Busy streets in Madrid, and the opening Mass

By Sara Angle
One in a series

MADRID — I was completely unprepared for the sheer volume of people that would be taking over the Spanish capital this week.

It’s Tuesday, the official start date of WYD, and I think most Madrileños have left the city to escape the hoards of pilgrims that have invaded. Almost everyone I saw today was sporting a WYD shirt, hat, backpack or other item emblazoned with “JMJ 11.” It’s great to see so many people here, but I’m getting the sense that it will take some real digging to get to the heart of this city and really experience its culture.

Luckily, tomorrow is a fairly “free” day for pilgrims, with no major events planned. It is a day to embark on a cultural journey across the city, that is all part of the specially designed program, “A faith made culture.” Over 300 organizations are taking part by providing free events that highlight Madrid’s rich history and culture.

I had a taste of the cultural program this morning, when I paid a visit to the Prado museum, one of the biggest cultural attractions in Madrid. Thousands more had the same idea, and the lines stretched on (see the CNS video on our Facebook page.)

I dodged through the crowds to see the highlights of the museum, such as Fra Angelico’s The Annunciation, Francisco Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Child and Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas. My favorite piece, which I was really looking forward to seeing, was Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights.  It’s a fascinating and gruesome work.

I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the city and watching all the interactions between pilgrims. There is always singing going on, wherever you go. Many groups have chants about their country that they yell while walking through the streets in hopes of inspiring other groups to respond with their own chants. People are so proud of their country, and many are focused on that.

The display of national pride is fun to experience, but I hope that by the end of the week pilgrims will be less focused on their nation, and more focused on the Universal Church.

Pretty soon, it was time to head over to Plaza de Cibeles for the opening Mass and ceremony. Pilgrims began gathering even before 5 p.m., though the event began at 8 p.m.

The early birds had the advantage, because Cibeles was not large enough to hold the estimated 500,000 people in attendance, leaving many on side streets with no view of the stage. Despite all the waiting and the intense heat, singing, dancing, chanting and flag-waving commenced.

Hours before the opening Mass, excited pilgrims wait.

The archbishop of Madrid presided over Mass and there were nearly 800 concelebrants. Even after three months of living in Rome, I have never seen so many priests in one place. Surprisingly, Holy Communion went pretty fast.

The majority of Mass was in Spanish, so it was tough to follow along, but everyone understood the several mentions of Blessed John Paul II and the crowds went crazy!

Giving the sign of peace was no problem, even with the language barrier. Everyone speaks the language of a big hug, and hugs filled Plaza de Cibeles tonight.

Sara Angle, 21, is a senior at Villanova University and has written for CNS from Rome and Washington. She enjoys traveling and soaking up the culture of her surroundings, be it through food, fashion or faith, and looks forward to covering WYD for CNS — from the big events to the off-beat adventures. Sara loves reading and writing (but not arithmetic) and dancing like no one is watching. You can also follow her on Twitter @CatholicNewsSvc. She’ll be using the hashtag #SaraInMadrid.

‘Off my game’ in Madrid, keep the prayers coming

By Emily Anderson
One in a series

MADRID — I am totally off of my game this World Youth Day. I am not sure if it is because I am in a non-English speaking country or if it is because it is so hot down here, but either way, the first two days of WYD haven’t been fabulous.

I managed to get separated my group tonight for the opening Mass! It was beyond frustrating. At least I had someone with me. It was difficult at the Mass because it was soooo cramped and not in English made it hard to enter in. But, this isn’t the big papal Mass. Please keep praying for us! We did go to an exhibit at the Love and Life Center hosted by the Sisters of Life and the Knights of Columbus. It was awesome and really made us consider life and the choices we make. There were a few tears shed, but overall, it was today’s high!

Emily “Em” Anderson, 28, is the director of youth ministry at St. James Catholic Church in Falls Church, Va. She is excited to be traveling with seven teens and two other adults from her ministry. This is her second World Youth Day, having trekked across the world to Sydney with 10 teens for World Youth Day in 2008. She enjoys laughing, singing at the top of her lungs — rather badly — praying liturgy of the hours and planning her next party.

Parents of seven living the World Youth Day experience

By Tom Tracy

MADRID — You might say Steve and Nicole Kerekes have really lived the World Youth Day experience.

The California couple met at World Youth Day in Denver in 1993, even though Steve Kerekes said that, at the time, he wasn’t particularly religious.

Today, the couple have seven children with one more on the way — and all of them are in Madrid this week for World Youth Day. Steve and his sister and a small team of coordinators and volunteer guides are responsible for bringing more than 2,000 people to Madrid for the event.

The organization is the San Diego-based Youth in Europe, technically a travel agency but one that is changing its name to JMJ Youth, and Kerekes is seeking nonprofit status for his company.

“This is what we do as ministry,” Steve said while the phone rings off the hook at their temporary offices in Madrid.

Nicole Kerekes and the kids have a Spanish nanny helping them out this week and taking them on some of the side excursions with other parish groups.

“We are excited to be here. It is a blessing to the city to see the youth singing on the trains, chanting and praying,” Steve Kerekes said.