By Miranda Boeckman
World Youth Day in Madrid was one of the most remarkable global manifestations of the Catholic faith I have ever experienced. The pilgrimage was like no other — filled with joy, laughter, amazement, disappointments, struggle and love.
We began in the town of Caceres, Spain. Host families of the diocese welcomed us into their homes to teach us about their way of life and culture in Spain. We visited many beautiful churches and cathedrals in the town and learned a lot about its rich history. We travelled to Fatima, Portugal, on Aug. 13, 94 years to the day of one of the apparitions of Our Lady to the children. At Fatima, we celebrated Mass and toured the cathedral. We returned to Caceres where a youth festival and Mass were celebrated with young people from around the world. Then we began the journey to Madrid for World Youth Day festivities.
The scene in Madrid was like nothing I had ever seen. Pilgrims were everywhere — sporting bright orange floppy pilgrim hats, singing and chanting about Christ and the pope. It was amazing to see the excitement of these one-and-a-half million young people despite the heat and crowdedness. While in Madrid we partook in daily catechesis followed by Mass in the mornings. In the afternoon we were free to attend various lectures such as “Word on Fire” by Father Robert Barron or “Theology of the Body” by Christopher West. We also had many opportunities to go to confession, eucharistic adoration or simply pray as a group.
The opening Mass was Tuesday; Pope Benedict XVI was welcomed to Madrid on Wednesday, and Stations of the Cross were held Friday. Official World Youth Day activities concluded with a vigil with the Holy Father on Saturday night and the concluding Mass on Sunday morning. Unfortunately, due to a bit of poor planning, some 250,000 pilgrims were not able to get into the vigil and concluding Mass, including our group. This was quite a disappointment especially after walking for miles to the air field. We ended up watching the Mass from the comfort of our hotel rooms, and it was a wonderful celebration of all that we had experienced that week. During his homily, Pope Benedict XVI urged the young people to “Strengthen this faith which has been handed down to us from the time of the Apostles. Make Christ, the Son of God, the center of your life. But let me also remind you that following Jesus in faith means walking at his side in the communion of the Church.”
This pilgrimage touched me in a much deeper way than other retreats I attended in high school and college. Usually during retreats I spend a few days of praying, singing and engaging in discussion and return home on a “Jesus high,” so to speak. On the pilgrimage to Spain there was no “Jesus high.” Engaging in daily prayer and Mass for two weeks and spending time in a spiritual environment allowed me to grow in a deeper and more long-lasting faith. There were struggles along the way, including the heat, sore feet, crowdedness and long lines, but we were able to offer up these troubles to Christ.
The theme of this World Youth Day was “Rooted and built up in Jesus Christ, Firm in the Faith (Col 2:7),” and I believe through this experience each of us has strengthened our relationship with Christ.
I also would like to give a shout out to all the amazing people who helped to make this trip possible including many priests from the Davenport Diocese and many benefactors from the Newman Catholic Student Center. Through their generosity we were able to raise $16,000! I would also like to thank Father Thom Hennen for organizing this trip and making it an experience of a lifetime!
(Miranda Boeckman of Carroll, Iowa, is a senior majoring in integrated physiology at the University of Iowa who returned from a pilgrimage to World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain, last month. She was among five students from the Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City who joined more than 50 pilgrims on a trip organized by the Diocese of Des Moines.)