Thursday, September 1, 2011

Farewell reflections


As I sit down to write my last blog post it is a bittersweet affair. I have so enjoyed bringing this pilgrimage alive for those of you who followed and will miss rushing to post the latest adventures. But as my sainted mother used to say, "all good things must come to an end."

The thing is ... though the travel is only a memory, I continue to think daily of snippets of our trip together and find an internal shifting taking place that I didn't expect. I'm hoping our kids are experiencing the same. I have wondered this past week how our students have transitioned back into real life as I found it a bit difficult. I have been surprised too to find that every night since my return, I have been having dreams of hiking in our groups down those gorgeous Spanish plaza walks.

I wanted to relay to you the chat I had with a delightful young man from Georgia who shared the flight to Paris with me. He traveled to Spain on his own to witness the papal audience and was able to stay with friends whose mom cooked authentic Spanish meals for him! He had developed his faith basically on his own as his folks were not well churched. The enthusiasm he shared was inspiring and as he spoke I wondered if a vocation was stirring within him.

He was able to be up front by the stage for the papal Mass and showed his outstanding close up photos of the pope from the Sunday Eucharistic celebration. I was so pleased to have had the chance to see the shots after being unable to see any of that Mass for myself.

But the most astounding part of our conversation was when he explained that during his trip he felt he was in desolation and wondered what God had in store for him. He said he continued his faithful journey by attending Eucharistic Adoration, Mass, Confession and catechesis sessions, but to no avail. He still was unable to feel God. Throughout his days in Madrid he began to hear the same message over and over — identify with Christ crucified. He reported that he finally came to understand that his faith wasn't just about the rituals of the Church that he had been performing, but that he was being called to focus his sights on Christ and His promise of redemption.

Wow! What great insight from a young twenty-something. God works in all whose hearts are open to His truth!

I witnessed God's hand in so many situations along our journey and was awe struck several times when various pilgrims approached me to tell their stories of healing and inspiration. (Most I have posted in previous blogs.) I would have loved to hear more stories but group time was limited and as you already know, we were busy with activities and events from sun up to sun down!

My guess is that near everyone on the pilgrimage, from our beloved retired Father Paul Bueter to our 16-year-old high school student, had a touching and memorable moment or two on our trip. "Kingdom moments" they were called. My hope is that those moments will plant themselves deeply in our spirits and come back to us as we continue to seek God. 

So as I recall our enthusiastic send off, the flight prayers for safety, our amazing adventure in the healing waters (and gelato) of Lourdes, St. Ignatius's home at Loyola, the 13th century cathedral of Burgos, our bus trips through the mountainous landscape of Spain, the many walks we took singing through the streets of Madrid, the Mass celebrations in so many ancient churches and cathedrals, catechesis, the metro, meeting so many youth from all around the globe with the same fervor for our Lord, group prayer, waiting for the pope mobile to drive by, the masses of pilgrims that attended the Way of the Cross in Madrid, the outdoor vigil with its hundreds of thousands of pilgrims anticipating the arrival of our holy father, and of course, Pope Benedict XVI himself, I find myself smiling. There is so much more that I will ponder in my heart as the memories rise to the surface in the months to come.

Father Terry shared this website via email and I thought you might want to hear how one of our dynamic speakers at the vocations fair perceived the WYD event. This is Father Barron.

I can't thank you all enough for your steadfast prayers that lifted us up on our journey of faith. Know that you were constantly in our prayers as well. My hope is that you will be as blessed as we have been with a real thirst for our Lord and a deepening of faith as we journey forward.

God's blessings on all and Buenas tardes!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The day we'd all been waiting for — Sunday and the papal Mass


It's been a week since our arrival back in the States. As the memory of that fantastic pilgrimage settles in my heart, witness the day we had been waiting for... Sunday, Aug. 21 — the morning of the papal Mass.

Our day began at 5 a.m. when our leaders woke us in response to a chance to move inside the gates to our assigned space. Apparently, a scout had heard that many who had been inside the gates for the vigil had since departed. 

Miraculously, over night, a truck stocked with voucher food showed up at our campsite and unloaded water and lunches for us. So after handing out bags of food to all our weary pilgrims we gathered to walk a few miles to the original gate that would allow us access to our spot. Still a bit sleepy the excitement began to build as we hiked. 

Unfortunately, when we arrived, the gate was again closed and we were turned away. So after some debate, it was decided that we head back to the hotel via metro. (I think I speak for many of our group when I say I was grateful for the ride at that point!)

When we arrived back at the hotel, we showered and gathered once again for a Mass celebrated by our own Father Matt, concelebrated by Fathers Terry, Tony and Andrew. As I mentioned in a previous post, Father Terry reminded us in his homily that even though we were not present physically during the papal Mass, we were present with the holy father in spirit.

Following Mass we were free to roam a bit in our last hours in Madrid. Some of us took the opportunity to sight see. We took in the Cathedral crypt and were in awe of the ancient tombs juxtaposed to the newly buried. The ornate carvings, statues and archways were magnificent!

And we felt compelled to make one last gelato stop. YUM!

Soon it was time to board our buses that would take us to the Madrid airport. It was a bittersweet farewell. We will forever remember the beauty of the area with its plazas, awe inspiring architecture and foliage. 

Back at the airport between flights there were some creative distractions, including cards, reading and even group hand games (which our sisters took particular delight in.)

We even had the chance to honor one of our own, Laura, who was celebrating her 20th birthday that very day. (Can you tell we were singing to her?)

Our group was divided into three flight groups, with one group delayed and arriving in Paris at 2 a.m. due to more lightening storms. 

But we were up and at the airport early that Monday morning to fly home to our beloved United States.

When we arrived in America I snapped a shot of our tired pilgrims much to the distain of our friendly customs security officer, who promptly yelled at me to "put that camera away!"

We were all so grateful to finally be back on American soil and were anticipating our arrival back home to be reunited with family and friends. Our final bus ride took us to Fort Wayne and South Bend where we were greeted with joy and laughter — and LOTS of hugs!

In Fort Wayne some of the priests offered a Mass of thanksgiving for the pilgrims that remained. We were a tired but happy bunch and all very grateful for the pilgrimage that would certainly bear much fruit in the weeks and months to come.

Tomorrow as my final WYD post I'll share some reflections on the trip.

Until then may our Blessed Mother hold you in her hand.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Our pilgrimage begins in earnest — or — oh my aching feet!


Though I had hoped to give you this information as we lived it, I'm happy now to have decent internet and the opportunity to share these shots with you. So...

This is my memory of the pilgrimage to the vigil...

Our entire group met in front of the hotel on Saturday at 2 p.m. to pray before we began our eight mile hike to the airfield. Everyone was carrying their backpacks filled with overnight goodies. We carried LOTS of water! Photos of Dwenger alum and the entire group were taken.

As we made our way down the hilly streets of Madrid in 103 degree heat we found we were lost. After some twists and turns we found our route again. Part of that journey was up a switch back sort of stair way. Very cool but all up hill!


Along our walk, Father Matt entertained us with his umbrella, while his brother Father Terry balanced his backpack on his head. Our loyal priests were with us every step of the way.

We were fortunate to take some breaks by nearby water sources. One such source was a lawn system where we cooled our feet. Another was a saintly young man who filled our empty water bottles with his hose through a chain link fence. This kind soul filled until we were all satiated, and would not take one euro! God bless his soul!

Many recited the rosary together as we walked. Others sang hymns. The graffiti in Spain is remarkable and we all stopped to admire the work done along the walls that framed our trail. And of course the architecture in Spain had us all wowing!

It was an amazing hike, long and very tiring, but well worth the collective effort as we finally approached the grounds where our beloved pope would consecrate the youth of the world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus that very evening.

We finally arrived at the airfield and were refreshed by fire truck hoses that the men were spraying over the crowd. What a delight!

We were disheartened however to find the gates closed to us. We were informed that our spot had been filled by earlier arriving pilgrims. There was a collective sigh that rose from our tired bunch. But recalling that pilgrimage means meeting hardships head on, we rallied and found a spot outside the airfield along with thousands of others who awaited the pope's arrival.

The skies looked dubious at best, and this after sunshine and 90-100 degree weather all week! So we hunkered down in anticipation of the threatening storm. And so it was that we all gathered together under trash bags, ponchos and anything else that would keep our collective sweaty bodies dry. The lightening that came with the rain was the most harrowing, but our brave Father Drew and the Franciscan Friars all prayed us through the worst of it. It was stirring to hear Father lift his voice higher and louder at each thunder crack! (Sorry this photo is blurred. I was trying to keep my camera dry.)

One young pilgrim commented as the storm blew over that our priests were truly concerned for our welfare and in this for us. That was dramatized poignantly by the scene we all had recently witnessed.

When all was said and done we had moved away from the metal tower we had been near to an outer field to set up camp. Many slept a little on their rafts, while others walked the area in search of food. Oh did I mention that our vouchers were not honored that evening as we were not in our assigned spot. Boy were we hungry!!!!

We were able to view the pope in his consecration speech on big screen that night and were content to know that we were nearly in this holy man's presence.

Tomorrow I'll report on Sunday and all that transpired that day.

Until then, peace!

Group share and random happenings


I am taken back to the day we met as a large group at the hotel, excited to share experiences and gather information about our pilgrimage to the airfield.

The baths at Lourdes were the high points for many of the pilgrims, who said they found a new inner peace they had never experienced before washing in the frigid spring water.

I shared that though I was not thinking of her, I felt my deceased mom's presence at the baths. She had a deep devotion to Our Lady and I commented that she would have loved being there. 

Another said that though those feelings were spectacular, God worked sometimes in our interior without us even knowing it. Her insight was very wise as we continue to grow in faith. Who knows how this pilgrimage will change our lives...

One miracle I can report as an eye witness, still astounds me. One of our young women took a bad fall in the hotel bath in Burgos. She lay motionless in severe pain on the bathroom floor and was eventually helped to bed with an ice pack. She was then given some Lourdes water to drink. After receiving the sacrament of the sick from Father Matt, the pilgrim slept the night. In the morning, though she reported she was sore from the fall, her back pain was gone! She was able to participate in all of the events including the walks for the rest of the trip. God is truly good!

We traveled the city via metro and had some good times doing it. Most days the cars were packed like sardines. However there were rare moments when we could dance a jig in the near empty cars. We also liked to sing about our faith and the pope. No one seemed to mind.

And of course, pilgrims took turns using the internet to check facebook and email home. 

The graffiti was amazing in Spain — and it was everywhere. Our own Laura found her name and couldn't resist this photo op.

Our vigil starts tomorrow. See you then.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Memories of Madrid


Well, here it is — another day. I don't know about the others but I am still trying to catch up. It's been interesting for me to have the time to process the pilgrimage by sharing these photos with you even after the trip has come to its end. Many of the events heightened our awareness of God's mercy and grace in our lives. And the fruit of that awareness will be with us in the weeks to come.

Let's take a look at some of those events—
The FW-SB pilgrims wait eagerly for entrance into the K of C's Love and Life Center to celebrate the American Mass with Cardinal George and Archbishop Dolan.

Archbishop Dolan from New York gave the homily at the Mass. He was an awesome speaker!

A fun spot during the pre-Mass worship music was when the cameras caught our group on big screen! We had some hams in green!

Archbishop Dolan teased our own Deacon Jacob and said he would make a good priest and bishop!

The crowds were unbelievably huge and enthusiastic for the Stations of the Cross.

The WYD cross traversed the city of Madrid during the Stations.
Can you see Bishop Rhoades among the other bishops who concelebrated the American Mass?

Pope Benedict XVI drives by! So exciting!

These happy pilgrims just saw the pope. Have you ever seen bigger smiles?

These puppets drew the crowd's attention.

Following the American Mass Bishop Rhoades took the time to visit with his flock.

Pilgrims enjoyed the music of several bands before Mass.

Frankie was interviewed by the WYD paper and shows us his article. He's famous!!!

See you tomorrow!