Caitlyn Moran, left, stands with a fellow pilgrim in Lourdes, France, on her return trip from World Youth Day.
In the heat of Madrid, amid millions of pilgrims and locals, I waited in anticipation for Pope Benedict XVI to make his appearance. There was a surge of anticipation. Cheering and singing rippled through the crowd.
Then, all got quiet and the crowd began to disperse.
Surrounded by pilgrims heading elsewhere for the night, I realized that after standing in the Puerta de Alcalá for almost two hours, I hadn’t seen the pope. I wasn’t even aware that he had been there. I had missed him altogether.
Needless to say, I was a little disappointed. After traveling over 3,000 miles, my pilgrimage was not going as expected. But you know what they say, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”
The truth is not every pilgrim has the experience that many of you may have seen televised.
Some pilgrims ended up in alleyways, straining to hear the opening Mass. Some of them got sick and watched the Stations of the Cross on the television in their hotel rooms. Some got turned away from events due to over capacity. And many of us did’t get to see the pope.
On the first day of our catechetical sessions at the Love and Life Site, a music minister asked us to think on the following questions:
Why did you get up this morning?
Why are you here?
What are you looking for?
After World Youth Day had ended, when we had continued on our pilgrimage to Lourdes, a young guide remarked at her astonishment over the amount of people who come to Lourdes every year simply because of one girl who lived more than 100 years ago. Her reflection reminded me greatly of the music minister’s questions and of my World Youth Day experience.
Although all the events are inspiring and seeing Pope Benedict XVI is a definite bonus, they aren’t enough to bring millions of young people from all over the world together. We come together because of one man who lived thousands of years ago.
And being around millions of people, who know about that man, and believe in the same things you do, makes faith contagious. It’s spectacular and overwhelming all at once, and your emotions can never quite catch up to you. You’re just there absorbing it all. And even when things don’t go as expected, it doesn’t matter, because you’re still there.
Now home, I can say that there are many things I do not miss. I do not miss the heat or the food. I do not miss sleeping in a hotel bed or being exhausted all the time.
But, there are many things I do miss. I miss running into groups of pilgrims on the street and striking up random conversations. I miss bursting into song on the Metro. I miss giving out free hugs. I miss the packed-to-capacity Love and Life Site. I miss daily Mass and praise and worship. It’s that sense of connection I miss the most.
Caitlyn Moran is a parishioner at the Church of the Assumption in Galloway and a student at Chester College of New England.