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.
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.