World Youth Day, Madrid

14th – 22nd August 2011

Sunday 14th August dawned bright and dry, and all 41 of the young people from the Kingston Deanery along with the 7 leaders celebrated an early Mass in OLI before setting off to Heathrow to board the plane to Madrid.  

Having arrived at the Cabrini School just outside the centre of Madrid which would be our home for the next 9 days, we settled in and acclimatised as much as possible to the somewhat hotter conditions in Spain: 35 – 40 degrees!

Monday and Tuesday allowed us to become acclimatised to the weather and do some site seeing, which included the two cathedrals, the Royal Palace, some quite beautiful parks, shops, and take a quiet lunch in a back street piazza.   Tuesday evening was the welcome Mass celebrated in the Plaza Cibeles with some 1,000,000 young people in attendance.   The march to our vantage point was great fun and throngs of young people from the world over were also marching along singing songs, waving national flags, swapping mementos like badges and arm bands, and the whole place took on that of a massive carnival.   Mass took some 2 hours (in Spanish) with a 25 minute sermon (in Spanish) but somehow, it did not seem to matter as the whole atmosphere was that of joy and harmony – a far cry from the London riots a couple of weeks before!

On Wednesday, we had our first catechetical session with Bishop Anthony Fisher from Australia who was great, followed by an afternoon Siesta session in a nearby park.   In the evening, we had our own Southwark Reconciliation Service led by Fr Damian from Aylesford and the opportunity for private confession.  

Thursday, back to catechesis, this time led by Cardinal O’Malley from Boston, USA.   Free time in the afternoon, and then a long walk to our vantage point (which turned out not to be so great!) to catch a fleeting glimpse of the Pope as he received the Keys to the City of Madrid as part of his welcome to Spain.  

Friday, we went to the Vocations Fair in the Retiro Park which included many different orders and missionary arms of The Church from around the world.   It was great to bump into Fr Chris Jamieson from Worth Abbey who chatted to us.  

Saturday, after breakfast, we headed to the site of the Papal Vigil and closing Papal Mass (the next day).   We needed to get a good vantage point.   In excess of 2,000,000 people attended and until you see that number in one place, you can have no idea of what that volume of people looks like – it was something else I can tell you!   It was, of course, hot, but that seemed to do nothing to dampen spirits of those waiting for the Vigil to begin.   When it did, the silence during the Adoration was breathtaking and seriously moving.   You may have heard on the UK News (good of them to report at least something of the whole thing, don’t you think!) that we had a “hurricane” during the Vigil.   Yes, there was a bit of a wind (clearly the Spanish are not used to wind) but I am not sure it was as bad as that, and some rain.   Almost as soon as it started, it stopped and the ground dried out.   Sleeping under the stars was a new experience for me, and although the young people seemed to love it, I am glad it was a one off for me (not much peace and quiet when you are surrounded by 2,000,000 bodies, some asleep and some not, some snoring, some eating, and so on).  

The Papal Mass the following morning started late at around 10am.   Due to what had become a concern as to how we were going to get away from the place of the Mass (all the underground lines leaving the site had been shut apart from one) we decided to leave the Mass early and head back to the school for siesta.   Later in the day, Fr Greg celebrated Mass in the school, after which, we enjoyed our last night in Madrid.   The following day, all we had to do was pack and tidy the school, and head to the airport.

I would like to conclude by saying just how much of a privilege it was, as leaders, to spend so much time with our young people during our time in Madrid.   To witness the joy felt by all at the social time spent together, how moved people were during the liturgies, the dignity and reverence shown by all pilgrims during the big public Masses, and how much the catechesis touched them, left us as leaders, at times, moved to tears.   We would like to thank them so much for their input, their kindness with their gifts, the way in which they conducted themselves at all times, and for their friendship during our week together – I will never forget the whole experience, and a week on, still get quite emotional when I stop to think about it!  

I for one, but I know I speak for all of our leaders, look forward to catching up with everyone at the party in a couple of weeks, at spending time with our young people as we continue to meet two to three times a term for catechesis, social, and chat, and also in preparing with for Brazil in 2013.   As a group, we will also look at other residential trips during the coming year to further our understanding of The Church and deepen our Faith.

One of the Carmelite Priests, Fr Paul, with the Southwark group said that he had felt that 16 year olds on pilgrimage was not necessarily a good idea, but after witnessing our pilgrim’s reverence at the opening Mass and the joy they brought to each other throughout their time together, he has changed his opinion, and he asked me to commend you all at just how brilliant you were.   Archbishop Peter also expressed his own joy at seeing so many young people from Kingston and how impressed he was at the way in which you took part in everything.

Parents, I am sure you already are, but you should be so proud of your sons / daughters: they really are a remarkable group of young people.   It is said that our young are “The Church of today, and the Hope for tomorrow.”   On that basis, our Church and Society are in very safe hands indeed! 

Andrew Richardson

Leader, Kingston Deanery