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World Youth Day 2011

In August of 2010, Pope Benedict XVI gave a hope-filled message to young Catholics about their participation in World Youth Day in Madrid: “The Church depends on you! She needs your lively faith, your creative charity and the energy of your hope. Your presence renews, rejuvenates and gives new energy to the Church. That is why World Youth Days are a grace, not only for you, but for the entire People of God.”

Join AmericanCatholic.org and St. Anthony Messenger as we follow the accounts of several pilgrims to World Youth Day! Check back often for their updated posts.


August 23, 2011
Elizabeth Rahner writes:

What an incredible week it’s been! So busy, tiring, many ups and downs, but ultimately completely worth it. I’m on the plane now over U.S. soil with mixed feelings about returning to the “regular” world (I start my second year at Xavier University tomorrow).

The overnight vigil and closing mass at Cuatro Vientos airport was definitely the climax, but the whole week was full of blessing thanks to the bonds our group formed, frequent praise and worship, and opportunities for adoration, confession, and mass.

It’s hard to even begin to describe our time at Cuatro Vientos…after about 2 hours of commuting by crowded subway and on foot, we caught sight of the biggest crowd I have ever seen under the haze of hot, dusty sky. I got goosebumps over and over again looking out at all the pilgrims, hearing the chants of “La Juventud del Papa esta es!” (the Youth of the Pope are here!), seeing the fire trucks spraying down overheated youth We arrived in the afternoon in order to stake out a spot where we’d all be able to sleep, and it’s a good thing we did as many groups that arrived earlier were unable to find a place for all of them, despite the “assigned” sections we’d been given. There was definitely some stress as people waited in line for water, and the unorganized nature of things became apparent, but I enjoyed the feeling of being a sort of “refugee” in communion with this vibrant body of Christ.

After a long afternoon in the sun, Pope Benedict XVI finally arrived to great celebration. The vigil was beautiful—kneeling with 1.5 million others before the Blessed Sacrament, and finally having silence reign on the huge field was amazing. The weather did get interesting…clouds had been brewing in the distance in the evening, and after the gospel reading the storm hit! For ten minutes or so it poured and the wind was quite strong. I was worried about having to spend that night out in the open, but had to resign myself to that fate! (lots of offering-up took place that whole week). We were all told to pray, and sure enough, the rain stopped and things cleared up by midnight.

It got very cold at night, and we had the company of an anthill in our “camp,” but it was a great experience, again, of community. Waking up in the morning to the sunrise and the sound of a singing nuns over the loud speaker was great, and the mass was glorious (despite the increasing heat as the sun rose higher, and the shortage of communion). Although seeing the Pope (from a distance!) was pretty cool, I have to agree with some of my group members that in the end that was not the best part, or even the focus of World Youth Day. Our moments in adoration and community were really the highlights, and I think the Holy Father is really a symbol for both of these.

Already, the small negative parts of the week are evaporating into great memories, and I can’t believe I was actually a part of it all. I pray that all those, both at home and Madrid, who took part in WYD have gone away feeling uplifted by the life of the church, and encouraged in their faith. I certainly feel all the more empowered to share what I have gained on campus this year as well as I am able. Thanks for sharing the journey! God Bless!


August 21, 2011
Elizabeth Rahner writes:

It’s been an incredibly busy, exhausting, hot week, but there have been many great moments as we’ve continued to strike up conversations with random pilgrims, attempt to converse in Spanish, and praised God in our Catechesis sessions.

There has definitely been a greater tension in the city since the arrival of the Pope, but it hasn’t seemed to dampen the mood too much. I love seeing nuns, priests, and youth wearing the telltale backpack everywhere–I don’t love riding in a packed subway car quite as much, but I guess it’s all part of the experience!

One of the highlights for me these past couple days was the LifeTeen event on Thursday night at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish. LifeTeen hosted a wonderful praise/worship/adoration/benediction service in an incredible church that was filled with about 2,000. It was hot and sweaty, but beautiful to see so much enthusiasm for our Lord present in the Eucharist.

As crazy as it is that we will see the Pope (we’ve avoided the major crowds thus far and will see him tonight at the vigil), how much more amazing is it that we have the opportunity to see and receive Jesus every day??

I have also enjoyed the Love and Life Center, the English-speaking pilgrim’s oasis of air conditioning, bathrooms, adoration, confession, and talks. There was a great panel on Theology of the Body on Thursday.

Today we travel to Cuatro Vientos airport for the vigil and final mass tomorrow, sure to be an overwhelming experience. It has been a challenge for our group at times to remain focussed on the TRUE focus of World Youth Day, amidst crowds and stress of little sleep and much to do, but I think we will return home and realize what a special thing it really was, that so many like-minded people our age were in one place, and could express there love for God and the Church unabashedly. It will be our responsibility to continue to live in this way, to the best of our ability, in the states and try to spread some of this love.


August 17, 2011
Elizabeth Rahner writes:

I have about 15 minutes before we’re off to our next event, so I’ll do my best to summarize the past couple days. Opening mass in Cibeles Square (Plaza de Cibeles) was last night, and it was pretty crazy!

Unfortunately we were given mixed information about the time it began, and didn’t arrive as early as we wanted to so we were in a crowd of few thousand pilgrims on a side street near Cibeles with a jumbo-tron screen at the end. Still, pretty incredible to realize we were participating (as well as we could with the help of the Magnificat) with SO many people, priests, bishops. Chants of “BENEDICTO!” rang out in the streets as large groups of enthusiastic youth walked to place. The sign of peace was what personally stuck out to me the most–sharing Christ’s peace with my brother’s and sister’s from around the world! We did end up leaving early to avoid the major crowds however (I have no idea how we would’ve gotten communion). Still, the subways that night were packed! Parque El Retiro, similar in size to central park, has adoration run by the Missionaries of Charity, so we stopped there to re-focus on the way home. Beautiful as always. (El Retiro also has the “Feast of Forgiveness”–about 2 football fields full of confessionals!).

This morning we had our first Catechesis session at a nearby parish, with fellow English speakers from Australia, Britain, Wales, Canada, Korea, the Philippines, and Iraq! Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston gave an awesome talk, and we had praise and worship led by one of the British groups. We were able to reflect briefly on the talk with international friends before celebrating mass (even in this small parish we had about 12 priests concelebrating with the Cardinal). It was nice to have mass in English for the first time since being here . The more I experience the HUGE community here, and witness these faith-filled events, the more I wish this is what the world was always like–gives me more encouragement to do my best to spread the spirit of World Youth Day and the vibrant Church with all those I meet, especially those back home.

Please pray for increased energy for us and all the pilgrims, as we sacrifice sleep for many other wonderful things! Blessings to all in the U.S.


August 15, 2011

Elizabeth Rahner writes:

Today we learned lessons of giving and receiving. After a long day of touring Toledo yesterday, our group planned to sleep in a little and get re-energized for the start of WYD events.

I woke up this morning to the sounds of a moderate-sized group of American pilgrims across the street with all their luggage, and was surprised when one of the priests in charge showed up in the kitchen as I was eating breakfast. They were a group of 36 from Allentown, PA, and had shown up at their place of lodging to discover that it was a gym floor (for 214 youth) with only 2 working toilets on the premises.

The priest was feeling a little desperate, I think, and wondered if he could borrow my computer to find a place for them all to stay (side note–he was excited that I had a Mac :)). Happily, they were able to find a hotel, and left in much better spirits. It was gratifying to assist fellow pilgrims on their journey, and helped us to be even more grateful for the secure, hospitable lodging we have!

This afternoon things took a different turn… we set out to retrieve our pilgrim’s packs, meal tickets, and metro passes. After a long wait in a line we did obtain the tickets and passes (very helpful to have!), but four of us ended up trekking and traveling across the city on a hunt for the backpacks. At the end of the night, still no backpacks, and although we were in good spirits having enjoyed each other’s company and the adventure of navigating successfully we felt similarly to the Allentown group from the morning.

On a whim however, we stopped by the place across the street from our lodging that was also hosting pilgrims, and found an English-speaking woman, Paula from Mexico, who was leading a group of Americans. We explained our dilemma and she translated to some WYD volunteers. After some Spanish discussion Paula turned to us and said “these people are tired and up to their neck’s with problems, come back in the morning and if they don’t have extra packs I’ll give you eight of ours.”

Music to our ears after such a long day! So wonderful the good will between all pilgrims here as we navigate the same frustrations and experience the blessings of such a trip with the same heart.


August 14, 2011
World Youth Day banners greet pilgrims in Madrid.


August 14, 2011
Laura Coons writes:

Since 3:30am, I have been up and raring to arrive in Madrid. There have been ups (mass at St. John in Indianapolis) and downs (we have been hanging out in the Charlotte, NC for going on six hours), but the bonding is wonderful. In fact we just finished a group stretching circle including a couple Spaniards on their way home. As we prepare to board the plane, I look forward to waking up across the ocean in the morning. Bring on the jetlag – this pilgrimage is off to a great start.


August 13, 2011
Elizabeth Rahner writes:

After 24 hours of travel, our group of eight is safe in Madrid! We departed from Xavier University yesterday (Friday the 12th) morning in high spirits, excited to finally begin this trip we’ve been planning and anticipating for months. I felt incredibly grateful for the opportunity this is, the way the trip has come together, and the people in our group. Our flights and trains all went without mishap–it is a blessing to be traveling with a smaller group!

Our flight to Madrid had a number of pilgrim groups on board and we were all acknowledged by the Captain before landing, eliciting enthusiastic cheers from the youth. As soon as we passed through customs we caught sight of our first WYD volunteers, and the numbers of pilgrim groups we saw only increased as we commuted by train.

Coming from a country that is not always friendly to the Church, it was a unique experience to observe all the pilgrims when riding the subway and know that everyone was Catholic and EXCITED to celebrate their faith! Of course I had an idea about the magnitude of World Youth Day before coming, but seeing banners along the streets of Madrid, and people everywhere that have come for it makes it all the more real. This city–much bigger than Cincinnati–will be overtaken!

In these couple of days before the actual WYD events start, we hope to adjust to the time change, get used to the rhythm of things, and prepare our hearts, minds, and bodies for what is sure to be an incredible but packed week!

Praying for all of you in the States, please pray for us!


St. Anthony Messenger wanted to know what these young people did to prepare for the trip, what they hope to gain from it and how their faith will be deepened by their journey. We heard from more young people than we could include in the August issue of the magazine. These are their stories .

A Pilgrimage, Not a Vacation

I am super excited for WYD! I have been fundraising for the last year or so, and as you can imagine, I’m ready to forget about the financial aspect and focus on what God wants to do in my heart to prepare me for this pilgrimage.

I realize that this journey to Spain is not just a vacation. It’s a pilgrimage in which God will show me new things I never knew about myself. I hope to come back from Spain with a renewed faith and love for God. I can’t wait to meet people from all over and learn about how they celebrate God’s graces.

Also, I’m excited to spend this amazing opportunity with my mother, who is also going. I pray that each person going on this trip is moved in some way closer to God.

Kristen Kueterman, 16
Versailles, OH

God by My Side

Madrid, Spain, is going to be a wide-opening experience–not only for me, but also for all of its participants. The trip itself is only one of the many steps leading up to it. My group that is going to Spain prepared us financially. A pilgrimage to Spain is a high price to pay, but it’s easier to afford with fundraisers. Whether we are parking cars, picking up trash or going door-to-door selling flowers, we always keep in the back of our minds that it’s for Spain.

The fundraisers may be “dirty work,” but they’re worth the effort. Even with all the fundraisers, it’s tough on my family to let me go with the suffering economy. We are stretching just to make payments. I thank my parents because they know that this will be an amazing spiritual renewal for me. I prepared myself mentally by praying to God for blessings and help during those hot days in Spain.Throughout this trip, I hope to receive a better understanding of my religion. I would also love to grow closer to God and experience this with him by my side.

This pilgrimage will not only have an impact on my life, but will rub off on me to impact others, too. I am
super excited to go on a religious trip to Spain for WYD because I know that this will be a life-changing experience for me.

Jaclyn Lawrence, 16
Versailles, OH