By Kassandra Short and Nancy Ruoff
There’s no place like home, but for the Kansas pilgrims at World Youth Day, the Love and Life Center was the next best thing.
The center, in the airconditioned confines of the Palacio de Deportes, was home to English-speaking pilgrims in Madrid during the World Youth Day activities. On its busiest day, it hosted 20,000 pilgrims.
Several groups sponsored the center, including the Knights of Columbus and the Sisters of Life, a New Yorkbased religious community founded in 1991 by Cardinal John O’Connor with a focus on protecting human life.
When they arrived on the evening of Aug. 16, the pilgrims were treated to concerts by American artists like the crowd-pleasing Steve Angrisano, a Catholic musicianspeaker, and Scythian, a Celtic rock band out of Washington, D.C.
For the next three days, the center was the location for morning catechesis and daily Mass, followed by afternoon breakout sessions that included panel discussions on a wide range of topics.
Each morning, before catechesis, various musical groups would play to wake up the pilgrims and get them charged up for the day ahead. Catechetical sessions featured world-renowned Catholics, like chastity speakers Jason and Chrystalina Evert, coauthors of “Theology of the Body for Teens,” and Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York.
Archbishop Dolan told pilgrims that embracing their Catholic faith would challenge them to see today’s world in a different way, “turned around and upside down,” just as the apostle Peter did when he was crucified upside down in Rome.
He also encouraged the assembly to recognize that the church is sometime sleek and beautiful, and, at other times, bruised and bloodied. But it carries on, just as Christ did.
Several pilgrims who had attended multiple World Youth Day pilgrimages said that the Love and Life Center provided the best catechetical sessions they could recall at a World Youth Day, calling them “meaningful and engaging.” Catechesis sessions ended every morning with Mass, concelebrated by the estimated 200 priests and 30 bishops present.
The center also provided places for reflection and connection, including an adoration chapel and a wireless hot spot.
Adoration and Benediction were held on Aug. 19, after celebrating the Way of the Cross with Pope Benedict XVI. The closing session for the center was Aug. 20, when the American bishops celebrated a Mass for all the Americans prior to the pilgrim walk to Cuatro Vientos for the papal vigil and Mass.