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WYD 2011: The street party pauses for the Way of the Cross

Pilgrims were in reflective mood at last night’s extraordinary Via Crucis

By on Saturday, 20 August 2011

Pope Benedict XVI leaves in his popemobile at the conclusion of the Way of the Cross (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Benedict XVI leaves in his popemobile at the conclusion of the Way of the Cross (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Today, roughly 1.5 million pilgrims will walk 5 miles across Madrid, in the baking midday heat, to celebrate the Papal Mass at Cuatro Vientos airfield. The Mass will begin at 9.30 on Sunday morning and they will prepare with Vigil led by Pope Benedict this evening.

The mood of this pilgrimage has changed and it began with the Stations of the Cross last night at the Plaza de Cibeles in the centre of Madrid. There is undoubtedly a carnival atmosphere throughout this pilgrimage. It feels like a universal street party hosted by the Catholic Church. The elation so many felt during the Royal Wedding does not even touch what I have witnessed in Madrid over the past few days.

But the Catholic youth are focused ultimately on the Cross. Anyone who waded through the crowds yesterday evening at Plaza de Cibeles, to witness the Way of the Cross, could not deny this.

The Italians in Plaza de Mayor, dancing in a large group singing with such charisma about ‘how tight my blue jeans are,’ and then acting out the various ways one might squeeze into them, only an hour later were kneeling in solemn awe at the sacrifice they were commemorating. The young teenage girls giggling away in the local Spanish market, licking
ice-creams were now taciturn statues, still in the peace of the life-giving love they were witnessing at each station.

How ironic that the Church’s moral teachings spark accusations of narrow-mindedness from some liberal elites. The Church is anything but. The plethora of nationalities present in Madrid is already a strong corroboration of the universality of the Church but last night’s Way of the Cross demonstrated what this actually means.

The suffering of Christ was portrayed in a profoundly unique way. The Way of the Cross incorporated the trials and experiences of a universal Church. Victims of drug addiction, earthquakes, persecution, war and marginalization were invited to unite their suffering with Christ’s by carrying the cross to the each station.

It was a relay of suffering, in which the baton of burden was passed on in solidarity; victims united both in their suffering but also their hope at the prospect of salvation and joy at the end.

The English Bishop John Rawsthorne said to me that the Way of the Cross, was “highly political – and I mean that on the best sense of the word.”

He continued: “It was about the world as it really is. It was written by nuns who work with the poor and so it focused on
people who live in very difficult circumstances. It was brilliant and I would like to see the same portrayal back in Britain.”

Tonight’s vigil will be one of solemnity coloured with hope, with the prospect of a glorious end to an unforgettable four days.

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    I know that I keep banging on about this but, there is only one way to respond to this and that is to bring World Youth Day to Britain. Directly
    after the Papal Visit I lobbied every UK Lead Catholic Youth Worker,
    organisation, and every Bishop etc… (as well as Michelle Moran the UK
    representative for the Pontifical Council for Laity) to go to the
    forthcoming CYMFED meeting and fight for World Youth day to be brought
    to Britain.

    I also emailed all of these representatives William
    Oddie’s excellent piece entitled ‘Let’s Bring World Youth Day to
    Britain’ (see below)

    know for a fact that this article was pointed out at the CYMFED meeting
    and it did help to create extra excitement and extra dialogue concerning the possibility of WYD
    coming to the UK. I would go as far to say that Mr. Oddie’s article had a
    significant impact on getting the CYMFED Flame Congress up and running
    for next year (presumably a stepping stone to WYD).

    I am sure I do not have to repeat the reasons why WYD should happen here. Anyone interested should express their support to their  Bishop, diocesan lead youth worker, and other Catholic youth workers

  • Aging Papist

    So now we have another Doctor of the Church, St. John of Avila.  He surely deserved this honor centuries ago, but one has to wonder what the Spanish Church had to fork over in the way of hard cash to this pope to receive this recognition for one of its most famous sons.  An honor from a  pope under fire, in need of funds now, and who could be forced to pay hundreds of millions of Euros in the future for being an accomplice down through the centuries to manifest evil.

  • John Flaherty

    Wow.  I haven’t read up on St. John of Avila, but your attitude..doesn’t impress me very much.
    I would appreciate it if you’d keep your cynicism to yourself for awhile.  ..And learn about what St. John did.