“To give, and not to count the cost
to fight, and not to heed the wounds,
to toil, and not to seek for rest,
to labor, and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do thy will.”
Great lines for a pilgrim.
We traveled through the Basque region on route of the Camino de Santiago de Compostella – the famous Way of St. James. Pilgrims travel this way on horseback, bicycle, or by foot. We took the bus and stopped at towns along the way.
On Aug 13 we arrived in Pamplona, famous for its running of the bulls. We walked around the city, stopped at a planetarium, a church of St. Augustine, and the cathedral, where we witnessed a Rosary procession. Oh, how the Spaniards love their processions!
From there we entered the Castille-Leon region and saw the massive cathedral of Burgos. Burgos is one of the most important cities along the Camino de Santiago, and it is where the legendary medieval hero El Cid is buried. I noticed Spanish statues are different: they have real hair and are dressed in clothes!
Segovia was the most breath-taking and romantic-feeling place. After having Mass at the tomb of St. John of the Cross, we arrived at our hotel in Segovia and took an evening stroll to see the aqueducts. We climbed up to the top for incredible views of the city, lit up by the moonlight and street lights, and we topped off the night with wine at an outdoor café nearby the aqueduct. In Segovia, we also visited the palace where the Catholic monarchs ruled and saw the chairs where Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand sat.
We only saw Avila briefly. It’s a walled-in city that is very charming. Two older men in their 70s approached our American flag. They were twin brothers from Arizona on a tour of Spain– not headed to World Youth Day – but just as spunky and full of zest as the youngest of us. They wanted a picture with one of our girls, and on the count of three, they kissed her!
We walked down the street, turned a corner and heard a gunshot; then music and people processing a dark-haired and elaborately dressed statue of Mary in the streets. It was the Feast of the Assumption of Mary and a national holiday.
When we reached Madrid, we got a warm welcome in more ways than one. We arrived in our simple housing quarters, a parish school gym, where the priest welcomed us. We got our WYD backpacks, supper and a kind of beer without alcohol. Madrid was unbearably hot and sunny with temps in the upper 90s to 100s.
Our days in Madrid were marked by talks and concerts in the Love and Life Center, the English-speaking center for WYD pilgrims. We ate jamon y cheso boccodillos (ham and cheese on hard rolls of bread) daily. We took frigid COLD showers from water spouts set up in a convent courtyard in the ghetto of Madrid, with grape vines hanging over us. We toured the Prado Museum, where I especially admired the works by Murillo, Velasquez and Grecco. We greeted the Holy Father when he came into Madrid on his Popemobile. We watched the Stations of the Cross, a moving testimony of the faith by young people. Large statues came from all over Spain to illustrate our Lord’s passion and death on the Cross.
We greeted hundreds of pilgrims from all over the world and the U.S. in Madrid. They were packed into the Metro and overflowing the streets. We chanted songs in the streets and traded pins, flags, and other trinkets with each other. It was the “meeting of flags” and really did bring the world together!
We attended the final World Youth Day event on Sunday, August 21 – a soccer game between Spain and the rest of the world. After the game, we walked back to the metro in the pouring rain. The metro was crowded with hundreds of happy pilgrims, all shouting and singing and chanting about the next World Youth Day in 2013 in Rio, Brazil. They chanted, “RI-O! RI-O! RI-O!”
“Joy is the infallible sign of God’s presence,” said Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York.
It was our theme to accept all things with joy. Hence, the discomforts and inconveniences of this trip became an exercise in patience and joy. I was amazed at how little anyone complained and how much everyone really stuck together and had a great attitude, even under some very stressful conditions.
“Accept it with joy” became our motto in all circumstances. When things were rough, when we were stranded from each other, hungry, tired, in need of a toilet or forced to wait in uncomfortable conditions, we embraced it as part of the experience. All together we’d sing our way down the streets of Madrid, supported to the left and to the right by our fellow pilgrims singing with us. We’d be joined by other groups or join in their songs. “Lean on Me” was a popular theme amongst the English speakers. We sang that more than once. The streets became filled with song in many different languages.
What would the world look like if singing was how we faced the hardships of life?