World Youth Day – Mikolaj O’Brien

My name is Mikolaj O’Brien, I’m 16 years old, and I’ve recently returned from World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain. I’m writing the piece as a combination of thanks to the people that so kindly donated money which enabled me to go, but also to share my experiences with you.

Before, spending the 7 days in Madrid, we spent 5 days in the diocese and city of Salamanca, about 200km to the west of Madrid. During these 5 days, our group, The Arundel and Brighton diocese group were split into parishes all over Salamanca, which we would spend the 5 days in. We shared our time in this parish with groups from Italy, Germany and Mexico. On a typical day, we would have mass, be shown around and sights to see in the city by guides, have a meal together then head of to bed. On the last day of our stay at Salamanca all groups from all over the world that were staying in the Diocese of Salamanca went to a nearby town named Alba de Tormes. Here we had an outside mass with everyone, and then had lunch and free time around the park where the mass was held. After this we had a tour of the town, the highlight being seeing the place where St Teresa of Avila was buried.  That same night we had the festival of nations. This was a festival where every nation was had to represent itself by doing an act of some sort to the crowd made up of Pilgrims, this was a fantastic night, and our English group did a medley of Beatles songs!

The next day we travelled to Madrid to start our 7 days leading up to the final world youth day. We arrived at the hotel on Monday about 5, and really just had the afternoon to relax, and sleep of the journey.  Tuesday was also a relaxed day, giving us time to explore Madrid and get used  our surroundings. On Wednesday in the evening was the official opening mass oforld Youth Day Madrid! This filled up 2 whole Plaza’s and a road at least 200 meteres filled up with Pilgrims. This was an unforgettable experience seing for the first time so many people in one place, though this was small compared to what was to come later in the week. On Thursday, the pope arrived, and everyone lined the streets to see the pope, while people in the flats up above threw water down onto the crowds to refresh them, a very welcome gesture!

On Friday in the afternoon was the way of the cross with the pope. People packed the streets along the stations to see how the pope conducted the Stations of the Cross. This time, I actually saw the pope in the flesh drive past in his pope mobile, rather than the pixelated TV image of the pope which we were all becoming accustomed too. As well as this, during this Tuesday to Friday, every morning there was a mass and Catechesis given from Bishops from all over the world, and on one day, given by an Australian cardinal. The Catechesis’ covered important subjects for young Catholics today, educating them in matters of faithfulness, chastity and staying on the right path as young person today.

Then we come to the final World Youth Day weekend, probably the highlight of nearly every Pilgrims World Youth Day. We set of at Mid-Day to Quatro Vientos, the aerodrome where the Vigil with the pope was to be held, and the official World Youth Day mass was to be held on Sunday. On the Saturday we were entertained by live acts performing from all over the world, as well as constantly rushing to the fire trucks around the aerodrome which were spraying refreshing water on everyone! In the evening the vigil began with the pope, though was interrupted by a mini-hurricane which even blew the pope’s skull cap off! After the rain stopped everyone went off to socialize at night in the aerodrome, and eventually everyone reluctantly headed back to their damp sleeping bags. The next morning was the official World Youth Day mass with the pope. It was magnificent to look out and see 1 million plus people all watching the pope, everywhere you looked you could just see people. The pope delivered his message to us saying to never be ashamed of your faith as a young person, and spread the amazing experiences which you have enjoyed  during your stay in Spain.

After this, our whole group proceeded tiredly and drearily back to our hotel, walking from Metro station to Metro station, as each one was packed with Pilgrims. Having left at mid-day from the mass, we got back to our hotel at 5 for a well deserved hot shower and sleep. That evening we had our celebration meal with the Arundel and Brighton group at the hotel. The next day, we all went to the airport to go back to England, though we take back with us all the experiences and good messages we have learned during our time in Spain.

It was an experience I will never forget, and highly recommend to any young people of the Parish considering going. And again, I must thank my parish for the kind and generous financial support which they have given me, and without them I would not have been able to have the fantastic experience which I did.

Mikolaj O’Brien.

Photos – Mikolaj O’Brien
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