World Youth Day - Bilbao/Madrid 2011

It is now 3 weeks since we got back from World Youth Day in Spain and I think I have just about recovered! It was a tremendous experience, made all the more special because our group were so wonderful. It consisted of 18 young people, two brothers including myself and brother Francis and a good friend and youth worker from Liverpool. The youngsters included pupils from our school here in Southampton, former pupils of mine from our school in Liverpool where I worked until two years ago and young people from Lymington in the New Forest. It was wonderful to see the different members of the group get on so well. Firm friendships friendships were made that I think will endure. Indeed some of the Southampton pupils have been to visit the Lymington members since we got back.

The actual trip itself consisted of a week spend in Bilbao (N.W. Spain - Basque region) as guests of the Bilbao diocese and a week in Madrid where the other 1.5 million or so pilgrims congregated. In both cases we stayed on sports hall floors of large secondary schools run by Brothers from my congregation (De La Mennais Brothers). Having help "on the inside" as it were certainly helped. Indeed, some of the young Spanish "voluntarios" in each place had been to our small youth gathering for Brothers' pupils in Spain, France and England that we held in Liverpool at Christmas 2008.

Here is a response that I wrote on a Catholic Herald website comment thread, in response to an article by someone who focused on the "negative" aspects of that person's WYD experience:


I sympathise with the negative comments... yes, lots of things could have been done better... but I also agree with the fact that anyone knowingly going to an event where between 1mill. + 2mill. people are expected should be prepared for hiccups. My main gripe was with the choice of venues for the opening Mass, Papal welcome + Way of the Cross. In Cologne 2005, the opening Mass took place in 3 venues simultaneously (Bonn, Dusseldorf + Cologne)... we were in Bonn and it went brilliantly. In Madrid there was mayhem on the streets... no sound, no loos, no translations on the radio... we managed to storm a single small temporary stand a block away from the "main stage" and at least had seats. Things improved thereafter, inc. police security, road closures, etc...

As regards the final weekend, we took the decision to not do the pilgrimage walk and go straight there by metro after breakfast, arriving in our allotted zone at 11.20a.m. We had been gazumped by those pesky Italians in 2005... not this time. The fire engines hosing us done was an inspired idea, a Godsend. Our group thoroughly enjoyed the experience (we had 6 out of our 21 as young as 14 = 6 girls. A De La Mennais Brothers group from our schools in Southampton + Liverpool) and wished the whole thing could have gone on longer.

Anyone who expected to arrive after 5pm on the Sat. and simply waltz into their zone was being incredibly naïve, no matter the assurances given by the organisers that their places would be reserved. I must say that the police + volunteers near us were absolutely brilliant at keeping out of our zone anyone who didn't have the correct pass. Good thing too, as we were then able to squeeze in a dozen or so of the Westminster diocese group late on who did have the right passes.

So, in my opinion, the positives far outweighed the negatives. To give you a good idea of how much our youngsters seemed to enjoy themselves, just have a look at this selection of photos from the trip:




Jordan being interviewed by Spanish TV during our first day staying in Bilbao (the day before official activities began, hence the beach location!).



After the beach, a visit of the world famous Guggenheim contemporary art gallery.



Lunch in Guernica near Bilbao, site of a massive Nazi (German + Italian) bombing raid in 1937 in support of General Franco's Spanish Civil War campaign. Br. Francis demonstrating his dancing skills... no, actually he is re-enacting how he managed to accidentally kick a busker's hat full of money about 50 yards along an underground metro corridor! 



Some of the team relaxing in central Bilbao one evening.







A demonstration of Basque sports. Here the new Olympic sport of tree trunk chopping. 



Enjoying the dancing routines provided by our South Korean friends.




Saying goodbye to Erik (front-centre) our wonderful guide + friend in Bilbao.



Making new friends in Madrid.



The Mass to open the final 5 days of activities in Madrid: the crowd 1/4 of a mile away from the altar... joyous mayhem!!



Evening praise + worship in English at a Madrid concert arena. Uplifting + great fun.



Lining the street to see the Pope drive past after arriving at Madrid airport.



At the England + Wales National Office for Vocations stall at the Vocations Fair, where I volunteered to work for 2 afternoons during the Madrid week.



In the pleasantly air-conditioned Madrid metro.








Cuatro Ventos aerodrome for the final weekend with about 1.5 million other young people (prayer vigil Sat. night, Mass Sunday morning, both with the Pope).



An improvised shelter to get some respite from the intense heat (up to 45C in the shade!)






Myself and Br. Francis.



Making new friends.






Heading for home...



:-)



The Team Win formation backpack carrying squad!!





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