Marceya and Yuritzy Pena from St. Joseph, Salem, shield themselves from rain.
It was not pleasant at the time, but overcoming weather-caused hardship is now a point of pride for the young Oregon Catholics who attended World Youth Day last month in Spain.
Something about surviving harsh elements enhanced faith — along with seeing Pope Benedict and more than a million other enthusiastic young Catholics.
The Archdiocese of Portland took 40 young adults to Europe for the event, along with Archbishop John Vlazny. They were physically and emotionally wrought as they trekked a long pilgrimage route to a Madrid vigil site in searing heat. They struggled to find a camping site as the temperatures hit 102 degrees and the concrete sizzled at 138 degrees.
But as the pilgrims reached peak frustration, clouds appeared and blocked the sun, bringing instant relief from the oppressive heat. Later, the pilgrims withstood a strong wind and rain storm during the papal vigil prayer service.
It’s all part of the pilgrimage lore, which will remain as a lifelong memory.
The first stop after an Aug. 9 departure from the U.S. was Barcelona. The group gathered for Mass in the crypt of the famous Gaudi-inspired Sagrada Familia Basilica.
The pilgrims then departed for Montserrat Monastery, a Benedictine community in the spectacular mountains of Catalonia. It was a homecoming of sorts for Archbishop Vlazny, who had visited the site when he was a young priest.
The next day, a motor coach carried pilgrims over the beautiful Pyrenees Mountains to Lourdes, France where they participated in a candlelight rosary procession at the sanctuary. The youths explored the life of St. Bernadette, who had been favored with visits by Mary, and many entered the healing baths of Lourdes. The group then headed to Madrid with a stop at the famous Our Lady of the Pillar shrine in Zaragoza, a holy site that goes back two millennia to St. James and the very start of Christianity in Spain.
Each day, pilgrims attended Mass and Archbishop Vlazny preached. His homilies linked the Gospel with the pilgrimage journey and the group’s particular experiences.
“Spending time with the archbishop in prayer and faithful touring was a joy for all of the pilgrims,” says Michal Horace, director of the office of youth and young adult ministry for the archdiocese.
The archbishop, in turn, seemed physically and spiritually energized by the young people.
Fathers Karl Schray and Jeff Meeuwsen were also on pilgrimage, a presence Horace calls “a great blessing.”
Many of the shrines and churches the pilgrims visited were dedicated to Mary and so the group continually prayed for her intercession and recited the rosary.
In Madrid, the youths attended daily catechetical sessions led by bishops. Some of the Oregon group went to English-speaking sites and some to Spanish-speaking sites. In addition, there were concerts, forums, talks and art exhibits — all free for pilgrims. The Oregon Catholics were able to enter the famous Prado Museum, based on a collection of royal art holdings of the past.
Despite the heat, the mood was exciting and festive with young Catholics from around the world singing and chanting as they walked through the streets of Madrid. Many were carrying banners and flags. The Archdiocese of Portland group used the Oregon state flag to keep the group together, it’s yellow beaver rippling in the breeze.
Pilgrims say highlights include hearing faith stories, sharing their own and realizing the vastness of the church by witnessing pilgrims from across the globe.
All the pilgrims seem to have come for the right reason – that is, to experience a spiritual journey and grow in faith. No one came with the idea that it was a mere vacation.
The next World Youth Day is set for Brazil in 2013. The archdiocese is already working on a pilgrimage package and is encouraging young adults to prayerfully consider joining. The University of Portland also sent a pilgrimage group to Madrid.