Local World Youth Day

Pilgrims embrace simple accommodations

Pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas sleep outside on the ground at Parque Tejo during the overnight vigil before the concluding Mass of World Youth Day. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

by Jack Figge
Special to The Leaven

Nobody said World Youth Day would be a vacation. And the accommodations and transit nightmare proved it.

Yet while an adjustment, the simple accommodations made World Youth Day even more memorable.

When the pilgrims arrived in Seixal, they were eagerly greeted by their Portuguese hosts. Some families were in host homes, but most slept on a gym floor, enduring the endless snoring of their 30 roommates.

Pilgrims’ travel bags are piled up in Fátima. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

But pilgrims like Sacred Heart, Ottawa, parishioner Emma Phelps soon found the good in sleeping on a gym floor with no A/C.

“The gym floor wasn’t bad; it was definitely a bonding experience,” she said. “There was a lot of community built by sleeping on the gym floor. It was difficult because there was no A/C and it got super-hot.”

On Saturday, the pilgrims gladly traded the stuffy, hot gym for the cool night air during the overnight vigil at Parque Tejo. But the overnight experience came with its own trials. With 1.5 million other pilgrims, the archdiocesan group struggled to find space to make camp, and when they did, they were packed in like sardines. To make matters worse, the nearby water station began leaking, quickly turning the campsite into a swamp.

“I was not expecting to be in the mud,” said Skylar Neiberger, a parishioner at Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Topeka. “I thought that I was far enough away, and I was sitting on my sleeping bag and soon felt it getting wet. I had to ditch the sleeping bag and just basically sleep in the mud that night.”

Locals wave from their homes in Seixal, Portugal, as pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas walk by on July 31. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

Even though the sleeping arrangements were not ideal, the pilgrims grew to appreciate the simple lifestyle and recognized the ways it influenced their World Youth Day experience.

“The simple accommodations made it easier to be open and experience everything because you are not looking forward to anything at the end of the day,” said Phelps. “The reason you are at World Youth Day is everything you get to do during the day, and sleeping on the gym floor made those experiences so valuable.”

To view the full album of photos from World Youth Day, click here.

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Jack Figge

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