CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 15 December 2018

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We came to see the pope but instead saw the face of Jesus

HONG KONG (SE): “Man makes plans and God smiles,” goes the old saying.

A group from the English-speaking community of Stanley parish reflected on this adage as they trudged back to their accommodation after the August 20 overnight vigil at the climax of World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain, when it seemed that anything that could go wrong did.

Maybe the experience of the group could be better described in the words of Robert Burns, “The best made plans of mice and men often go astray,” as the coordinator of the group, Dennis Montecillo, explained that the wheels began to fall off only a few minutes after the group set out for the venue of the vigil which, it was later to learn, is appropriately named Cuatro Vientos (Four Winds) Airport.

Losing its way, the Hong Kong group failed to find its Spanish guides and was late arriving at the wasteland gathering point.

“The gates were already closed,” Montecillo recollected, “and we were redirected to another entrance, but this only gave us access to an area outside the vigil grounds, literally on the other side of a hill.”

He continued, “Exhausted, we sat down on the hard dirt, sadly noting the sign, Overflow Area.” 

The official enclosure had already reached its 1.5 million capacity and, as the already tired bodies unpacked their provisions for the night, one commented, “Is this it?” To which another added, “Is this the Promised Land?”

Montecillo said that as they watched, another 500,000 people filed into the overflow area and it became obvious they would not be alone. However, although this was of little comfort, reason eventually began to overtake disappointment and one asked, “Can my love of God be this conditional?”

Less optimistic, another queried, “Why is this happening to us?” Some just begged for a bit of peace to rest, but as the emotional outbursts began to flow more freely, the old remedy of a group hug reminded them that they were in it together and the best thing to do was to make the most of it.

But then the fun began. “Around 9.30pm, ominous clouds gathered on the horizon and before long we were in the midst of a weather event that can only be described as biblical,” Montecillo said.

“There was horizontal rain, gusts of swirling wind that tore down the big sign reading, ‘Gate 3—Welcome’ as we watched, and then the streaks of lightening that brought flashes of noontime,” he continued.

As the group huddled against the onslaught of the weather, one mused, “Why is God punishing us like this?”

A question without much thought maybe, but it did prompt a discussion on how God does not punish us, but stuff does happen anyway and it is our response in these situations that matters.

People responded in different ways. Some hotfooted for cover. “Maybe the most obvious course of action,” Montecillo commented. “That is what we are taught to do when caught in an open field in lightning.”

However, he described how five people knelt down and began to pray the rosary. “By the second decade there were 20 and by the third, 50.” He said, “A couple from our group joined them.”

He explained that another group formed a circle and began to sing.

“Soaked to the skin they got louder and louder trying to outdo the howling of the wind, the din of the crowd and the crackling of the resurrected loudspeaker system,” he continued.

Montecillo reflected, “While God taught us to pray—and pray constantly (1 Thessalonians 5:17), he left to us the manner in which we communicate with him. As the group learned earlier in the week, some do this through music (Taizé); others through rote (the rosary); others through Christian meditation (maranatha); and still others through plain and simple conversation. This contrast was the culmination of this lesson in prayer.”

Montecillo said that by the time the storm blew over the ceremonies had been delayed by half-an-hour and reports said that some of the temporary tent-chapels housing the Eucharist were damaged, so there would not be any communion in overflow area.

However, although there were some broken bones, there were no serious injuries, “Which,” Montecillo reflected, “seemed to us amazing. Think of it—two million uncomfortable people, with some highly frustrated, in an open field with the wind, rain and darkness—and no serious injuries!”

He said that people in the group asked if they were staring a miracle in the face or not.

However, he added that he thinks it was a bit of a miracle that only one member of the Hong Kong group, who was not feeling well, wanted to leave. “And one stated emphatically, ‘I want to stay. I feel so happy, but I don’t know why!’”

“Miracle? Well, who knows?” Montecillo reflected, “All we know is that we came to see the pope, but instead, saw the face of Jesus!”