World Youth Day was a whirlwind week of massive crowds, scorching heat and, most importantly, Catholic events and celebrations that brought people from all over the world to Madrid to renew their spirits and deepen their faith in the company of fellow Catholics.
This was my first time at WYD, and I hadn’t known what to expect. I had heard there would be 1 million-2 million people attending the events, but my rural Indiana brain couldn’t comprehend what such a crowd would be like.
I quickly found out. The scene before opening Mass was surreal, with pilgrims stretching block after block around Plaza de Cibeles in downtown Madrid. I had the overwhelming sense that this energetic group was the Church come to life — a living, breathing representation of the faith and fire of the world’s Catholic youth.
The papal welcome ceremony on the third day was one of my favorite events. Pope Benedict XVI was to ride through the streets near Plaza de Cibeles around 8 p.m. I arrived at the plaza four hours prior, and the daylong party was in full swing. There was such a palpable energy and excitement in the crowd, and that feeling intensified as the announcer said the popemobile was nearing the plaza.
Even though I attended WYD as a journalist, as a Catholic I could not allow myself to remain stoic and unaffected by the presence of the pope. I was just as excited as everyone else, and as I heard screams and cheers indicating that Pope Benedict was almost to my section, my hands shook a little as I held my camera high over my head to capture the moment on video.
I thought about how so many devoted Catholics, such as my 83-year-old grandmother, go their entire lives without ever seeing the pope, and yet here I was standing in his presence, if only for the briefest of moments.
Another highlight was the prayer vigil and final Mass at Cuatro Vientos. The grounds for the closing events consisted of one huge open field of dirt, gravel and asphalt, without a single tree for shade in the 100-degree weather.
The afternoon before the vigil was extremely hot, and there were times when I complained silently to myself about the heat and the walking and the crowds. However, my more pious inner voice reminded me that one day of being uncomfortable in the elements was nothing compared with what less fortunate people throughout the world deal with daily. I had a bottle of water and snacks in my bag, plus a hat to provide shade. I was only minutes away from medical attention should I need it. This was a needed reminder of how fortunate I am, and it helped me keep a positive outlook as the blistering day turned into a wet, storm-filled evening.
At final Mass, I reflected on how the week had brought together so many cultures, ethnicities and nationalities. I was fortunate to meet pilgrims from all over the world; they were all so different, yet their faith was the common denominator that brought them to WYD.
Sometimes as I looked around, it seemed as though every Catholic in the world surely had to be in attendance. But the fact that this crowd represented just a small portion of Catholics worldwide was a powerful realization, and the energy exuded by the young pilgrims was a promising indication that the next generation of the Church is ready to usher in the future and its inevitable struggles with faith, spirit and vigor.
Lindsay Ross is an OSV Newsweekly intern.