“Vale La Pena!”

(Marie Relucio, CFC Singles for Family and Life)

A WYD hang-over – that’s what this is.  It has been 3 days now since I left Madrid, but it still feels like I’m in World Youth Day 2011.  There were just too many beautiful experiences.  When you have had one of the best two weeks of your life and you shared that with over a million delegates from all over the world, you will understand why a part of me just did not want WYD to end.  It was truly a joy that is unspeakable.  There were many challenges along the way, but as they would say in Spanish:  Vale la pena!  (It is worth it!). Indeed, it was all worth it when I remember these: 


Vigil with Pope Benedict XVI at Cuatro Vientos (Aug 20)

This was the highlight of my WYD experience.  Just when the Pope greeted us all “Queridos amigos”, it started to drizzle, then it rained.  Suddenly, a thunderstorm was upon us, and this was supposed to be the peak of the summer season in Spain.  But not even the storm could stop the 1.4 million delegates from clapping and cheering on the Pope.  To see him onstage, staying with all of us, in the middle of the storm, gave us every reason to stand our ground and stay firm in our faith.  Then the miracle happened.  The rain just stopped, and suddenly, everything was calm and cool, as if to give way for all of us to proceed with the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  The benediction was a truly sacred moment.  How over a million people can stay absolutely silent while gazing at Jesus was another miracle to behold.  Only God, His awesome presence in our midst, can put to peaceful silence the hearts of people.  It was a true encounter with Jesus for me as He spoke powerfully in my heart in that moment of adoration.  Vale la pena!


Alcorcon (Aug 15 – 21)

Alcorcon in Madrid was home for the CFC-FFL delegation during the WYD proper.  We stepped out of comfort zones and stayed in a gym together with hundreds of other delegates from other countries.  We lined up our sleeping bags and placed our luggages on the side.  No private bathrooms here.  Just shared shower areas.  For the first time, I used my bathing suit as my bathing suit literally, and not a swimsuit.  My malong was my dressing room.  My jacket became my pillow.  Four hours of sleep would be a luxury.  When I remember how good the entire day on every day has been, all thoughts of discomfort just go away.  WYD is a pilgrimage, not a vacation, so I cannot complain.  Vale la pena! 


Long lines, long walks, long hours under the sun.

These describe most of our day everyday in Madrid.  We lined up to take a shower, to use the toilet, to brush our teeth, to get our food, to take the bus, to get out of very busy crowd, etc.  We walked and walked and walked to get to the next train or bus station, to find a place to eat or to rest, to reach the site of the next WYD activity, to meet up with the rest of the delegation, to find a good spot to catch a glimpse of the Pope.  All of these walking are done under the heat of the sun which is up from 8am to 9pm.  At its peak, temperature can reach 42°C.  I’m darker, but so what? Vale la pena!  


Eucharist.  Eucharistic celebrations at WYD are the best!  It was amazing how you can celebrate the Holy Mass in so many different languages, with people from 137 different countries, and still witness the same greatest miracle and receive the same Jesus.  It was also a beautiful affirmation of the faith to see so many cardinals, archbishops and priests leading us in the catechetical sessions and the celebration of the Holly Eucharist.  Sometimes, it was difficult for many to understand the homily when it was in Spanish, but I believe the grace of the sacrament can never escape us despite that, and that is why … vale la pena! 


La buena gente de Sierra de Fuentes (the good people of Sierra de Fuentes).

August 9-15 are our unforgettable Days in the Diocese (DID) of Coria-Caceres, specifically in our host Parish – Sierra de Fuentes.  The parish priest – Padre Jesus was literally a Jesus encounter for our SFL subgroup.  He was a true Father for all of us, and we truly felt the warmth of the people, especially the youth, who welcomed us and worked hard to ensure that we all have a meaningful experience in the diocese.  We visited “ermitas” which means chapel (not the red-light district as we know it in Manila).  It was here I had my first taste of authentic Spanish cuisine – paella, churros, gazpacho and who can ever forget our favorite everyday “baon” – bocadillos!  We taught “Todopoderoso” and  “Gloria, Gloria Dios” and some Tagalog words to the youth.  Thank God for LatAm mission that I learned some Spanish to help us communicate with all the kind people of this parish.  In just 7 days, God gave us family and friends in this part of the world.  So, even if we had to be oriented that when in Spain, breakfast is at 10am, lunch is at 2pm, and finally dinner is at 10pm, and that they eat rice (paella) only on Sundays … vale la pena!


Amazing Race-Survivor adventure

It was not easy mobilizing 39 CFC-FFL delegates who probably wanted to do 39 different things at the same time.  It was an amazing race alright when you consider that over a million delegates were flooding the city of Madrid all over. The winning “survivor” lines:   “Run!”  “Check your buddy!”, “Stop!”, “Kapit!” (Hold on!)   We could not predict if all 39 people will have no problems with their plane or bus ticket or with the immigration or with the airport inspection.  We had our moments of panic – somebody’s missing, something got stolen, catching the last trip, or being caught up at the rush hour at the metro.  But we survived all of these, thanks to the great missionary spirit of our CFC-FFL delegation and the angels that we met and who accompanied us everywhere to help us.  There were too many miracles that happened to us each day of our pilgrimage.  Vale la pena! 


Puerta de Alcala (Aug 18)

The Pope was arriving that day in Madrid and we want to get the best spot to see him.  So there we were at Puerta de Alcala as early as 1:30 pm.  We got the best spot alright – at the very frontline, just behind the fence.  The Pope wasn’t due to arrive until past 7pm.  And the temperature was at 41°C.  There we were under the heat of the sun, standing for six glorious hours as every corner became filled up with people.  Volunteers were spraying water on us from time to time so we don’t suffer from heatstroke.  So we got wet, we got dry.  I must have drank several liters of water.  Despite all the sunblock, the shades and the cap, six hours of scorching heat is still six hours.  Then Pope Benedict arrived in a popemobile.  He stepped out of the car to greet the dignitaries and the youth representatives at the Puerta de Alcala.  He was only about 40 meters away!  And he waved at us.  I saw the Pope!  My first live encounter with a Pope – His Holiness himself!!!  It was so much more than I had hoped for.  Thank you God!  If I had to wait another six hours under the heat of the sun for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the Pope in person, I would! Vale la pena! 


El centro de JMJ – Madrid! (The Center of WYD – Madrid!)

It’s a city that is both historical and sophisticated.  Stepping into Madrid is like entering into a museum, as if everything is a piece of art – Cibeles, Plaza Mayor, Palacio Real, Sol, Alcala, etc.  You can never get tired of taking pictures or just staring at the details of the artwork – paintings, architecture, sculptures, etc.  I’m no art enthusiast, but it was truly a beautiful city.  WYD was not just a spiritual pilgrimage, but it was also a cultural experience for me.  I did not had the chance to see everything Madrid has to offer, but the few I have seen have truly impressed me.  And when you discover a haven like the Principe Pio station where you can eat rice meals, Burger King, KFC or Mcdo, you know it’s the place to be!  Vale la pena!


Nuestra Senora de Fatima  (Aug 13)

The opportunity to go to Portugal and pray to Our Lady of Fatima at the very site of her apparition was the best bonus of this WYD pilgrimage.  I never expected this, until ECY confirmed it a few days before our departure date for Spain.  God bless the Diocese of Coria-Caceres for arranging this side-trip for us before the WYD proper.  I knew the moment I saw a glimpse of the Basilica that I will be walking on holy ground.  The presence of the Blessed Mother filled the entire place and this has brought me a lot of peace and comfort.  That I was able to hear Mass and say the Rosary in Fatima, to pray for the intentions of family and friends, to see the tombs of the shepherds – Francisco, Jacinta and Sister Lucia, to witness the devotion of thousands of pilgrims, and best of all to see and enjoy the presence of Our Lady and Blessed Mother – these are the things that made my day perfect.   It was a truly long day, but … vale la pena!  


Assembly of CFC-FFL members (Aug 20)

Thanks to WYD, we had the chance to be reunited with co-missionaries on foreign mission – Joey (Peru), Iyam and VL (Malawi), Eloi (Singapore) and meet brothers and sisters from Canada, U.S.A., South Africa and from many different countries in Europe for a CFC-FFL “international” assembly.  To be able to worship together, to inspire each other with our sharings and talents, and to enjoy fellowship as brothers and sisters on a lunch picnic (rice and fried chicken – the best!) – that a CFC-FFL gathering became possible despite the busy WYD schedule is a huge blessing.  I would never have made it to WYD if not for the generosity, the encouragement and overwhelming support of my CFC-FFL family.  I love being a part of this community.  Anywhere in the world that you find CFC-FFL members is like finding a family.  Never mind if we were carrying our overnight stuff and sleeping bags on our backs while walking endlessly under the heat of the sun (as usual) to find the venue of this assembly.  Vale la pena! 


There goes my top 10 WYD experiences.  When I look back and think about the months of preparation – the stressful deadlines of submission of required documents and payments, obtaining a passport, getting a visa approval, all the coordination work involved and the endless fundraising efforts, and then you put all of that side by side with the unique opportunity of being a WYD pilgrim, I am truly left with nothing to say but this:  “Vale la pena!”   A Jesus experience is worth everything.  At the end of it all, God made real for me the WYD theme.  He brought me back home “planted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith”.


Gracias a ustedes que me apoyaran a vivir mi sueno de JMJ!  Gracias a Dios!

Thanks to all of you who supported me to live my WYD dream! Thanks be to God!