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The journey of the soul on pilgrimage at World Youth Day in Spain

MADRID (SE): “Today is really a thanksgiving day for me. Lots of tears and reflection, especially during the adoration of the blessed sacrament. And lots of new learning experiences about life skills and relationships for group living on a pilgrimage,” one delegate from Hong Kong to World Youth Day said as her group arrived in Madrid from Crenca for the official August 16 opening Mass.

“I remember how much family love I got from village life in Crenca. It was like my family back home. Now I am with a host family in Madrid. They are a simulation of my city life in Hong Kong, a nuclear family of two parents, one son and one daughter,” she continued.

Reflecting on how family relationships have changed over the past 20 to 30 years with increasing urbanisation and a growing economy, she noted that in many ways, traditional Chinese family life has virtually disappeared.

“Is this true of our spiritual growth as well? Is it also like that?” she questioned.

“My host family in Huete (Crenca) told me that many people went to church 50 years ago, but now they don’t. Now the parish does not have young members, only older people—and there is no daily Mass.”

Another recalled that in Hong Kong, parishes have daily Mass and functioning groups, but asked, “Is our faith strong enough to respond to the theme of this World Youth Day (Rooted in Jesus Christ—firm in the faith)?”

He noted, “While the way that the Huete village people loved us is a witness to their firm Catholic faith, because they do not have daily Mass, only one on Sunday, and no proper parish structures, there is no, real Catholic presence.”

However, another took courage from the words spoken by the archbishop of Madrid, Antonio Cardinal Rouco Varela, during the opening Mass, when he told the huge gathering of young people that they do not have to wait for the old people to change the world. “We can change it ourselves,” he said.

However, what is regarded as the time that galvanises the spirit of World Youth Day, the Days in the Diocese segment that precedes the formal opening, proved to be just that, at least for the 21 members of the group from Hong Kong that stayed in Huete.

“We were treated as very important guests,” one said. “The mayor of the small village met us at the city hall and arranged for a group from a summer dance class to perform for us. We also did a big 14- by two-metre creative drawing together. There was a visit to the World Heritage Sites of Crenca, recognised by UNESCO in 1996, and an old monastery.”

The group reflected that this was all good preparation for their arrival in Madrid. “We spent time at St. Joseph’s church in the centre of the city. Some people put together some beautiful music and we all had the chance to go to confession with Father Paul Kam Po-wai or Father Dominic Lui,” one explained.

“To meet in the city centre is really touching and I came across some old class mates from school days,” another added.

“But the weather was really hot as we gathered for the opening Mass. Three of our group fainted and had to get medical attention. We had a brush with a thief too. But a local Spanish person helped us catch up with him and got our camera back.”

The group described the incident as a good bonding event, as they had to fight together to protect themselves.

“We were interviewed by local radio too,” one explained. “The journalist saw our big Chinese flag and the fans with the words of the theme of the youth day inscribed on them in Chinese calligraphy and English.”

One boasted, “I sang the first verse of the World Youth Day theme song in Spanish for them. Then I was interviewed in English.”

The following day the group was preparing for a catechesis session with Bishop John Tong Hon. “Despite the heat and the fatigue, I really have a lot to be thankful for,” one concluded.

The 800-strong Hong Kong delegation to Madrid is the biggest put together from the diocese since it began attending World Youth Days in Manila in 1995. Father Kam said that the 254 people, who went under the auspices of the diocese, travelled in four groups, each taking a different route to Madrid.

He added that 300 people from Spain have been assigned to host and care for the delegates in what is expected to be an in-depth experience of local culture and faith life.

... another took courage from the words spoken by the archbishop of Madrid... they do not have to wait for the old people to change the world. ‘We can change it ourselves’