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Finally Here....

25 August 2011

WORLD YOUTH DAY VIGIL AND MASS

So finally, after months of planning and spiritual journey, weeks of physical journey and the last few days of intense preparation, we are finally here. For some pilgrims there is a long walk and for others a shorter walk and a pilgrim’s patience as we wait to board sardine trains. The conditions are hot and dusty – it’s a testing time for pilgrims, but only the beginning.

We followed the crowds and found our area. Even at 9 hours before the Vigil, we are struggling to find a place for the 50 of us. The next day we hear about the many groups that didn’t get in at all that day. The area we must camp in is stony, very dusty and covered with dry straw and many little insects but this is not a problem for the pilgrims. Out come the mats, the cardboard, and the sleeping bags – anything to mark the place. We prepare for the long sit-in.

We get our bearings and use our pilgrim passes to pick up the food (which is great) and to find amenities around us and, especially, where the water is. We greet other groups as they come and sit around us. We welcome our friend groups into our midst, the Irish-Anglo Oblates and the Malaga Oblates who hosted us. We enjoy the music coming (quite loudly) through the loud-speakers. It adds to the festive spirit.

But the temperature and the dust level continue to rise. Water becomes very precious and shade becomes rarer than gold. The true pilgrim’s supportive nature manifests itself in the care that is given to those who do not cope with the heat and the harsh conditions. At 5pm it is still well over 40 degrees with an unrelenting sun. Pilgrims mix, talk, discuss their origins, the groups they belong to and the religious orders that they are aligned with, as well as all the normal things such as studies, life in their country, differences and similarities between cultures. The Pentecost Church experience extends beyond the barriers of language.

Patience pays off as both the Pope and a layer of clouds arrive!! Both are very welcomed. The usual and uplifting solidarity of the pilgrims as they greet their beloved “El Papa” is evident once again with the excitement of seeing him go by.

The Vigil prayers commence.

There is still quite a party atmosphere among the pilgrims (except perhaps right at the front). In the earlier events of the week there was an instant connection when the religious festivities started, but not this time, not around us. There is a high level of tension, of dust, of humidity – a kind of buzz in the air.

Some time into the prayers, it all exploded! The lightning, the rain pelting down, the buzz and excitement turning into a frenzied dive for cover, the squeals as pilgrims (sometimes strangers!) cuddle under sleeping bags together.

I can only imagine the dismay of the Pope as he watched more than 2 million heads disappear under the varied and colourful covers, even as he, himself, was taken away under cover.
Have I told you about the miracle yet? This is when it happens!

The rain and lightning stops. (Has it been 10 minutes or less?) Pilgrims come out from under covers and stand up. The Pope comes out. The Eucharist is set up for devotion. All attention is on the exposed Blessed Sacrament. 2-3 million young people just stand there. In total silence. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Not sure how long. Is it 5 minutes or longer? Am I really witnessing this? 2-3 million young people standing there in total silence made so much more poignant after 8 hours of noise and activity. My soul rejoices.

The sun may not have fallen from the sky, but in so many ways I feel a Fatima miracle is taking place. When the Blessed Sacrament is removed and everyone comes out of their trance, our clothes are almost dry, thanks to the heat of the day.

The Vigil prayers continue and are completed with total attention and connection. The Pope is farewelled.

And suddenly everyone comes alive! The rain has settled the dust and freshened the air. Must be the most efficient shower in history! Why did no one tell me that the youth stay up half the night chatting and dancing and singing! Oh well! I check that all the boys are where they are supposed to be. I lie down on my piece of carpet, wrap my sleeping bag around me (my clothes have dried but the bottom of the sleeping bag is still wet) and proceed to go to sleep. I only wake up once when a girl jumps on top of me (I think she’s with the French Jesuit group) to avoid a (perceived) snake.

I wake up to a sea of mounds, stretching as far as the eye can see, right to the horizon. General busyness as people wake up, pack up, eat and check on each other. Not long before it’s time for the main Mass to start. Disaster has struck with the tents holding the bread for Eucharist having been wet through the night before. Announcements are made that Communion will not be given out today. Groups are arriving who didn’t get in the afternoon before but still some are turned away.

The Mass with the Pope has a surreal feel to it and there is disappointment in the fact that there will be no Communion. We decide to leave, therefore, during Communion to avoid the crush.

Our long walk to an overland train station (rather than the metro) goes well and we have an un-sardine-like trip home by catching two country trains before getting into the metro. We are tired, some have been moved by the experience and all are happy to have survived and to be going home.
 

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