As I sit in the Madrid airport and wait for my flight to America, I can’t help but to reflect on this week. It feels like a dream that I have yet to wake up from. I experienced things I never would have imagined and accomplished numerous feats that pushed me way out of my comfort zone.
There are a few young pilgrims waiting to board in front of me, which instantly reminds me of the New Jersey Carmelite United group I met my first day here. From their trek on the Camino with Joe to experiencing every aspect World Youth Day had to offer, though I only met them for a short while, they inspired me more than they know. Many were headed off to college and reminded me of my life back then. At that time, I know I was not as brave as they are to travel to another country and explore their faith.
In high school I was fearful of the future. Where will I go to college? What will I do when I grow up? Who am I going to marry? I wish the uncertainty and questioning ended there, but I don’t think it ever stops, which is a good thing. You should never settle for comfortable. That’s something I experienced fully at World Youth Day.
You may not sense it in the videos, but I was incredibly camera shy at the start of the trip. As a kid I aspired to be Katie Couric, but this week I learned that being the face in front of the camera is not easy.
After a week of interviews with pilgrims, priests and nuns, I was beyond excited to be able to play my familiar role as music journalist. Before I headed to Madrid for World Youth Day, Vince, a friend and the first musician I ever toured with, told me Mike Mangione would be in Spain performing. I met Magione a few years ago and after Vince re-connected us I did some research on his new band.
Blown away by his honest lyrics and the talented musicianship of his band, I knew I had to make it to one of their World Youth Day performances. While I´ve been struggling with whether or not music journalism is a wise choice for my profession over the past few months, Mangione put things into perspective. For two years he lived in his van touring the country and faced many struggles along the way.
“People say it´s amazing that you can do it for so long. It´s not amazing. I don´t know what else to do,” he said. “It´s hard. You´re sleeping in a van, you´re sleeping on the floor. You´re eating nothing. You get paid very little but I wouldn´t want anything else.”
This is exactly how I´ve been feeling. I can´t imagine not writing about music and as I explained my situation further to Mangione, he said if there´s ever a moment of complete comfort and stability, we´re in the wrong place.
“The reward of meeting people that connect to what you´re doing — and you experience that together – is far more expensive then any kind of food, money, or hotel room,” he added. “I don´t know what else to do but I think I´m going to continue this for a while.”
Magione told me many of the stories behind his songs, how his faith influences his music, and his thoughts on World Youth Day. He even confessed that he often finds inspiration and writes new material while in Mass. He has spent the past 10 years following his passion regardless of the hurdles. Chatting with him in the Real Madrid soccer …
I´ve never had a conversation with a nun. In all my years of CCD, making my communion and confirmation, the nuns in my parish just seemed too important to talk to. Not to mention, so religious that I´m sure I was fearful of saying something wrong.
As I´ve grown older, I´ve come to realize these preconceived thoughts are very wrong. Nuns are humans just like the rest of us. They question their paths in life, they laugh, they have hobbies. At the end of the day we aren´t that different.
During World Youth Day, I headed to the Vocations Fair to find out more on why some women choose the religious life. Sister Carmen told me of the difficulty she faced when she informed her friends and family of her decision to become a nun. I also chatted with Sister Lucy from Portugal, who said she never planned to be a nun. Both explained to me their daily schedules and made me feel at ease.
When summing up my interviews the past week with priests and nuns to Joe, I compared my experience to previous run-ins with rock stars. They´re normal people just like the rest of us, I don´t know why we all think otherwise.
I haven´t been to confession in 10 years. It´s not that I refuse to go, it´s just something I never thought too much about.
One of the many events on the World Youth Day schedule included the Festival of Forgiveness, a section set aside in Retiro Park where 200 priests are stationed to hear confession. Since I had been conducting interviews all week in and near the park, I really had no excuse not to go.
Toying with the idea in my head for a few days, when the chance came to ask a priest about certain aspects of confession, I jumped at it.
Fr. Emiel Abalahin, O. Carm answered all my questions and concerns and even admitted that there was a time in his life when he avoided confession for 10 years. While the church advises we go at least once a year, he said once a month is even better.
“We all need a place to witness God´s listening ear,” he said. “We need a place to say what´s on our hearts and weighing us down.”
So, with an open heart I went to confession for the first time in 10 years. I was incredibly nervous, sweating profusely and slightly uncomfortable as I knelt to confess, the sun beating down on me. Admitting your faults is not an easy thing, but I felt immense relief once I did.
As I further explained my spiritual journey to Fr. Emiel, he said to me, “I´m glad you´re moving and not just standing still.”
And, that´s what I hope to continue this week during World Youth Day and even after it has ended.
The moment I stepped off the bus in Madrid I was surrounded by a whirlwind of languages. There were people from every country dressed in bright colors, proudly waving their nation’s flag while singing at the top of their lungs. It was unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed before.
I flew to Madrid by myself and wasn’t really sure what to expect. Sure, I knew there would be many religious but I never fathomed seeing hundreds of priests and nuns all in one place. The excitement level in the air was at an all time high and it was hard not to pick up the energetic vibe of the pilgrims while walking around the city.
Wednesday morning, Joe and I headed to the big Carmelite event where I met many of the Carmelite United pilgrims from New Jersey and automatically felt right at home.
Prayers were recited in English, Spanish and Italian before everyone separated into their respective language groups for smaller group sessions. I headed to one of the English speaking groups where passages about “look,” “contemplate,” and “love” were read. The whole process reminded me of my CCD classes growing up and that dreaded moment when the teacher calls on you for your interpretation.
While it took a while for everyone to open up, once we started talking about beauty it all hit me. At the core, we all have the same concerns and insecurities. We don’t want to be judged and we try our hardest not to judge others but there is so much noise and so many distractions in this world.
In a world where the media tells us who to be and advertising tells us what to look like, we’re all struggling with our identities. Why are we always so concerned about what others think of us? God’s opinion is the only one that truly matters and not what classmates, co-workers, or the opposite sex think.
One of the priests present in my small group, Fr. Emiel Abalahin, O. Carm, said it best. “We don’t have to do anything for God to love us. He loves …
Last August, I moved in with my two Jewish roommates and we started writing about our interfaith living situation for the Busted Halo blog, Girls Meet God. Truthfully, I’ve never been one to talk openly about religion and while I was raised Catholic I never really knew the exact answers of why I believe the things that I do. Often, it was just a reflection of what I experienced as a child.
Why do I give up chocolate for Lent? Does going to church every Sunday really make you a better Catholic? Are there coincidences in life, or is it all a part of God’s bigger plan? I’m hoping to find the beginnings of these answers while in Madrid for World Youth Day, but also to discover why the Catholic faith is so important to some and what being Catholic means for people in different countries.
Throughout the past few years, it wasn’t at Mass that I felt God’s presence, but at concert venues, pursuing what I love. That’s where I truly feel connected to my faith. My roommates have told me, “Doing what you love takes a lot of faith.” While I believe this to be true I’m hoping that I can start finding my faith everywhere — not just at a concert venue or interviewing my favorite band — but in day-to-day situations. And this August in Madrid I plan to do just that while talking with other young pilgrims, asking priests and nuns the questions we always wonder but are too afraid to ask, and just being open to the unexpected.
Unfamiliar with the week long international Catholic spectacle known as World Youth Day? Take a quick look at our 2 minute video telling you all you need to know and find out what Busted Halo will be up to in Madrid this August for WYD 2011.
You can download this video here. (Depending on your browser, clicking this link might save the video to your default downloads location or open the video in a new window. You can probably right-click or control-click the link and specify where to save it.)