Today was the first day of World Youth Day proper, with the normal round of catechesis beginning together with the full range of cultural and youth events swinging into place. This is at the very heart of the World Youth Day programme, and the number of pilgrims arriving in Madrid has dramatically increased. Walking through the city now is radically different, with pilgrims from an increasing number of countries walking the streets.
We made a choice to return to the place where the Australian pilgrims gathered yesterday – primarily for the sake of comfort, since it had comfortable seats, was air conditioned, and had all the necessary amenities. It was also somewhere we knew how to get to after our excursion to the place yesterday. If only we knew then what we knew by the end of the session.
The catechesis session can be described in one word – ‘slick’. The centre was being coordinated by Americans, particularly the Sisters of Life and the Knights of Columbus, and it was a high end production, with an effusive nun as MC, and another Sister of Life giving the main presentation. It reminded me of an American produced infomercial, a well-crafted presentation intended to convince you of the message being conveyed, and to further convince you that the message being conveyed is the only version of that message, with any other being a pale imitation of the truth. The use of multimedia techniques, sloganistic presentations of Scripture texts, and a message that was skewed in one particular direction left me feeling cold, almost embarrassed to be counted as a Catholic if being Catholic means what was being conveyed in that message.
We eventually escaped before they transitioned to the celebration of Mass, and made our way to one of the parks where we could sit on the grass, eat our lunch, and unwind from the experience of the catechesis session. Since there were no planned activities that afternoon, our group of pilgrims went our separate ways, exploring the City of Madrid in our own way. I made my way to the shopping district of Sol, and was amazed at the definition of ‘shopping centre’. There was no Westfieldesque shopping mall. This was a district full of stores of various sizes, where you had to actually walk outside to move from shop to shop. Certainly the streets had plenty of shade covering, either trees or shade cloth, but you actually had to walk outside in fresh air… Radical right?
Anyway, I moved away from Sol eventually without purchase, largely because of the size of the crowds (not being one for crowds at the best of times), and went back to the residence. When I got there I indulged in that very Spanish custom of the afternoon siesta. It was quite refreshing, and I awoke ready to face the evening…which turned out to be a very relaxing and enjoyable evening.
It started with the evening meal, which then progressed to one of the local bars for a few glasses of sangria, some good company, and some great conversation. It was again, a typical Spanish evening, ‘wasting’ the evening in company and conversation well into the night while the sky darkened slowly. It would be easy to spend every evening doing the same…
Our day concluded with the celebration of Mass, a wonderful way to bring our first full day of World Youth Day week to an end. It was a quiet, relaxed affair, and the highlight for me was the discussion about the catechesis session that took place during the ‘homily’. There was a wonderful understanding of the complexities surrounding the catechesis presentation of this morning, and this understanding and the accompanying willingness to enter into discussion and dialogue. Methinks there’s hope for the Church going forward yet….despite (perhaps) the events of this morning’s catechesis.