Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Trialsome Night in Madrid

On Saturday, August 20, we had hoped to attend the WYD Prayer Vigil with the Pope in Cuatro Vientos and Sunday Mass with him the next morning. So we set out with our bags in tow and hiked for about two hours to the place in 103-degree weather. We had to stop numerous times along the way to take a water break. We finally made it!

But not all of us. One of our ladies got sidetracked with another group, and we lost her somewhere behind us. So Dr. Theresa and Alan walked back to try to find her. Another member, Elizabeth, arrived before us and was somewhere inside the gates, alone.

We thought we’d go inside the gates, too, but we found out that they were locked up. They were not letting any more pilgrims in because they had already exceeded capacity. There were over 1 million pilgrims inside.

As we stood there in dismay wondering what in the world to do next and where we were going to spend the night, suddenly, the skies darkened and a strong wind picked up. It swept through and stirred up the dust and sand under our feet. We realized we didn’t have anything else to do but to run and look for shelter immediately. Sand was blowing around. Caroline lost her eye contact on the ground, so we all bent down trying to feel for it…and found it. We saw a grassy spot under some trees nearby a building that looked like a school. Prepared to spend the night there, a few of us strolled away to look for a bathroom, which we were in desperate need of.

As we walked, we came across some large, white canvas tents set up as if for a concert. We moved our company there, where we were more sheltered, at least on the top. The winds blew. The rain poured down. People were screaming and running out and away from the tent, afraid it would collapse. We had no better option, so we stayed put. We gathered in a circle, prayed for our lost pilgrims and prayed for our safety. Eventually, the rain stopped.

Then what should appear but a magnificent display of fireworks! The fireworks exploded up over the heights of the buildings and lit up the night sky. We oohed and awed. It was the best fireworks show I’ve ever seen in my life and in the most unusual conditions.

We eventually found a bathroom at a nearby restaurant, purchased some pizza, and were generously given a bag of sandwiches and juice boxes from a kind couple, who offered it to our group because the other pilgrims they were expecting never showed up.

We unrolled our sleeping bags and lay down for the night (it was about 10:00 p.m. I think). I had pulled my bags up close to me and had a hand on my stuff. As I lay there trying to sleep, I suddenly felt commotion going on around me. I sat up and overheard my group talking. One of the security guard volunteers in a green vest had crept over and was digging through one of the guys’ backpacks! They shooed him out of our midst and he went home, saying he was a little bit drunk. I had gotten an uneasy feeling about him the whole time, because of the way he was eyeing us all. Something nasty seemed bound to happen. After that, the guys in our group took turns patrolling our borders and our stuff. Four of the guys stayed awake all night, watching over us! Because of them, I have never felt so safe in my life.

The guys on our trip really helped us through the tough situations. I have been in these type of situations with all girls…it’s hard! Too many hyped emotions. The guys reassured us all, made us laugh in the middle of tough situations, navigated our way through the city, and led the group, lifting high our Amercian standard, while keeping the group together. I would imagine the presence of us women inspired the men as well and somehow made them firmer in their purpose…I don’t know what they’d say, but I’m sure it went both ways.

Saturday night, I felt emotionally stretched to the point of breaking, perhaps more than I ever have. But we really proved triumphant in the face of difficulty.

From the first moment we stepped off the plane into Barcelona, we would learn to depend on each other for everything. Only one time was I ever alone (without a fellow pilgrim) and that was in Lourdes. When we’d split into groups, everyone played a vital part. Someone was the navigator with the map, one and two of the girls spoke Spanish fluently, and all of us were upbeat and optimistic most of the time.

Humor became very important. To be able to laugh is I think one of the greatest gifts God has given us. Heaven must be full of laughter. Heaven must be full of singing.

Our flag inspired all of us in bravery and in our identity. I fell in love with the stars and stripes this trip. The pilgrimage to WYD not only renewed my sense of pride in being part of this holy, universal and apostolic Church, but also in being a United States citizen.

At 3:30 a.m. Sunday morning, we got up and walked back to the gate at Cuatro Vientos, hoping we might get in. We never did. Instead, we ended up sleeping literally in the street. We stayed until about 8:30 a.m. and then decided to turn around and head all the way back to our host school building from which we’d set out the day before. When we got there, we rested on the sidewalk and waited, because that gate was locked, too, until the volunteers came! This is a picture of our defeat...

I have to laugh, because every time I’ve been to Spain, I always survive a scenario with a locked gate! On my first trip to Spain, my friends and I were locked out of the gate to our villa and had to climb over the fence to get inside. Guess I just don’t have luck with gates in Spain!

Sunday night the vote was unanimous. We would spend the night in a hotel.

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