Friar Reflects on World Youth Day

Jocelyn Thomas Friar News

World Youth Day 2011, in Spain, welcomed 2 million people from around the world, including Raphael Bonanno, OFM, Thomas Conway, OFM, and several young people from Holy Name Province. HNP Today would like to hear the experiences of others from the Province who attended from the worldwide event.

BOSTON — Raphael Bonanno recently returned to St. Anthony Shrine after participating in his first World Youth Day, held last month in Madrid.

The senior friar said that attendance at WYD 2011, a worldwide encounter with the pope celebrated every three years, was on his “bucket list.”

From Aug. 16 to 21, almost two million young people gathered in Madrid for a program that included Masses, workshops, concerts, exhibits, plays and guided museum visits.

The message from the pope, who was there from Aug. 18 to 21, was, according to Raphael, that the Church was alive and forever young. He added, “It was a moment of great hope for the future, in spite of high unemployment and a world debt crisis.’”

“The pope gave 13 discourses, talked to young nuns and young professors at the El Escorial, to 4,500 seminarians in the Cathedral, to the sick and disabled at the Instituto San Jose,” Raphael said, in one of several reports that he emailed to the HNP Communications Office. “He had dinner at the nunciatura with youth from the five continents, thanked and met the 30,000 volunteers, heard confessions of four kids, planted a tree, and even found time to visit some of the 2,000 who fainted from the intense heat.”

“From where I sat, I could not see the pope, not even on TV screen, but we could certainly hear him,” he said.

“I have never been in such a crowd before. Yet everyone got along,” said Rafe. Thomas Conway, director of post-novitiate formation in Silver Spring, Md., said teens came from a vast number of countries. “What I appreciated most was the way all of the country groups walked together. When they passed, they would greet each other enthusiastically.”

Tom, who traveled to the event with a group from the Archdiocese of Washington, said he was very impressed by the piety of the young people and the good will toward one another.

Raphael, who goes by Rafe, stayed at the Provincialate of Castile in downtown Madrid in the parish of St. Anthony del Retiro, a church of 13,000, mostly elderly. The church, he said, reminded him of St. Anthony Shrine, where he ministers.

Rafe said he enjoyed seeing the local churches and experiencing summer in Spain, where temperatures reached 97 degrees.

Visiting Local Dioceses
He also enjoyed visits to various dioceses of Spain. “I went to Villa Real, the tomb of St. Paschal Baylon, patron of the Eucharist and of my 1962 ordination class.” Rafe stayed afterwards to sight-see, including a visit to the Al Hambra.

He added: “The friars were wonderful. Diego, a playful 90-year-old friar, asked me how many languages I speak. When I told him, he said he speaks 24, all dialects of Spanish. God bless.” 

Events were varied, he said. “Besides the great Masses, there were confessions in the Parque del Retiro, five minutes from our house; three new religious films; a rock concert, etc. A living via Sacra with the Pope and a vigil Aug. 20 before the final Mass.”

The closing night was especially significant when two million gathered to hear the pope. “The pope opened the evening with a holy hour with the biggest and most beautiful monstrance I ever saw. The devotion and piety of everyone in attendance were palpable. After a day of high temps, a rainstorm burst on the pope and crowd so that he could not finish his homily. He made a joke about the rain being a blessing as well. Benedict blessed the youth with the host after exhorting them to not be afraid to manifest their Christian identity in the world while respecting others. The youth made a vigil in that place all night long, as is their custom for the last night. The youth chanted ‘Be-ne-dic-to!’”

Reflecting on his Experiences
The night of Aug. 20, 2011 for World Youth Day in Madrid was very special, Rafe said in one of his emails to Jocelyn Thomas, the Province’s communications director. “The one million youth gathered during the week was increased by another million who came for the weekend.”

“The next morning was the farewell Mass. I had to rise at 4 a.m. There were two million youth and 14,000 priests. Another 200,000 could not get in because there simply was no more room. Mass began about 9:30 a.m. with the sun rising and with a pleasant breeze.”

“Of the two million present, about half a million were Spanish,” Rafe said, in one of his emails to Thomas. “People came from over 193 countries. This closing event was the largest Catholic manifestation in Spanish history and probably for all of Europe. The Spanish parishes I saw were full of elderly, with few youth. So this event probably awakened the faith of many of the young.”

“It is challenging to sum up so large an event. I was only one two-millionth of it. Yet I suppose you must judge the tree by its fruits. Two million people can do a lot of good in a lot of places. When I do parish missions, I ask the pastor to choose two or three lay witnesses to speak. Sometimes they are youth who have been to one of the Youth Days. Their witness is always positive and moving.”

rafeRafe concluded: “That was what the World Youth Day was all about: becoming good people, saints, firm in the faith, rooted and built up in Christ Jesus, our Lord, in hope.”

Teens from several HMP parishes attended the event. Among them were Emma Luigard of St. Camillus Church, Silver Spring, Md., who is blogging about her experiences on the church website, and Lauren Baghdo of Assumption Church in Wood-Ridge, N.J., who was featured in several North Jersey newspapers.

— Wendy Healy is a freelance writer based in Connecticut. 

Editor’s note: To submit information or a reflection on World Youth Day 2011, email communications director Jocelyn Thomas.