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The blog of the Dominican student brothers at Blackfriars, Oxford.

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WYD - a Retrospective

Thursday, August 25, 2011
It's often said in the Order that one should beware of making suggestions lest one be asked to implement them. While this was indeed the case with our Dominican Pilgrimage to World Youth Day (WYD), I have no regrets about having suggested to my Student Master last summer that such a youth pilgrimage would be worthwhile. Because it has been most worthwhile, and very rewarding, and I have really enjoyed organizing the pilgrimage as an act of diakonia.

Acting as convenor of a small committee of friars, and working with the guidance of the Provincial and his Council, from the outset I had conceived of this as a Dominican pilgrimage that would allow us to walk in St Dominic's footsteps and get a feel of his spirit, and to grow in love for his Order and for the Church which it serves.

So it was that our group of 40 youths and 8 friars first visited Toulouse where St Dominic's first community was established in 1214 and said Mass over the tomb of St Thomas Aquinas. From there we proceeded to Silos where Dominic's mother, Blessed Jane of Aza prayed for a son at the shrine of another Dominic, sainted abbot of that great Benedictine monastery. We stayed in Caleruega where St Dominic was born, a beautiful and tranquil village where the humble spirit of the holy De Guzmán family of Caleruega still imbues the air. Here, we prayed by the site where his brother Blessed Mannes attested that St Dominic was conceived (!), and we drank from the well known as St Dominic's well, praying for vocations to the Order. And then we moved on to Valladolid where we celebrated Mass in the Dominican church that was once home to Las Casas and Victoria, the great 16th-century Dominicans whose teaching and labours gave rise to the concept of international law and human rights. This part of the pilgrimage has proven to be very popular; some wanted to linger in St Dominic's country, and we all treasured these few days before the busy-ness of Madrid to spend time together as a group. Outside San Pablo in Valladolid

During this part of our pilgrimage in which we travelled by coach, we also sang the Divine Office using the chants sung in Oxford, and celebrated Mass with music from the Dominican Gradual. Many pilgrims commented on how much they enjoyed the liturgy and preaching, which are important elements of any Dominican pilgrimage. Equally important is the time spent together in recreation when long discussions and hearty camaraderie can take place. The bars of Caleruega and Valladolid were pressed into service for this aspect of our pilgrimage.

In Madrid itself during the World Youth Days, we endured intense heat, cold showers, concrete basketball courts on which we slept under the stars, lashing rain, summer storms, lightning, and being spat upon by anti-WYD protestors. But each of these penitential elements only seemed to strengthen the group, and in whatever hardships we experienced, we pulled together and became closer as a group. It seems that we had really taken to heart the words of our Pilgrimage patron saint, St Vincent Ferrer, who called for "Penance, penance, penance". And from the start, with a sermon preached in London that reminded us that ours was not a vacation but a vocation calling us to walk with Christ, we made our WYD journey in a real penitential spirit as pilgrims. And so we were prepared for the hardships of 3 overnight coach journeys, having to wander the hot streets of Madrid from 10:30am - 10:30pm, and sitting in unshaded spots on the road waiting to glimpse the Vicar of Christ.

The Papal MassJesus Christ. He is the reason for our pilgrimage, and none other. We came as pilgrims in search of Truth. The sandy grounds of Cuatro Vientos and the baking hot streets of Madrid are symbolic of the deserts in which we have wandered, and now we were called out of the desert to seek the life-giving streams of Christ's Word. And we drank deeply of the wisdom, the aqua saptientiæ that flowed from the catechesis we received from various bishops, and above all, from the Holy Father, Benedict XVI. Indeed, the waters of life flowed so freely that at the WYD Vigil with the Pope the heavens opened and poured down rain. As the Pope said to the 2 million enthusiastic youths gathered at Cuatro Vientos: "With rain the Lord has sent us many blessings". And clearly, this was a time of many graces and blessings for us.

During these weeks, whenever people commented on the organization of the pilgrimage, I often referred to myself as a "control freak" who planned for every kind of contingency. But in fact, I knew that no one could really be prepared for WYD. And this is what I love most about a pilgrimage like this - it is a microcosm of life, of our journey home to God; a journey which we cannot control, or manipulate, or plan. We have to trust, and believe that the One who has called us is faithful, and will provide for us. He is our viaticum, giving us strength and hope for the journey, and drawing us forward with the attraction of love for truth, goodness, and beauty. And that, I think, is what I learnt on this pilgrimage: to trust in God's providence, for he is good and always faithful to those who hope in him.

Because again and again God provided for us. While I fretted about where we would find food for 48, we always found what we needed, whether it was lasagne from a new hotel in Caleruega, or burgers from McDonald's several miles from Cuatro Vientos. In Silos, a monk came and offered us a private tour of the cloister and crypt at a time when they are normally closed. All week I had worried about the Vigil which would have obliged the group to sit in an open field with no shelter under the intense Spanish sun for up to five hours. But then at the last moment a Dominican sister whom I had met years before in Manila offered us hospitality so that we could shelter from the heat of the day in her convent school rather than run the risk of heatstroke in Cuatro Vientos. As a result of this delay, we afterwards encountered the papal motorcade, and saw the Holy Father in his popemobile. Previous attempts that involved vigils of up to five hours to catch this glimpse of him had failed, and now, when we did not expect it, God provided the opportunity.

So many more experiences could be recounted here but in the end perhaps only one is necessary. That is our experience of faith, and the theme of this WYD is that we should be rooted in Christ, and "firm in the Faith". So it is that we have had faith in a God who provides, but we've also experienced a vibrant faith exhibited in the millions who thronged Madrid singing, dancing, chanting, celebrating, and praying. These blessed World Youth Days in Madrid, we saw the joyful faith of our fellow young Catholics, we celebrated our faith with the 35,000 priests who had come to celebrate the sacraments with us, and in our inmost hearts, I know that the gift of faith that first inspired each of us to go on pilgrimage has been reinvigorated too by the witness of so many. For it is as a group, in communion with Christ and his Church that our faith grows.

So, my dearest hope is that our group will now form the nucleus of a Dominican Youth Movement in England and Scotland that will root us firmly in the faith, and strengthen us to be preachers to our peers in the spirit of St Dominic. But I know better than to plan for this. I entrust this dream in prayer to God. And maybe one day I'll even dare to suggest it to my superiors!


* * * * *

For another account written by one of our young pilgrims, visit his blog.

Pope Benedict's inspiring speeches and homilies are online here.

Photos can be found here, and also here, or on our WYD Facebook page.



Lawrence Lew OP

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