An educational and religious opportunity to grow stronger in their faith and closer to God recently took five adults and 14 teenagers from Oakdale’s St. Mary’s Catholic Church to World Youth Day (WYD) in Madrid, Spain. Held every three years in different countries, the international event for Catholic youth attracted approximately 1.5 million people.
“The thing about this trip, it’s not a vacation, it’s a religious pilgrimage,” said St. Mary’s co-youth group leader and trip organizer Debbie Magdaleno. “…The whole point of World Youth Day is to bring (together) youth all over the world and share in our faith.”
Different dioceses throughout Spain hosted pilgrims from around the world. The Oakdale group, which partnered up with five people from St. Michael’s in Stockton and three from Our Lady of Lourdes in Colusa, including one priest, first stayed at the El Carmen parish in Segovia, Spain for several days in simple accommodations alongside youth from several other countries, performing community service and participating in Mass before going to Madrid.
Brittany Costa, a senior at Oakdale High School, said that she was always fascinated by WYD and that she was so impressed by the Pope, and with him being so busy that he takes the time to meet with youth.
“People don’t always reach out to people that way,” she said. “To me, that in itself was a testament to how much love is in the faith.”
Her goal for this trip was to return from it being more independent, spiritually enriched and knowing more about the world and different cultures.
“It was everything I ever could’ve asked for and more,” Costa said. “…Being able to go to a Mass – even not in your language – I was able to see how people celebrate (their faith) in different ways. You can feel the love. Love isn’t (bound by) language, and faith is universal.”
Once in Madrid for the week of Aug. 16-21, the St. Mary’s contingent stayed in a hostel. Costa explained that they started each day with morning prayer, breakfast, and a review of the day’s activities, which may have included a morning Mass, or catechesis session, or conference. After lunch, they would attend either another catechesis, meeting, or conference. They also had a few opportunities to sightsee at some of the churches and museums in the area. In the evening, they attended Stations of the Cross, or a ceremony, or Mass. At the end of the evening their group would have a debriefing meeting about the day and evening prayer. Costa noted that amongst all this, they met people from many different countries and exchanged small gifts such as American flag pins or magnets, bracelets, and some people exchanged currencies.
Hank Walter, also a senior at OHS, was interviewed at WYD about his experience for a show called “Life On The Rock” on the national catholic television network EWTN.
“World Youth Day, it really was the melting pot of the world…” Walter said. “There were people from places I didn’t even imagine religion existed… Even though we came from such different places and cultures, we were all united in our faith.”
He said that initially he had no idea just how big WYD would be because it didn’t get the “hype” the way something like the Olympics would get for an international event. He said he thought they would meet some people and knew the Pope was going to come talk to them, but it turned out to be more than he could’ve ever expected.
“It was uplifting for me as a young person to see what my generation is like around the world,” Walter said.
Magdaleno noted that 194 countries were represented but they’re “all one Catholic Church.”
Among the highlights for Walter, he said that with close to two million people, 100 degree weather and high humidity, one would think that people would be upset or impatient. But that wasn’t the case, he said, everyone was jovial, singing, and dancing and sharing in their faith.
“It’s hard not to change through something like this…You’re around so much, you’re growing and changing constantly,” Costa said, adding that she feels enlightened from the experience and ready for her future.
The Oakdale teens fundraised every month for the past two years to collect the funds needed to take part in the pilgrimage, Magdaleno reported. She said that most of the teens were able to fundraise for the majority or all of their trip package, approximately $3,000 each.
“I prayed a lot,” Walter said about preparing to go to WYD. “God put me on this pilgrimage for a reason… I was called to do this.”
He acknowledged that fundraising for the trip was a big job but said that his fellow pilgrims made the fundraising fun.
“Even though we had so much fundraising to do, we had a lot of catechesis meetings… we tried to keep focused on why we were going and preparing ourselves for it,” Costa added.
A highlight that both Costa and Walter mentioned was the overnight vigil and seeing the Pope at Cuatro Vientos airbase on the final two days. At one point, it was raining so heavily the Pope had to stop speaking. Walter said that everyone was praying for the rain to stop and then it stopped and the Pope returned.
Walter said that’s when it really hit him and said the experience was hard to describe because “you had to be there.” Costa agreed that the weather was terrible but Mass kept going. She described it as persevering through the hardship for their faith.
“To be there was a great experience… It was a magical moment,” Costa said. “A little bit of suffering but such a reward for such a beautiful Mass.”
The group representing St. Mary’s included co-youth leaders Debbie Magdaleno and Rod Leijten, chaperones Peggy Olsen, Imelda Arellano, and Fernando Magdaleno, and youth participants Pablo Rodriguez, Andres Arellano, Alex Rodriguez, Andrew Bishop, Cecilia Rodriguez, Andrea Arellano, Monica Rojas, Brittany Costa, Sara Olsen, Stevie Cordoza, Kyle Jones, Hank Walter, Sandra Rodriguez, and Cody Marchetti.
On the last day of the WYD event following Mass, Pope Benedict announced to the pilgrims that the next World Youth Day will be in Rio de Janeiro.