Well dear readers, when last we spoke I was still making my way towards Madrid from Navalmoral de la Mata on board a bus. You’ll be pleased to know that we (eventually) arrived at our Madrid residences a little after midnight. After a short briefing from the Harvest representative/translator (much of which I must admit to not remembering) and a hurried planning session over a meal, I eventually retired to my room just before 2am. Which wouldn’t normally be a problem here in Spain given their penchant for later risings, but our group had drawn the short straw of a 7:30am breakfast sitting. But thems are the breaks when you’re on pilgrimage.
Our first day in Madrid was a pleasant one despite the earlier than expected start. We had a brief team meeting, then a group meeting, before setting off to participate in the Australian Pilgrims Gathering. This was, thankfully, taking place in an air conditioned sports arena, so we were comfortable throughout the two hour event. There was a definite feeling on the streets and Metro as we made our way to the event, and as we passed each new group – wherever they were from – greetings were exchanged in a variety of ways, albeit always in the best of spirits, and with genuine warmth and affection – even to the stranger.
The crowd of Aussies (and I choose that word deliberately) waiting outside the sports stadium was impressive not in size – about 3,500 Australians are registered – but also in volume. There was much noise, often in the form of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi”, which gave some idea of the excitement that was sweeping through the national contingent. Once we were all inside and seated, it took some time for us to become settled enough for the event to begin, but that just goes to show how excited we are to be here.
The event itself was an interesting thing. It was a very powerful combination of music, conversation, input, and testimony, all superbly and seamlessly choreographed, that only served to heighten the excitement of the gathered Aussies for the World Youth Day experience that is just beginning. And although there were elements of ritual included in the event – prayers, gospel procession and proclamation, intercession and other ritual actions – I have to say that, with my liturgist’s hat on, I felt it wasn’t as powerful as it could have been. The event tried to be both liturgy and youth rally, and wasn’t completely successful at either. It may have been the applause after each element that tipped me off, but I left the arena on an emotional high, but with a feeling of disquiet bubbling away inside. But, that’s just my opinion…
Anyway, after the event was over, I attempted to make my way to the offices where I needed to obtain my accreditation as a priest participant in the World Youth Day events. Apart from getting slightly disoriented once (not lost thanks to the help of a friendly officer of the policia municipal de Madrid) I managed to successfully navigate the Madrid Metro system there and back, and am now all properly accredited for the week. Unfortunately, this didn’t allow for my planned siesta – but hey, I’m a pilgrim not a tourist, so it’s all good.
Our pilgrim group had another prayer session this afternoon just before our evening meal. Again this was a powerful and moving experience. Our time in Bejar has certainly contributed to a great feeling amongst the group, and these times of prayer and worship definitely help cement that feeling. Although they’re not my usual ‘cup of tea’, I find myself looking forward to these sessions, if only because I get to spend what I consider to be high quality time with this group of people with whom I am sharing this experience.
A misprint in our guide books and the resulting confusion about the starting time of the Opening Mass tonight (which I must say is so typically Spanish…and I love it!) saw the hurried consumption of dinner followed by hasty preparations for a departure in time for the start of the Mass. As you might imagine it was a grand affair, drawing on all the ritual and ceremony that the Catholic Church can muster. I don’t want to spoil the experience – there will be webcasts abounding – but nothing seen on a screen can fully capture the significance of the Church Universal, represented by its young people of every nation, tribe and tongue, gathered together to do that which the Church has been doing for over two thousand years, ever since the Lord said “Do this in memory of me”.
Tonight we did exactly that…