The WYD Journey – Day 3

Sleep is a wonderful thing, and there was plenty to be had last night. Nine hours, albeit interrupted several times, when added to the couple of hours I had yesterday afternoon during siesta time has seen me awake refreshed and ready to face the day. Little did I know…

Breakfast was an interesting experience, consisting of coffee and warm milk to which should be added your preferred cereal choice. Admittedly, we didn’t quite get that right where I was hosted, but we’ll know better for tomorrow. Being fortified with coffee and cereal makes for an interesting start to the day. The communication problems with our host, Elena, provide for some interesting moments, particularly at the meal table. But we keep reminding ourselves that we are indeed pilgrims and not tourists.

After breakfast we gathered in the Church of El Salvador for morning prayer. This was again an interesting experience, particular since our prayer was in both Spanish and English. The universal nature of the Church becomes very real in moments like this: many people, from many places, using different languages, yet the prayer and worship of God is the same. In reflecting later I have come to believe that it is all too easy to become complacent, particularly in the face of adversity, about the nature of Church. But this morning, in that moment when the Lord’s Prayer was prayed in at least three different languages by people of all ages, I was reminded that faith, and the Church that is the People of Faith, is very much alive and has much still to offer to the world.

The surprise during morning prayer was the very unexpected invitation to vest and be seated in the sanctuary with the two priests of this particular parish, which was subsequently surpassed by the invitation to “say a few words”, that is, to offer a mini-homily after the Parish Priest. Never one who likes things to happen on the fly, I was slightly taken aback, and hope that I managed to say something vaguely sensible.

After Morning Prayer we embarked on a walking tour of the township of Bejar, which has been populated since the 400s. There is still evidence of the various groups of people who have lived here, conquered the town and surrounding area again and again. The residents here, which total about 15,000 are very friendly and go out of their way to say “hola” as we pass by (apart from the one cranky driver who seemed to take exception to the way in which we used the pedestrian crossing he was rapidly approaching).

We shared a common lunch with the other pilgrims resident in Bejar, and enjoyed their company – particularly the small contingent from Austria (the Archdiocese of Vienna). After lunch we’re (unexpectedly) destined for a group meeting, a visit to an aged care facility, and eventually Mass. Not sure when the siesta is going to be squeezed in, but I hope it is….

Well the siesta didn’t eventuate, and instead we spent a very powerful time in prayer together, and for the first time since we embarked on this journey a few days ago I felt we have bonded together as more than a disparate group of travellers. We have become a company of pilgrims. This, while taking it’s time to come, was worth waiting for – it is after all what we purport to be. Even the rain that came pouring down as we attempted to wander around Bejar this afternoon has appeared to dampen our new found enthusiasm for being clearly, and very recognizably, on a pilgrimage.

The day culminated with the celebration of Mass. There’s nothing unusual about that per se, but this Mass was unlike any I had experienced since the experience of Days in the Diocese before World Youth Day 2008. Tonight, as then, Mass was a polyglot affair, with at least four languages were used. But unlike 2008, I was not the host, the local. No, tonight I was the hosted, the stranger, and it provided a new perspective on so many things. Not only am I part of something bigger than the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, but I am also part of something that is not rapidly becoming an anachronism, but something that is alive, and which has a very real and powerful potential as it wanders into the future.

One of the difficult parts of the journey to date – and I mention not in any sense of criticism – has been the very fluid concept of time that the Spanish seem to have. I’m not sure if it has something to do with the heat of summer, or is just a general part of Spanish life, but it takes a bit of getting used to. But there’s something important to the reality: people matter more than a clock, and it would seem that the Spanish are prepared to place people, relationships and good company above slavery to a clock. There is something valuable to be learnt in that approach to life…and one that requires further reflection.