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Michael Rossmann, SJ Headshot

World Youth Day: Seeking Jesus on the Crowded Streets Of Madrid

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"Can we receive Jesus?" "Let's go!"

While events had already been underway for much of the day, World Youth Day officially opened last night with a Mass in downtown Madrid attended by hundreds of thousands, and young people's desire to find Jesus is on full display here.

Despite arriving an hour early, my group -- along with every other person I talked to -- was forced to find space on closed-off streets blocks away that fortunately were strewn with monstrous screens showing the liturgy but inconveniently not accompanied by audio. Despite not being able to hear anything going on and facing distractions like passing vendors of cold beverages, I was moved by the eagerness of young people who simply wanted to connect with Jesus and the experience of World Youth Day and would not let other things get in their way.

Some resourceful pilgrims brought out radios or quickly downloaded apps to turn their smart phones into radios and tuned into broadcasts of the events; some even tried to give a running translation of the homily to their non-Spanish speaking or non-radio-holding friends.

Receiving the Eucharist was yet another challenge for pilgrims spread across various city blocks packed to the brim. Immediately after one of the students in my group asked if we could receive Jesus and try to walk in the direction of the altar in order to find a priest distributing communion, I linked backpacks with the 25 others from my group and walked in a train, dodging various other trains of young people trying to do the same thing, nuns in habits of all colors, and a dizzying array of flags from all over the world.

We happened upon the very last priest who was still distributing communion and who was being yelled at by a Spanish volunteer to stop because he was supposed to have concluded much earlier. This priest, however, was eager to give Christ to those who were equally eager to receive him. Several of those from my group, including the student who first asked if we were allowed to fight our way in order to try to receive Jesus, were seemingly the very last ones to receive the Eucharist at the entire celebration.

After receiving communion, this same student smiled, turned to her friend immediately behind her, and gave her a high five. Mission accomplished.

The energy of over a million pilgrims seeking Jesus is palpable here, as is the joyful encounter with Christ that is taking place at huge events like this outdoor liturgy, hundreds of celebrations and meetings on all sorts of topics, and the encounter with others from around the world who come from very distinct places but who share the same faith.