“There’s a buzz in the streets right now. It’s mounting, and you can feel it,” said Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation in Canada. “Key instruments in the new evangelization are hosting a very important part of World Youth Day in Madrid, and it’s great to be here.”
As thousands of pilgrims arrived in Madrid Aug. 15, in anticipation of World Youth Day 2011, workers finished construction on the main stage of the Palacio de Deportes, and technicians prepared the arena for more than 40 hours of programming over the next week.
The arena, located in the heart of Madrid, is home of the Love and Life Centre: A Home for English-Speaking Pilgrims. Leading up to and organized around the major World Youth Day events, the site will feature an impressive array of programs on its main stage, including morning Mass and catechesis, dynamic panel discussions and keynote addresses, musical performances and a Eucharistic healing hour.
The venue also includes chapels for Eucharistic adoration and prayer, rooms for meeting and for breakout talks, exhibition halls, an Internet café, food, opportunities for confession, and more.
In addition to numerous staff from sponsoring organizations, the Love and Life Centre is aided by a number of priests and religious sisters who will attend to the spiritual needs of pilgrims.
“I’m looking forward to being a priest for the first time at a World Youth Day, and hearing lots of confessions,” said Father Columbia Maria Jordan, who will also be leading a Eucharistic holy hour with music Aug. 16. A native of Ireland, Father Columba, 33, was ordained for the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in May.
“My grace to say ‘yes’ to my vocation was in Rome [in 2000], and I’ve been to everyone one of them since then,” Father Columba explained. “Although I find myself getting more easily exhausted,” he added with a laugh.
In all, there will be 48 Sisters of Life present at the site.
“The sisters are here to greet the pilgrims, to meet with them and to share with them their own walk with the Lord,” said Mother Agnes Mary Donovan of the Sisters of Life.
“Our dream for this site and our vision is that Jesus Christ and the love of the Lord will be encountered here by all of the young people who come,” she said. “We’re hoping that the English-speaking pilgrims from all over the world will come and that they will feel at home here.”
Assisting in the setup and operation of the site are approximately 250 volunteers, provided by a number of organizations, including the Knights of Columbus, New York Frassati Fellowship of Young Adults, PS98, Holy Cross Family Ministries, the Sisters of Life and the official World Youth Day 2011 organization in Madrid.
One of two dozen young Knights of Columbus volunteering at the site, Robert Smith of Dartmouth College assisted with volunteer registration. “It’s been hectic, but everyone is still smiling. We’re just excited to welcome the pilgrims,” he said.
“It’s been just a flurry and a frenzy of activity as we try to prepare everything, because there’s so much happening behind the scenes,” said Matt St. John, communications project coordinator for the Knights.
According to St. John, the site has capacity for 11,000 pilgrims at once, but organizers expect anticipate as many as 50,000 visitors over the course of the week.
“The beautiful thing about the Love and Life Centre, an oasis in the middle of this great city, is it is a joint effort, and most of this is being led by young adults who are the alumni of World Youth Days,” said Father Rosica, who served as the chief organizer of World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto.
As the centre opens its doors and events kick off Aug. 16, the activities will be broadcast on Canada’s Salt + Light Television Network and on the website wydcentral.org, Father Rosica said.
The Love and Life Centre: A Home for English-Speaking Pilgrims is an official catechesis and youth festival site co-hosted by the Knights of Columbus and the Sisters of Life at the Palacio de Deportes. The site is cosponsored by Holy Cross Family Ministries, Salt + Light Television, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, the Apostleship of Prayer and World Youth Alliance.