Joy and hope. These words characterized the experience of hundreds of thousands of young pilgrims in Madrid, as they participated in various liturgies, celebrations, catechetical programs and other World Youth Day activities.
“It’s just the joy of being with our shepherd, the shepherd of the Catholic Church, our Holy Father. It’s the joy of being young. It’s the joy of being Catholic. It’s the joy of being all together and remembering that we are a universal Church,” said Christel Sonnekalb, a regional director of operations for World Youth Alliance.
An organization that trains young people to help change public policy and culture to affirm human life and consists of over 1 million members from more than 100 countries, World Youth Alliance is one of the cosponsoring organizations of the Love and Life Centre, hosted by the Knights of Columbus and the Sisters of Life at the Palacio de Deportes in central Madrid.
“I’m so happy this was organized, because it gives the English speakers the possibility to gather at one place,” said Sonnekalb. “So you might have an Australian sitting next to you, a Canadian, a South African, a Malaysian. It’s just a very exciting experience.”
“We’re finding young people that are excited about human life and the promotion of intrinsic human dignity from conception to natural death,” said Sonnekalb.
CarolyneNkwihoreze, a native of Rwanda who now lives in Kenya, was also among those representing World Youth Alliance. Although she is not Catholic herself, Nkwihoreze said that being surrounded by so many Catholic young people who are excited about her faith has got her thinking.
“I admire how others here respect their religion, and I am becoming interested in the Catholic Church,” she said.
A fellow African named OnyekachiOparaji, a student from Nigeria, also made his way to the Love and Life Centre after learning about World Youth Day and the English-language site at a Knights of Columbus website.
“I’m so happy today. You can see everyone chanting, joy spread around, love in the youth,” said Oparaji. “We are given the opportunity to see fellow youth from different parts the world and enjoy the freedom of relationships that is found in Catholicism.”
Jerome Smith, a member of the Young Order of Malta, a Catholic apostolate in Australia, said, “Seeing young Catholics from all over the world inspires me and gives me hope.”
His group led a group of 12 young Australians with intellectual disabilities to World Youth Day and spent the afternoon at the Love and Life Centre Wednesday afternoon. In addition to listening to main-stage talks, they spent some time in prayer at the site’s Blessed John Paul II adoration chapel.
“There are a lot of wonderful people here praying for the needs of the world,” Smith said. “We have been praying for our pilgrims, who don’t have the same cognition as you and I, but at the same time, they understand the love of Christ. … I felt that this afternoon — a real acceptance for these people that often aren’t accepted by society.”
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