In his 2010 book-length interview, Light of the World (Ignatius Press), Pope Benedict talked about popular religion. He seemed to regret that it was on the decline and no longer having the impact it once had on the Church and the faithful. One parish in central Madrid, though, displays the opposite trend, and for World Youth Day has pulled out all the stops in its annual celebration of its patroness, the “Virgen de la Paloma,” or Our Lady of the Dove, who holds a special place in the hearts of all madrilenos, as the residents of the Spanish capital city are called.
On a side street off a small plaza in central Madrid, a painted image of the Virgin hangs in the center of the small parish church of the Virgin of Paloma. It shows her dressed in black and white, her head bowed in prayer and surrounded by a shining silver halo. The image has hung in the church since the 18th century.
The Vatican asked Spain to make this year’s celebration a World Youth Day marked by local customs, traditions, and events that show forth the rich heritage of Catholic Spain, a country that Blessed Pope John Paul once called “The Land of Mary.” Accordingly, the parish of the Virgin of Paloma has been working all year in anticipation of World Youth Day 2011. Special reproductions of the painting of the Virgin were made for all parishioners, who have been asked by their parish priest to put the images in places of honor, especially during World Youth Day celebrations.
After a novena, which this year had as its principal intention the success of World Youth Day and the papal visit, the parish’s annual celebration culminates on the Feast of the Assumption with an hours-long, nighttime procession through the streets of Madrid. The painted image of the Virgin is taken down from the sanctuary wall of the church and carried on a platform by dozens of men, followed by 30 different groups from the parish, including the firefighters’ union, the police union, and various children´s groups and Marian congregations.
The procession passed through streets decorated with flowers and flags of all different colors. One street leading to the parish had strung brightly colored shawls trimmed in tassels across clotheslines, creating a canopy under which the image was carried for blocks.
This year, the parish of Our Lady of the Dove is hosting 450 young people from Peru. The Peruvians are staying in parishioners’ homes and apartments, and they were given a prominent place in this year´s procession. After the procession, the church was open throughout the night for World Youth Day pilgrims and locals to visit the Virgin.
On the feast day, seven Masses were offered on the hour at the parish, starting at 7 am. Beginning the day before the feast, parishioners are traditionally welcomed to place bouquets before the image of the Virgin, and this year it was requested that only bouquets comprised of white and yellow flowers be brought, in honor of Pope Benedict´s impending arrival for World Youth Day on Thursday, August 18.
In about a 10-block area around the parish church, food and game stalls have been erected, resembling attractions at the summer-time church festivals that take place in many dioceses of the U.S. Pilgrims will be able to taste local specialties, such as Spanish hams and paellas—a seafood rice dish—at lower prices than in the local restaurants. Fried dough, omnipresent at most summer fairs in the U.S., goes by the more savory title of “churros” in Spain, and is usually paired with thick hot chocolate, another local delicacy.
The bulletin of the parish of the Virgin of Paloma announced, “We are living the feasts this year with greater intensity and along with the rhythms of World Youth Day—VIVA LA VIRGEN DE LA PALOMA!”
Fr. Matthew Gamber, S.J. is blogging this week from World Youth Day in Madrid, where he is leading a group of 53 college-aged pilgrims from the United States.
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