[Editor’s note: Fr. Matthew Gamber, S.J. will be blogging for CWR this week from World Youth Day in Madrid, where he is leading a group of 53 college-aged pilgrims from the United States.]
Fluorescent lime green is not usually a color associated with the Vatican or the papacy, but it is the color of the vests that 20,000 volunteers are wearing on the streets of Madrid this weekend, as they prepare to welcome His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI and the hundreds of thousands of young pilgrims who are descending on the city in anticipation of World Youth Day 2011. It would be better to call it World Youth Week, since the festivities begin this Monday on the Feast of the Assumption and continue until the closing Mass on August 21 at a major airfield outside of Madrid, where two million pilgrims and locals are expected to participate. The volunteers are at the churches and parishes, down in the metro stations, at the bus stops, on street corners, and just about anywhere a young pilgrim might be who is lost, has questions, or just wants to talk to somebody about the thrill of being in Madrid for this most thrilling of weeks.
I met up with two young pilgrims in their green vests in Retiro Park—Madrid´s version of Central Park in New York—where they have been assigned to the Festival of Reconciliation, the place where 800 priests will be hearing confessions in 200 ultra-modern confessionals built just for the occasion. Maria Alvarez and Beatriz Fernandes-Bermejo are both 22, and architecture students at the Polytechnical University of Madrid. They are excited to be working at the confessions center. The confessionals were designed by two famous Spanish architects, Ignacio Vicens-Ramos and Jose Antonio Ramos, both of whom Beatriz and Maria have studied in their program. The stark white and very modern confessionals lined up in two rows of 100 look like a flock of birds that has landed in a corner of this famous park. Pope Benedict is expected to come to the confessions center at some point during World Youth Day and hear confessions of the young pilgrims.
“What I am most excited for is the arrival of the Pope next Thursday, and to hear what will be his first words to us as the young people in Madrid,” said Beatriz.
Maria said she is amazed at how crowded Madrid is with “Madrilenos” these days, since during August most of the natives take off for the beaches to avoid the 98-degree heat. “Everyone is staying to see the Pope or to help with World Youth Days—it´s amazing” she said.
Maria and Beatriz are two among the thousands of green-vested pilgrims who are waiting for the Pope and waiting on the pilgrims. Apart from the confession festival, most venues in Madrid seem chaotic and half-ready for the week ahead. Beatriz explained, though, that everything will be ready by the time the Pope arrives: “Everything is ‘manana, manana’ in Spain, but that is the way we are, it will all be OK.”