Pilgrims from Edmonton's Santa Maria Goretti Parish received a warm Spanish welcome at Days in the Diocese in the city of Antequara.
World Youth Day pilgrims have returned home from a great adventure, with many of them eager to return.
About 500 pilgrims from the Edmonton Archdiocese representing 30 different groups participated in World Youth Day festivities in Madrid, Spain. The event was held Aug. 16-21, but many arrived early and stayed after the closing Mass to explore the country.
Pilgrims from Santa Maria Goretti Parish, including Marianna Stagliano, were among those from three archdiocesan parishes who spoke with the WCR after returning home.
The massive crowds of people from different countries amazed Stagliano. She said every country carried flags and had its own chant as they paraded through the streets of Spain.
"It just goes to show you how many people are passionate about attending World Youth Day," said Stagliano.
"If anything, it was a learning experience for everyone. It made our group closer, and just witnessing how many people were there strengthens your faith, everyone assembling for that purpose of seeing the pope and expressing their religion," said Gina Filice.
Sister Hope Marie Fulkco, Father Joby Augustin and Luciana Floreancig accompanied 11 pilgrims from Santa Maria Goretti, Edmonton's Italian parish. Other than Floreancig, it was the first World Youth Day for all.
Most of them saw the Stations of the Cross as the best part. Each station was an elaborate wood-carved sculpture. During the Stations of the Cross, Salt & Light TV interviewed Daniel Abbott and other pilgrims from the parish.
"All of the sculptures were quite beautiful and it was neat to see that all of them were different. Some of them portrayed Jesus as pale, and others were dark-skinned. The clothing that he was wearing was different, so it was nice to see people's interpretations of Jesus," said Rosa Bruno.
Spain is a nation of martyrs, saints and missionaries that has given the Church such figures as St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Teresa of Jesus and St. John of the Cross.
Pilgrims, accompanied by Archbishop Richard Smith, dash from one event to the next via the Madrid subway system.
With Days in the Diocese, some girls took the Edmonton pilgrims under their wing and showed them around, to learn more about Spanish history and their way of life.
Those who participated in Days in the Diocese were able to know in depth the history and culture of Spain, and have days of communion with Spanish youth. The Santa Maria Goretti pilgrims were shown flamenco dancing and learned traditional Christian songs in Spanish.
"A lot of us came out with the idea of appreciating what we have here in Canada and not taking anything for granted because we do have a really great life where we are," said Bruno.
While still in Spain, some of the young people had already resolved to encourage more youth involvement in the Church. They will soon be giving a PowerPoint presentation in their parish about their experiences.
Floreancig met a pilgrim from Africa who had lost contact with the rest of her group. She cared for her until her fellow pilgrims could be located. She learned that the girl came to Spain with nothing but the clothes she wore. Floreancig took her for lunch and bought her new clothes.
A highlight for Floreancig was Archbishop Richard Smith reaching out to the pilgrims from the archdiocese.
"What was really nice is that the archbishop really made an effort to connect with all of the Edmonton groups," said Floreancig.
"He came for the opening celebration and took part in that, as well he took the train with us from Malaga to Madrid, and passed through the train to talk to all of us. We met up with him later at his catechesis sessions."
Six pilgrims from St. Dominic Savio Parish, grouped with six others from St. Matthew's Parish, ventured to Spain together.
"I've been looking forward to World Youth Day for a long time," said Kiara Smyth, from St. Dominic Savio Parish. "People were talking about it, and it was really neat to finally be there with everyone and with the pope.
"Just seeing that many people all excited about the same thing, excited about God, celebrating our faith was really cool."
The outdoor prayer vigil on Aug. 20 at a Madrid airfield was a highlight for many. Intense heat was followed by a freak thunderstorm, which cut short Pope Benedict's speech.
The focus of many talks at World Youth Day involved evangelization, and the pope's message was about continuing to live out the faith back at home.
"What I brought back from World Youth Day was the idea of evangelization, but also the excitement of World Youth Day," said Smyth.
"At World Youth Day, no one was afraid to show their faith, to cheer for Jesus, to sing and dance in praise. It was so uplifting and contagious, and that energy for Christ is what I want to share here at home."
Maria Araniego is one of a dozen pilgrims from St. Thomas More Parish who went to Madrid.
She also spoke of the sudden thunderstorm. The day had been sunny, with no rain in the forecast. Right before their eyes, just minutes before the pope was to speak, a torrential downpour started, along with thunder and lightning. The pilgrims got keyed up, sang louder, danced around excitedly and cheered for the pope.
Araniego was one of the fortunate few who got to stand near Pope Benedict. Three of her group were chosen to stand by the altar.
This was her first World Youth Day, and it far exceeded her expectations.
"I gained more than I ever thought I would. To be around over two million people, all Catholic and in the same place, it was a great experience," said Araniego. "I was thinking it would be more for fun, like a vacation. It strengthened my faith, not only mine, but the people around me."
While she lived an active Catholic life before going to Madrid, World Youth Day transformed Araniego, and she said she is trying more than ever to cultivate good habits.
She has already recommended WYD to her friends. She would like to recruit some of them to accompany her to the next World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2013.