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An opportunity of a lifetime

The rain in Spain poured down on the pilgrims as they sprinted for shelter during a mild hurricane. Despite the weather, more than 1 million young adults flocked to participate in World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid, Spain, last month.

I traveled with a group of nine. Youths flooded the streets dancing, singing and proudly waving their country's flags.

We stood waiting in the street for eight hours for the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI. Just when we thought the heat was unbearable, firefighters rolled out their powerful hoses to cool down the crowd.

My group was only 5 feet away from the pope when he finally passed by.

As we headed back to our hotel, we were not allowed to go to two of the subway stations. We were told there were protesters that were being arrested at one of the stations.

Peter Tremblay, a senior at St. Francis High School, said, "I was at the Sol station, and we had to walk through a group of [protesters]. It was crazy."

We also traveled to the Real Madrid Soccer Stadium for music, confession and adoration.

Later, we participated in a procession through Madrid following the Stations of the Cross. Spain is known for its re-enactment of Jesus' Passion each year, usually during Holy Week.

After getting some shopping done, we began our pilgrimage to Cuatro Vientos, an old airfield and the site of the Papal Mass that would mark the end of World Youth Day.

We met many new people, such as a Palestinian group that told us of the religious and political conflicts in their area. It gave me a greater respect for my freedoms as an American. We enjoyed each group's culture as we talked and sang together.

A mild hurricane hit that night. Tents where the Mass preparations were being made were destroyed, and pilgrims' belongings were swept away. As I crouched beneath an umbrella on a soaked yoga mat, I thought, "This is crazy." I peered out from under my umbrella to see young adults from all nations and languages chanting, "Esta es la juventud del papa" ("This is the youth of the pope").


Rachel Ziarnowski is a junior at Holy Angels Academy.

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