The earth shook…

We’ve arrived home, but not after one final bit of commotion.  After landing in Washington, D.C. from our flight from Europe, we were greeted 20 minutes later by the earthquake.  One of our seminarians commented that perhaps our plane touching down with all that grace shook the earth itself. 

Esta es la juventud del papa!

 

– John Smestad, Jr.

Esta es la juventud del papa!

“We are the youth of the pope!

That was the chant, in Spanish, all throughout the airfield where Pope Benedict XVI joined us in a prayer vigil on Saturday night and Mass on Sunday morning to bring World Youth Day 2011 to a close.  We endured rain and wind, powerful enough that demolished the tent chapels arranged around the field, delayed adoration, and ruined the hosts that would be used for Mass the next morning.  Despite that, though, we were again being living witnesses to what it means to be Catholic, to be the universal Church.  The 1 million people, the multitude of languages, praying together as the Body of Christ, drove home that point as nothing else could.

– John Smestad Jr.

Reflections at the half-way point

Today marks the halfway point of our pilgrimage here at World Youth Day in Madrid.  As early blogs have mentioned, our initial travel had many delays and disruptions and left many frustrated; we all had to offer it up in prayer, and be grateful that we were safe, although late.  Lost luggage, seemingly endless crowds, and lines without end -for food, for the subway, for water.  Did I mention the heat?  Imagine waiting for the Endymion parade in New Orleans, but instead of a cool February or March, you’re waiting for that parade in August for several hours.

I came to realize though, that these were challenges to be overcome, because if I let them drain my energy or enthusiasm, then God’s purpose in our being here would be lost.  And what is that purpose?  To be witnesses to the world that the Catholic Church is young and vibrant, despite what the secular culture and media might say.  It is also to see first-hand how universal the Church, in a way that no book or video or photograph can convey.

It is this universality that is the most important lesson for me so far this week.  All of us experience church at our parish, in our diocese, and in a certain comfort zone of spirituality.  When we fail to journey outside those environs, we can easily assume (sometimes with a self-righteousness that would have impressed the Pharisees) that our practice and expression of Catholicism is the only way -whether that be our style of prayer, our favorite saints, our preferred church movement, how we like our liturgical music, etc.  Being here at World Youth Day reminds me in a powerful way that the Church is a very big place, a very big community.  The pope shepherds a worldwide flock – the Church in the United States is just one of those communities.  The Body of Christ knows no boundaries.  Here, we can all agree on the truths that the Church teaches, and seek an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ.  Here in Madrid, it is clear that those are the essentials, and that the rest is “straw,” as St. Thomas Aquinas would say.  To see the multiplicity of religious orders each with their own charism, the diversity of prayer styles, more languages that I can count, ecclesiastical movements from centuries to just years old can only serve to remind that the Holy Spirit is indeed active.  God speaks to each of us in a way that he knows we will uniquely recognize in our souls.  As Catholics, we need to respect that uniqueness.

After three days of catechesis, opportunities to meet and talk with fellow pilgrims from all over the world, and absorb that universal Church, we prepare tomorrow for the vigil and Mass with Pope Benedict XVI.  We bring you here in prayer with us, and ask you to keep us in your prayers as well.

John Smestad, Jr.

August 18, 2011 – Madrid

 

Yesterday, Archbishop Timothy Dolan said something to our group during a catechetical session that really spoke to me, so I thought that I should share it with all of you. He said, “Faith is always developing. Like a muscle, it needs to be exercised, and of course the best exercise for the faith ‘muscle’ is prayer.”

Over the past two days, I have found myself remembering this simile, and it has really inspired me to delve deeper into my prayer life. Luckily, on this pilgrimage, I am surrounded by prayer as well as opportunities to learn and share about my Catholic faith. From attending catechetical sessions and Mass every morning, to getting to know other young Catholics from across the world, to watching the Pope address the World Youth Day participants, there are so many enriching and interesting things to do, many of them thoroughly working out my faith “muscle” (much, much more effectively than a shake weight works out your arms). Yes, that was supposed to be a joke, so feel free to laugh out loud 🙂

I am also really enjoying bonding with our group from the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Over the past couple of days, I feel like we’ve really gotten to know each other, and we’ve already shared so many memories. Of course, a lot of our bonding experiences occurred when we were in the New Orleans airport for an entire day while we waited for our cancelled flight to be re-booked, but maybe that’s one of the reasons we were delayed in the first place.

There’s still so much left to experience here in Madrid for World Youth Day, and I am very excited for and open to what lies ahead!

God bless!

 

 

Laura Giroir

 

World Youth Day 2011: Attempt 1 and Day 1

Hello again, everyone.  Or should I say, “Hola!”  We are finally in Madrid, Spain, after several difficulties.  We were supposed to have arrived in Spain on August 15th, however, due to a mechanical error on the plane, we never actually left New Orleans.  We spent a wonderful day in the New Orleans airport learning patience and trust at the hands of the Lord.  On the upside, however, we were able to celebrate a beautiful liturgy in honor of Our Lady on the feast of the Assumption.

Having arrived in Madrid on August 16th, we were able to join the other millions of youth from around the world to celebrate the opening Mass of World Youth Day.  All I can say is that it was a wonderful witness to the universality of the Catholic Church and the youthfulness of our faith!  It was an amazing experience to look out on the sea of people and not be able to see the sidewalk for what seemed like miles in all directions.  Although it was a bit distracting at times due to the large number of people present and the constant pushing that took place due to people moving from one place to another during the Mass, the Lord was glorified none the less.  And at the end of the Mass, a relic of the blood of Blessed John Paul II was placed on the altar before all the pilgrims present.

One thing I am coming to learn from this experience is that the Lord is very generous with his graces when we ask for it.  Grace is a gift from the Lord, and salvation is the greatest gift of all.  Everything we do from the moment we reach the age of reason to the moment we take our last breath should be aimed at reaching our heavenly reward—at glorifying the Lord, and at loving His people because He loves us.  If we give ourselves completely to God, and I mean completely and unreservedly, He will bless us abundantly, more than we could ever imagine, just perhaps not in the way we might have expected.

Yesterday’s adventures, although not planned out like we would have liked, resulted in our meeting a young man from North Carolina who was traveling alone to Madrid, Spain.  He had just recently graduated from high school and was meeting the rest of his diocese in Madrid.  At the age of 18, I imagine that he was a little nervous to be traveling solo in a foreign country, but having met up with him, we were able to “adopt” him for part of the trip and help him along his way.  As it turns out, he plans to enter the seminary once he finishes his undergraduate studies.  Truly, God is gracious to those who are generous with themselves and with their time.  May we never shy away from sharing our faith with others and may we always seek to give glory and praise to the Lord in all we do!  Please pray for vocations to the priesthood and the religious life, for as you know, we need holy and devoted priest to lead the Catholic Church into the culture of tomorrow.  Remain close to the Sacred Heart of Jesus!

In Christ,

Deacon Kurt

P.S. Here a few pictures from the airport in New Orleans.  One is of the entire group waiting while we found out that we did not have a flight on our first attempt.  Another is a picture of all the seminarians and the one priest who are on the trip.  And the third image is an image of several members of the group patiently praying and going along with whatever God has in store–the motto of our trip thus far.

Preparing for World Youth Day Madrid

This is it!  The last few hours that I will spend in the Archdiocese of New Orleans before I leave for Madrid, Spain, to join thousands of Young Adults from around the world to celebrate our Catholic faith, to witness to the world that the Catholic Church is not dead but is very much alive with vigor and with zeal.  I am beginning to feel the excitement well up inside of me to have the opportunity to be a part of something so much larger than myself.

My name is Deacon Kurt Young and I, along with other members of our group, will be blogging periodically from Madrid to keep those of you who could not join us informed as to the proceedings of this awesome event.  To give you a little background on myself, I am a transitional deacon in my final year of formation at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, LA.  I studied at LSU for a year before entering St. Joseph Seminary College, where I completed my undergraduate studies in Philosophy.  I am currently ministering in St. Clement of Rome Parish as I continue on my internship through October and I am enjoying every minute of walking with God’s people on their individual faith journeys.  I hope this series of blogs over the course of the next week and a half will not disappoint those of you who are reading.  Please keep us in your prayers as we will be traveling tomorrow at 12:30pm and please also say an extra prayer or two for our Holy Father, who will also be traveling in the coming week.

Alas, it is getting late and I still have to finalize my packing.  I will sign on again as soon as I have something interesting to blog and an internet connection.  Until then, stay united to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and continue to pray for vocations in the Church.

In Christ,

Dcn. Kurt Young

World Youth Day Madrid 2011

The Archdiocese of New Orleans, through the CYO/Youth and Young Adult Ministry Office, will sponsor the trip to

the international World Youth Day 2011 with Pope Benedict XVI in Madrid, Spain. In collaboration with the Dioceses of Baton  Rouge, Alexandria, Lafayette and Lake Charles, there is a group of 21 young adults that will be pilgramaging to Madrid. Of the 21, 16 young adults are from the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Father Steve Bruno will serve as the group chaplain.

World Youth Day in Madrid is scheduled to have the most participants on record. One month prior to the event, there are already 440,000 registrants.

The group will leave New Orleans August 14 and return August 23. Please follow their pilgrimage as they post on the site.