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.
Welcome to World Youth Day 2011.
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.
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 us first.”
When we stop worrying about everyone else, then we’re able to be our best self and see ourselves in God’s own image, a realization I never would have come to if I wasn´t here in Madrid, and part of that small group at World Youth Day.