World Youth Day Travelogue
Emily and Nicole, two young adult representatives of Call To Action and Equally Blessed, the pro-LGBT Catholic coalition, attended World Youth Day (WYD) to raise awareness about the church justice movement. Follow their journey and then invite a young adult you know to log on to Call To Action's young adult Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CallToAction2030.
We met at the airport in Madrid in mid-afternoon. After a joyous reunion we went on our first real adventure together: riding the metro! With 1.2 million extra people in the city, the metros were shall we say, cozy! While we began to feel a bit concerned as more and more youth piled onto the trains, song broke out from all ends of the train and the atmosphere turned from frustration to camaraderie. A group of Americans chanted, "USA!" while Italians broke out into a peppy song on the other end of the train segment. Everyone was in good spirits as they asked one another where they were from and they began trading pins, bracelets, and facebook information. World Youth Day was in full swing.
We took the train to the dusty Spanish town of Avila, an hour outside of Madrid, to see the hometown of the great church reformer, Saint Teresa. Teresa entered the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation during a time of deep abuses of power by the church hierarchy. The Inquisition was underway and the infamous cleric, Torquemada, had lived and died in her same town. We felt part of a long history of Catholics who struggle for church justice and thought about the lengths to which Church officials will go to put a stop to such efforts.
In the late afternoon, we went to Puerta del Sol, the main plaza in Madrid, where anti-World Youth Day protests were taking place to raise awareness of the Church's abuse of power and the money the Spanish government was spending on the WYD activities. We met some young adults who were protesting the official Church stance on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. We also met some young women who were working for women's equality. Signs in support of the laity and against clericalism were being held high and the protestors were predominantly peaceful. However, there were a few who resorted to violence and began hitting our World Youth Day backpacks and other protestors were fighting with World Youth Day participants. Over a series of hours police in riot gear swarmed the plaza and helicopters kept watch overhead. We were reminded of the deep need for all movements to resist violence while working for change.
We made our way to the Palacio de Deportes in Madrid where the largest English-speaking catechesis was going on inside sponsored by the Knights of Columbus. The stadium held 15,000 and it was nearly full as we made our way in for Mass. After mass we stayed and listened to two different panels. Supreme Knight, Carl Anderson, was the first speaker of the afternoon catechesis titled "Civilization of Love" as part of the week's theme on "Love and Life." Gleaning from the panelist's remarks, "love" meant only marriage between a man and a woman and "life" meant only being anti-choice.
The next session titled "Theology of the Body" was also focused on the theme of love and life. We agreed with the theme of the need for love in the church and world and respect for the body. However, it was horrifying to hear that in the view of the panelists, this love was only meant for heterosexuals. At the end of the session, they announced there would now be a Q and A for the youth. Emily was very excited to be able to ask a question and jumped up to get in line. Strangely, only two minutes later, there was an announcement that there was not enough time for the Q and A! It was so interesting, that they gave us the illusion that there would be space for dialogue, but then decided against it.
After the panels we went out to the front of the building to stage our witness in support of GLBT youth in our church. We passed out rainbow ribbons with cards that explained that we loved our church AND loved our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. We engaged in conversation with many youth about our hope for the church to truly be a place where all are welcomed and equal. Many youth were open to our message and promptly put their rainbow pins onto their World Youth Day bags. I spoke with a young woman whose cousin was gay, and she said she didn't understand why the church was against him. Others were less receptive, questioning our message by saying that the Vatican says homosexuality is wrong as does the bible. While some of these conversations were challenging and frustrating, it was important to engage in peaceful dialogue and debate.
Today we continued our witness at the Palacio de Deportes where English-speaking youth gathered for catechesis. In the morning, as we waited in line to go inside, we had conversations with the youth around us about the church justice movement. We also sang out in song with the youth group in front of us that had put together a spontaneous praise and worship session as they stood in line. Hands waived in the air, a guitar kept us in tune and a woman called out the lyrics with a bullhorn. For most of the afternoon, we stood outside and handed out rainbow ribbons and cards about the church justice movement as people entered and left the center. A campus minister took a dozen of our pins and thanked us, saying her son was gay, and she was so happy to see us there. A young man challenged the fact that not only GLBT people but all people are equal in God's eyes. It was a sad reminder that some people still feel that white heterosexual men consider themselves superior to others but we pray that our witness will plant seeds for later years in this young man's life.
We trekked 7 km through Madrid with the other pilgrims to get to Cuatro Vientos, an airport on the outskirts of the city for the vigil with the Pope. Along the way we stopped in a visible spot and stood with our banner which read, "Catholics supporting LGBT youth in our church". We passed out more ribbons to dozens of pilgrims that passed us by. The reaction was overall positive, and much more encouraging than even we had received the days before. Two women stopped to take their picture telling us we were welcome in Brazil for the next World Youth Day, and a young priest from Spain thanked us and blessed us as we translated our message to him.
As we approached the vigil gathering, there were hundreds of flags waving high above the crowds representing the diversity of countries that were present. We set up camp and joined in the festivities of dance, conversation, and anticipation. As night fell, the crowds were calmer as the Pope made his way to the stage for Eucharistic Adoration. But prayer was interrupted by a thunder and lightning storm that swept through the field. The rain did not damper the spirit of the youth though as song broke out from the Germans behind us. The universal church was ever present that night, as we prayed, danced, then slept amidst Germans, Malaysians and Ugandans in our section.
Sunday morning, we awoke - seemingly just a few hours after we went to bed - to the Spanish dawn and the loudspeaker proclaiming "Buenos dias! Good morning!" People stretched and slowly inched their way out of sheets or sleeping bags and quietly munched their packed granola bars or bread loafs. Others scrambled to get into long lines for the bathrooms and water faucets to refill water bottles dry from the evening before. Commercial ads began blasting from the giant screens that dominated the landscape of the 1.5 million people gathered in the airfield. The mass began two hours later and the Pope encouraged youth: "Share with others the joy of your faith." We were happy we had shared our faith authentically during the week-witnessing for a church that lives the gospel values and proclaims that all God's people should be welcomed and loved as God loves us.