11 November 2011
Cheryl Sugden of Napier accompanied her daughter and granddaughter to Spain for World Youth Day in August and offered this reflection at the HB Pastoral Area forum on October 1.
With a group of Australians at World Youth Day I was squashed in to a concrete square in Madrid to watch the Stations of the Cross on an immense television screen above. Not much room to move. No shade − everybody so close in 35-degree heat.
Chanting from the other side of the square drew me out of self-pity and I looked into the faces of the young people around me. Someone began to sing and we all joined in with clapping and laughter. Someone else began the Rosary − and so it went on.
We dissolved into the atmosphere generated by youth that day. What hot, tired feet? Was there really concrete underneath us? The ‘almost hot’ water in the drinking bottle was fine, thank you.
The youth were on their feet calling ‘Papa’ as the face of their beloved Pope appeared on the screen. The Stations began and I am telling you, those young people prayed the stations − young people proud to be Catholic! We in New Zealand need our youth to be with other youth who are proud to be Catholic.
Those leading catechesis every morning during the week were world class and spoke of today’s issues and the teachings of the church. There wasn’t room in the catechesis sessions for everyone and queues formed outside waiting for up to three hours to replace anyone who came out. I was amazed at the thirst for information.
A group of African youth started an impromptu Mass on a pavement outside and a friend was invited to join in.
Despite the language barrier she was able to share at gospel time. It was so moving that she was pleased she had been locked out of the venue.
For a crowd of two and a half million people there seemed an amazing lack of drunkenness or other untoward behaviour though there were bars available.
Another gem was to witness the many young, middle-aged and elderly nuns, priests and religious being available to the youth, obvious at the venues, wandering the parks, in the streets, answering questions, praying, never tiring. Even the old seemed forever young with a light in their eyes and a spring in their step.
There were Masses being celebrated all over Madrid throughout the World Youth Day week. The goodness I experienced was surely nothing more than the fruit of the Holy Spirit. This was a microcosm of what the church in the world could be.
Before the big WYD Mass which Pope Benedict presided over, I went for a walk and looked back over the immense circle of waiting people. Flags were flying proudly over this huge venue. It was great to see that the Rugby World Cup is not the only reason for flying the flag!
I knew now why I wanted to return to World Youth Day. There in front of me was a whole way of life – our way, the Catholic way, a movement of the Spirit happening now, here in our midst.
The word thundered in my ears and could have been written in the sky for all to see − hope. I could almost hear God call, ‘these are my people, the hope of my church, the hope of the world’.
These young people have to come down from the mountain but their experience will last them forever.
Hopefully NZ will continue to invest in its young in this way. The return may not always be immediate but with ongoing effort it could be valuable. WYD could be promoted better so that it is understood, encouraged and welcomed by local communities.
Image: Palmerston North and Wellington diocesan pilgrims at Lourdes en route to World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain.