BY Martin Dunlop | August 19 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

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World Youth Day Blog-Holy Father arrives

Reporting live from Madrid, Friday, August 19 2011

And here was me thinking Tuesday evening’s WYD opening Mass had attracted a large crowd… clearly the observations of a WYD debutant! Between yesterday and today, the number of pilgrims descending on Madrid, to coincide with the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI, has gone stratospheric. Never before have I seen so many folk congregating in one area than at yesterday evening’s welcoming ceremony for the Holy Father, which was held at Plaza de Cibeles (a square I’m sure you’re now all becoming familiar with!)

I managed to find a good spot at the nearby Plaza de Colon (home to what must be the largest Spanish flag known to man… pictures will follow soon!) for the Holy Father’s arrival from the Nunciature. Contrary to what we may have been led to believe in some earlier reports, there were many young Spaniards in the crowd, desperate to catch a glimpse of the Pope. Toddlers, some on the shoulders of their parents, complete with Spanish t-shirts and WYD hats, looked on in amazement at the scenes surrounding them. Whatever WYD does for the future of the Church in Spain, scenes of joy, such as those witnessed yesterday evening, will have left an indelible mark in the minds of those who were present, particularly amongst the young people.

Following the hysteria that marked the Pope’s arrival in central Madrid, the atmosphere changed to one of reverential silence and respect as greetings were read out to the Pope from young people representing the five continents. The Holy Father then delivered his own message for the Catholic youth, during which he asked us to ‘use these days to know Christ better,’ (full text of this message can be read at: http://www.sconews.co.uk/youth/11482/pope-tells-wyd-pilgrims-use-these-days-to-know-christ-better/)

Walking through the same area of Madrid this afternoon, it was as if the pilgrims from last night had not left. Many have already gathered for this evening’s Stations of the Cross, which will be led by the Holy Father. I made the mistake of trying to cross the main road that runs between Plaza de Cibeles and Plaza de Colon in an attempt to reach the Palacio de los Deportes, (where the Knights of St Columbus and the Sisters of Life are sponsoring and hosting a pilgrim centre for English speaking participants at WYD) needless to say, I didn’t reach my intended destination.

Despite the ever increasing number of pilgrims, I had the pleasure of bumping into some fellow Scots from Galloway Diocese this morning in Plaza Mayor. As I was making my way out of the square, I spotted a Celtic and Scotland jersey approaching. As we got closer, I discovered that the Scotland jersey was being sported by Fr Graeme Bell, parish priest at St Mary’s Church, Saltcoats. The Galloway pilgrims happily posed for a photograph and I learned from Fr Stephen McGrattan, youth officer for the diocese, that they are staying at the Alcala area of the city, where they watched Pope Benedict begin his journey into Madrid city centre yesterday evening, during which he was handed the golden keys to Madrid by the city’s mayor, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon.

“We are having a great time,” Fr McGrattan told me this morning. “We were in Salamanca before travelling to Madrid and it, too, was wonderful. Madrid has been great and they have made it all so manageable for us, we are looking forward to the rest of the week.”

Having enjoyed a chat with the Galloway pilgrims, I managed to take in 15 minutes of a Catechesis session in a church just off Puerta del Sol. Though I understood very little of the Spanish session, it was enjoyable to witness the devotion and respect being paid by all the pilgrims who were present. The church was also remarkably ornate, given that, from the outside, it looked little different from the majority of the other buildings on the side street.

In addition to the number of pilgrims increasing, so too are the temperatures. The intensity of the afternoon sunshine has left me with little option but to retreat back to the hotel and write this blog! Gallons of water have been an absolute necessity, and to this end Madrid has performed extremely well—with taps to refill bottles to be found close by to many of the key event areas.

I realise that in having a slight moan about the intensity of the heat I was possibly veering into ‘negative’ chat territory. Therefore, I better end today’s blog here… before anybody begins to think I may not be enjoying myself!

Viva el Papa!

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