World Youth Day 2011, Madrid: Firm In The Faith

By Maribel Tadong
World Youth Day 2011 SYM-Philippines Delegate (Pilgrim)

I always tell my friends that when I first dreamed of joining the 2011 WYD in Madrid, all I had back then were my bosses’ permission, my passport and enormous faith. I called it dreaming the impossible, ambitious dream, as I did not have enough funds for the trip.

I have this big picture of Blessed John Paul II on my altar. Every day, in the months before WYD Madrid, I would look at his picture before leaving for work and smile, silently asking him to help me with my preparations. It was the same prayer that I whispered to Don Bosco when his pilgrim relic visited the Philippines. With two saintly ‘heavyweights’ championing my cause how could our ever generous God refuse?

At the right time, He sent other of his children to bankroll my WYD pilgrimage to Madrid and those of six other delegates of the Salesian Youth Ministry (SYM) – Philippines. As an added bonus, Fr Favie Faldas SDB, our team head, granted my request to be our team’s official flag bearer; what a heady feeling it was to be carrying our flag wherever we went!

The blessings didn’t end there. Not only was I chosen to represent SYM - Philippines in the Pre-WYD mini-forum of the SYM delegates, during lunch, I shared a table with the Salesian Rector Major, Don Pascual Chavez SDB, la Madre Sr Yvonne, the Mother General of the FMA Sisters, and other members of the Salesian family!

During the Youth Vigil at the Cuatro Vientos Aerodrome, being one of the youngest SYM delegates, I was invited to sit in an area near the stage where the Pope and other guests were. When the Holy Father held up the Blessed Sacrament during the exposition, I was so overwhelmed by the Lord’s presence that I couldn't speak, I couldn't even pray, but could only stare awestruck at the Sacred Host. I believe that at that moment the Lord wanted me to contemplate Him in silence and to bask in His love!

Still another powerful memory of the Youth Vigil lingers. It was raining heavily that night; a strong wind had destroyed the tabernacle earlier. Yet who can forget the image of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, all of 84 years old, standing deep in prayer while getting soaked in the freezing rain like the rest of us? While he could have taken shelter backstage, he chose to remain with us throughout the Vigil, a true shepherd who never abandons his flock.

That night, in a rain-soaked plain in Spain, I quietly realized why the Father had brought me that far. Amidst driving wind and stinging rain, two moments of grace allowed me to experience first-hand His deep abiding love. How wonderful and humbling to be so cherished! Hewing perfectly to the theme Firmes en la Fe, Firm in the Faith, indeed, that night in WYD 2011 was my personal affirmation of faith.