Last May, Oprah Winfrey ended her 25-year television program by taking over a Chicago stadium and having a self-love celebration that featured the beautiful and glamorous of the world. But the events of that night are long forgotten, and the celebrity world has moved on to its next big thing. But in Madrid, a four-day celebration of self-giving rooted in Catholic teaching and the life of Christ is changing lives from all over the world with hope for a truly lasting impact.
World Youth Day pilgrims from the United States are finding a home away from home at the Love and Life Center in Madrid, where English-language programs being are held practically around the clock under the sponsorship of the Sisters of Life and the Knights of Columbus. Housed at the Palacio de Deportes, a large indoor arena that seats more than 10,000 people and is located in an upscale part of Madrid, the center hosts the daily English-language catechesis and other activities throughout the afternoons and evenings of World Youth Day celebrations. There are keynote speakers, concerts, panel discussions, and exhibits, many centered on the Catholic Church´s teaching on marriage and family life and other issues of Catholic morality.
There is an adoration chapel that is usually filled to capacity, and priests are available to hear confessions throughout the day and night.
The Love and Life Center in Madrid is an outgrowth of a smaller operation that the Sisters of Life began in conjunction with the Knights of Columbus during World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008, the focus of which was John Paul II´s theology of the body. Madrid´s World Youth Day organizers asked the sisters to repeat their successful Sydney program but to increase its capacities and offerings to accommodate the more than 25,000 pilgrims from the U.S., as well as other large groups of English-speaking pilgrims from Canada, England, Australia, and many Asian nations. The list of sponsors at this year´s Love and Life Center includes the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at the Catholic University of America, the World Youth Alliance, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), Holy Cross Family Ministries, the Jesuits’ Apostleship of Prayer, and Canada´s Salt + Light Television.
The daily program at the center, which runs from Wednesday through Friday of World Youth Day week, begins with a catechesis session taught by an English-speaking bishop. Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia spoke on Wednesday, Archbishop J. Michael Miller of Vancouver, British Columbia spoke on Thursday, and Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York will be the featured bishop on Friday. Others speakers—including members of the Sisters of Life, the congregation started in New York by Cardinal John O’Connor to promote the Church´s teaching on the dignity of human life—also make presentations at the catechesis sessions. The morning concludes with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. At Wednesday´s Mass more than 300 priests concelebrated with Cardinal Pell and 30 other bishops. The Sisters of Life choir taught the young pilgrims a number of Gregorian chants to be used during the week´s liturgies, so Latin is also used at the English-language center. Most events at the center have been packed and are often standing-room only.
EWTN is basing its World Youth Day programming out of the Love and Life Center, and on Wednesday hosted a live production of its youth-oriented program “Life on the Rock,” featuring various pilgrim groups and Church leaders discussing the impact of World Youth Day on their lives.
Earlier in the day on Wednesday a panel discussion on religious liberty and the Church was moderated by Anna Halpine of the World Youth Alliance, an organization of Catholic young adults that seeks to influence United Nations policy in light of Catholic social teaching. She was joined by Archbishop Charles Chaput, the soon-to-be archbishop of Philadelphia; Helen Alvare, professor of law at George Mason Univiersity; Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B. of Canada’s Salt + Light Television; and Pablo Barroso, a Mexican layman who has just produced a new film on Mexico’s Cristero movement that will be released in theaters in 2012.
Thursday afternoon’s session included a panel discussion on how Catholics can change the world by creating what Pope John Paul II called “a civilization of love.” Mother Agnes Donovan, the superior general of the Sisters of Life, was joined by the Knights of Columbus’ Carl Anderson, Helen Alvare, and Fr. Antonio Lopez, F.S.C.B. to help the pilgrims better understand papal teaching and its impact on the world around them. A second panel discussion included Fr. Jose Granados, D.C.J.M., a leading expert on the theology of the body, along with Project Rachel founder Vicki Thorn and popular chastity speaker and Catholic apologist Jason Evert.
Friday´s line-up at the Love and Life Center will include presentations on the media, entertainment, and prayer. The center will conclude its offerings with a Eucharistic healing procession featuring prayer, worship, adoration, and benediction on Friday night after the Way of the Cross. Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport will preach on the importance and power of the Eucharist and will preside over the procession.
The English-language Love and Life Center has become so well-known around Madrid as the place to find English-speakers, that the embassies of Canada and Australia have set up booths in the lobby of the arena to help their citizens with passport or other problems that may have emerged in their travels.
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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