U of Chicago student revels in WYD joy, fun

By Katie Duda | Contributor
Sunday, August 28, 2011

Editor’s note: Katie Duda, a doctoral student at the University of Chicago, attended World Youth Day in Madrid with a group of young adults travelling with the archdiocese’s Respect Life Office. The following is her personal reflection of her World Youth Day experience.

I met Daniella in the elevator on my way to the Viva la Vida conference (an international English-speaking pro-life conference hosted by Irish Catholics). On our second day in Madrid for World Youth Day, my friend Theresa and I were running late for Mass.

Daniella was from Bucharest, Romania. Theresa and I told her we were at the conference because we had pro-life groups on U.S. college campuses. Daniella explained that she was working to get some kind of pro-life work off the ground in Romania, which ranks third in Europe in the number of abortions. She wanted to interview Theresa and me for her organization, but since Mass was starting, we told her we would have to do it later.

In the afternoon, I ran out for a coffee and met Daniella again now equipped with a Romanian flag and a huge smile. She was enthused by the testimonies and the positive energy of the conference. She explained that her video camera had run out of battery power since she had filmed so much of the conference.

My conversation with Daniella would be typical of so many World Youth Day encounters. Metros were smelly, hot and overcrowded. Signs were confusing or non-existent, daily the temperature hit triple digits until the night of the vigil with the pope, when an atypical thunderstorm broke and it was so windy that the Holy Father was forced to stop his address and wait for it to pass.

All these elements would normally have led to grumbling. What kept people cheerful? Someone in the crowd would break into chant, song or start a conversation with their neighbor. Enthusiasm was contagious. To meet so many strangers with whom you had your faith in common forges an immediate connection.

During the pilgrimage, we visit Madrid’s cathedral. While in the cathedral, I saw a Czech flag. Its owner, Lukaš, came to Madrid in a group of 15, but told me enthusiastically that the Czech Republic had sent about 3,500 people.

I had lived in the Czech Republic for two years and never met a Catholic my own age. As a young woman from Prague said of the 3,500 pilgrims, with excitement and a smile, “That seems like so many.”

The sense of multitude and the universal church was on the streets. At the Way of the Cross on Friday night, our group sat next to Iraqis, we met girls from Kuwait and Singapore and a group of pilgrims from Egypt. We were on a long metro ride with a group from Congo and a few young men from Angola. Everyone came to worship with the Holy Father and hear him speak.

The night of the vigil, when the winds wreaked havoc on the stage, the Holy Father encouraged us to pray that it may pass. The groups of Spanish-speaking pilgrims around us periodically interrupted Hail Marys with the chant “Yes, come what may. We were with the pope!”

Each pilgrim had friends at home who wanted to come, but couldn’t. Our responsibility is to bring the enthusiasm of World Youth Day back to them. Some energy may be lost in translation, but the hope and encouragement is vital for the church. Our firmness in faith, our hope in the future Christ promised and our love for one another must be radical.