameras and steeled ourselves for the crushing enthusiasm (literally crushing) of those around us who wished to be a centimeter closer to the Pope as he drove speedily by.

He drove by, smiling and waving. We cheered with the Spaniards. We cheered with the French. We cheered with those from the British Islands across the way from us. We cheered with the girl from Cincinnati who happened to be near our group. We cheered with people from every populated continent.

And then? We collapsed. Yes, all six of us didn't last in our prime spots because there was no longer room to sit. We had been standing in the exhausting heat for so long, and the Holy Father's gentle voice in Spanish was not jolting us with renewed energy. So, we sat along the side, followed along with the prayer service as best we could, and then attempted to beat the crowd. This attempt was thwarted when one of our teens spotted her first "real life" Missionaries of Charity. As a great fan of Blessed Mother Teresa, she had meeting some of the sisters at the top of her World Youth Day wish list. It's a good thing we stopped to chat ... they informed us that the Holy Father would be passing by the road on which we were standing. So, we found an opening in the crowd and watched as he sped by again.

So, the six of us had our close encounter with the Pope. One girl said the waiting and the watching were worth all of the money that it cost to get to Spain. I can only hope that the close proximity to the Vicar of Christ will continue to inspire the teens' faith as they grow in holiness for years to come.

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