One year ago, World Youth Day festivities in Madrid, Spain culminated with a Mass with Pope Benedict XVI. With over 1.5 million in attendance, the event marked an opportunity for young adults from across the globe to gather together in celebration of their faith.
Before World Youth Day began, a group of 3,000 pilgrims gathered for Magis – a pastoral experience of Ignatian programs and events for students from Jesuit institutions. Last year’s Magis initiative particularly resonated with Jesuits, their partners and those with an interest in Ignatian Spirituality as it took place in the birthplace, homeland and at the sites where St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, underwent his spiritual conversion which ultimately led to the formation of the Society of Jesus and his writings of The Spiritual Exercises.
Jesuit Father Joe Laramie, recently ordained a priest, was there as a chaperone with a group of pilgrims from Boston College. A graduate student at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, Fr. Laramie looks back at his experience at World Youth Day and what it meant to him personally and for the Church in this piece for National Jesuit News.
Also included below are three video pieces looking back at the experiences of the Magis pilgrims and their Jesuit chaperones at Loyola, Spain, during the Magis experiences and ultimately, World Youth Day itself. You can also take look back by watching all of our videos on YouTube with pilgrims and U.S. Jesuits who experienced this year’s Magis and World Youth Day celebrations.
Every two or three years, on a wide plain outside a big city, the Church is transfigured. I saw it happen in Paris in 1997, in Toronto in 2002 and in Madrid last month. At Christ’s Transfiguration, “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light” [Matthew17:2]. This is why young people came to Madrid last month. To see a transfiguration, and to experience it themselves.
I stood up for the Eucharistic prayer at the final Mass in Madrid. I was so exhausted that I got light-headed as I stood. It was so bright, I could hardly see. I stood behind 14,000 priests. We were all wearing white chasuables and white hats. The pope was 100 yards away, in front of a giant white backdrop, with the sun climbing higher and higher. “El Señor es contigo.” “Y con tu espiritu,” I responded, with the priests, and 1.5 million young people. I was wearing sunglasses, but could almost see better with my eyes closed.
Christ “lead them up a high mountain” before the Transfiguration. I lived in Denver for a few years; it is hard to climb high mountains. You sweat, it’s hot, the air is thin, the rocks slide beneath your feet. Your back hurts. Your pack cuts into your shoulders. There is thunder and lightning. You need a Guide and friends. You can’t climb alone.
Three thousand young people were treated for dehydration, as we waited on the field, under the sun, the day before the Mass. Later, the crowd heard this announcement over the loudspeakers: “There are 23 lost children waiting at area E5. If you lost your child, or if you are a lost child, go to area E5.” Then, at night, a thunderstorm had pounded us. The pope was leading us in a night prayer; two acolytes held a quivering white umbrella over him as the rain blew sideways. The storm destroyed several large tents. These were 50 feet tall, 100 feet wide, with 4-inch steel supports, bolted into the ground. Picture one of those doing a backflip in 40 mph wind on a crowded field. It is a miracle that no one was injured or killed. The rain slowed, the wind stopped. It was quiet. The pope said, “Young people, thank you for your joy! Thank you for your resistance! Your strength is greater than the rain!” We smiled and cried. The 23 lost were soon found, the 3,000 thirsty were quenched. Gracias a Dios!
At the Mass, this was the Transfiguration of the Church. Singing, chanting, praying. Multilingual, multinational. With the flags and the World Youth Day shirts and hats, sunglasses, hiking boots, cameras, sweat, patience, water bottles, dirt, fatigue, chaperones, sleeping bags, and wrinkled maps.
Looking Back at Magis 2011: Part One – Gathering in Loyola Video