Singapore pilgrims pose with pilgrims from other countries.
DAY 1 (Aug 11): We arrived in Barcelona at about 8am. Renting three vans, we drove to Xaloc School, and made a quick stop to dump our luggage before heading straight to Basilica de la Sagrada Familia.
I marvelled at the genius of Gaudi, where each detail is carefully constructed in Christian symbolism. We then sauntered down the famous street of La Rambla in the afternoon, where we saw many of the famous statue-performing artists.
Day 2 (Aug 12): We visited the Oratory of Our Lady of Bonaigua which contains the remains of Montserrat Grases, a teenager who died of bone cancer at the age of 18 in March 1959. Her gentle and heroic acceptance of her painful disease led to her cause for beautification, which started in 1962.
Seeing her photos reminded me of the many youths I saw here in Spain, and I wished that many would be touched by her story.
Our next destination was Santa Maria de Montserrat, a Benedictine abbey in Catalonia. The famous Virgin of Montserrat (the Black Virgin) is Catalonia’s favourite saint, and her statue is located in the sanctuary of the Mare de Deu de Montserrat.
There were already hundreds of WYD pilgrims queuing to venerate the statue, and we joined in, waiting in line for hours.
The spirit of WYD was awakening at that time, we could see many international pilgrims singing and waving their flags.
Day 3 (Aug 13): We arrived at the major Marian shrine of Torreciudad. The original shrine dates back to the 11th century, and there was already a strong devotion to Our Lady of Torreciudad since then.
Day 4 (Aug 14): In the morning, we attended the WYD Commissioning Mass for local pilgrims celebrated by the local ordinary, Bishop Alfonso Milián Sorribas of the Diocese of Barbastro-Monzon. He was delighted to see us, coming from a faraway country.
We then drove to Zaragoza, where we went to the Claretian Museum of Martyrs. I listened with a heavy heart to the story of the martyrs being told by one of the Claretian seminarians there. This experience underscores the brutality of the Spanish Civil War, especially after seeing the bones of the 51 seminarians and priests killed there.
Day 5 (Aug 15): We visited another major Marian shrine dedicated to our Lady of the Pillar, Patroness of Spain, in Zaragoza.
Day 6 (Aug 16): Arriving in Madrid, I felt the Spirit come alive through the thousands of pilgrims I saw during the Opening Mass. One of our pilgrims, Mr Mark Tan, 25, said, “Indeed, never have I felt that alive!”
I was also interviewed by Radio Vatican (http://www.radiovaticana.org/en1/articolo.asp?c=513023) on my faith journey. The interview was picked up by a variety of Catholic and secular news agencies.
Day 7 (Aug 17): We took a side trip to Avila, birthplace of the famous Carmelite, St Teresa of Avila. Seeing her relics gave me a sense of connection with the Carmelites in Singapore in the Church of Sts Peter and Paul.
We then rushed down to Palacio Vista Alegre, where we met the Prelate of Opus Dei, Bishop Javier Echevarria Rodriguez, together with about 10,000 WYD pilgrims. He told us to ask for spiritual fruit from WYD.
Day 8 (Aug 18): We celebrated Mass at a chapel on Level 33 of Torre Espacio, the highest chapel in a building in Madrid.
We were then privileged to have a short session with Mr Ignacio Vicens, chief architect of the massive WYD main stage areas. The WYD setting “will be young, bright and modern, and will have one main objective: to highlight the presence of the pope among the over one million young people expected in Madrid”, he said.
In the evening, we went to the centre of the city called Cibeles, where the main WYD events in the city would be held. That day, the pope arrived and a welcoming ceremony was held there.
The crowd roared in excitement as the popemobile passed by, with many clicking away on their cameras or waving flags.
Day 9 (Aug 19): This morning, we attended a catechesis at Parroquia de Santa María la Blanca in Alcorcón. We were taught by the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, head of the Church in England and Wales. The catechesis was animated by the Jesus Youth from India who did an excellent job in rousing the crowd with their charismatic style.
In the evening, we attended the Way of the Cross at Cibeles. The meditations were on the problems of the world’s youth.
Pilgrims in sleeping bags at the Cuarto Vientos Air Base before the start of the Final Mass.
Day 10 (Aug 20): We visited El Escorial in the morning, a monumental UNESCO World Heritage site.
In the afternoon, we made our way to Cuarto Vientos Air Base, where the vigil and final Mass would be held.
Most of the surrounding roads within 2 km were closed, and all pilgrims had to make at least a two-hour trek to their allocated sites in the 40-deg-C heat. Relief came in the form of fire trucks that sprayed us with water and I was delighted to stand in front of the hoses.
It was almost 3pm when we reached our designated area. Songs and entertainment made the waiting bearable under a scorching sun.
The pope arrived at about 8.30 pm. Soon afterwards, black clouds and lightning arrived and he had to stop speaking at times.
Despite attempts to shelter him with umbrellas, his clothes and the text of his speech were drenched.
After a few minutes in which everything stopped except the cheers of the crowd, the pope said, “Young people, thank you for your joy! Thank you for your resistance! Your strength is greater than the rain!”
Another unforgettable experience that evening was the pope’s long silence before the Blessed Sacrament during Eucharistic adoration. How that silence impressed everybody is difficult to explain. But it is not every day you see two million people in such intense prayer, which also brought tears to quite a few.
My other memory of the vigil was the pope saying, “Guard the flame which God has lit in your hearts tonight. Never let it go out, renew it each day, share it with your contemporaries who live in darkness and who are seeking a light for their way”.
Later that evening, pilgrims wandered around chatting and making new friends. Some gathered in groups to sing while others prayed silently before the Blessed Sacrament in tents.
Brazilian representatives celebrating on stage after the pope announced that the next WYD will be held in Rio de Janeiro.
Day 11 (Aug 21): The final Mass was a culmination of WYD events, where the pope sent us all into the world to be “firm in faith, rooted in Christ”.
As some of the Communion distribution tents were destroyed by the storm the night before, communion points were reduced during the Mass and some were unable to receive the sacrament. Our group was one of them.
The pope said, “Your friends will want to know how you have changed after being in this lovely city with the pope and with hundreds of thousands of other young people from around the world. What are you going to tell them? I invite you to give a bold witness of Christian living to them. In this way you will give birth to new Christians and will help the Church grow strongly in the hearts of many others.”
His words resounded strongly in my heart, and I feel the obligation to bring this joy I have to others that I meet back in Singapore