Madrid is packed to the brim with over a million pilgrims from around the world, and for those of us here, this is not just a number but something that we experience anywhere we go with jammed subways, bottlenecks while trying to walk on staircases, and restaurant lines that extend around the block.
Nearly three thousand of us are sleeping on floors at a particular local high school, which meant that nearly three thousand of us could not flush the toilet or take a shower on our first morning because of the spike in water use and the resulting drop in water pressure.
When asking others how they are, the most common response I have received is some version of 'great, but overwhelmed.'
Despite the inconveniences, it is exactly the bigness of this event to which many are drawn. Even though people heard the numbers of people expected to be here for World Youth Day, it is an entirely different experience to be surrounded -- oftentimes literally, especially when traveling in the metro or attending the bigger events -- by people who share the same faith.
Still, even when knowing that the bigness of events like a Mass with the pope and a million and a half other people likely played a principal role in motivating people to come to Madrid, from my experience it is oftentimes the 'little' experiences that make a much larger impact and are the most memorable moments.
While those protesting World Youth Day made world headlines yesterday -- despite the fact that 300 times that number of people are attending World Youth Day -- I was struck by conversations with some local Madrid residents that will not show up in any pictures in the press. While stopping on a bench and taking out my map, a young man and woman -- likely the same age as some of those protesters -- went out of their way to ask if I needed help and showed me exactly where I needed to go. While heading home after an exhausting day, the middle-aged woman sitting next to me shared with me her embarrassment with the protesters and conviction that this does not represent her city and also expressed that she would pray for me and the others attending this week.
Young people I've talked to have said little about the opening Mass attended by thousands but have not stopped talking about their new friends from countries that they previously would not have been able to locate on a map.
World Youth Day is big. Really big. But amidst the crowds and the inconveniences, it also has been an opportunity for many little but oftentimes unforgettable moments.
WATCH POPE BENEDICT XVI ARRIVE IN MADRID:
THE BBC REPORTS ON WORLD YOUTH DAY PROTESTS:
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