It’s been difficult to think of a meaningful post to post, simply because the events of World Youth Day are still two days away, and we feel as much like tourists as pilgrims. Or perhaps pilgrims doing touristy things. That’s it. We visit awesome places – Avila, Sagovia, Toledo, Cordoba, Madrid – we see the sights, taste the food, drink the sangria, make foolish American mistakes, but we are always noticed as pilgrims, as kids-here-to-see-el-Papa; as Catholics. And so we’ve had some experiences worth writing about.
Nick has been gathering intentions of the people we interact with in a composition book, and ends most inane conversations with a somewhat alarming, “Is there anything you’d like us to pray for?” A waitress informed us that she was a ‘pecador’ – a sinner – which we assured her was a great reason to have folks pray for her, and so she cautiously wrote her name down in our book, with a look I am obligated to describe as bemused. A lady described by our bartenders at ‘Muuu’ as a “woman who drinks too much when she should go home” was furious at us for describing ourselves as pilgrims. A pilgrim, she said, is someone who walks until they can’t anymore, like she did on the road to Santiago de Compostela. They certainly didn’t blog. We argued with her good-naturedly, and realized she was a remarkably brilliant and perceptive woman, full of a Catholic heart, and a spiritual sensibility about her that enabled her – even in her very drunken state – to name some of our insecurities and faults. But she was filled with an acute awareness of her own sins, and she alternated between describing herself as a good Catholic and as a ‘bruja’ – a witch. So into the book she went. There was the beautiful shopkeeper in Cordoba, who admitted that she had been avoiding Mass so she could work more, and seemed ashamed. There was a man at a bar called ‘El Hangar’, who our friend Elsa steered us away from, describing him a radical. Which of course only prompted us to hear him out. Between his Nazi-Pope theories and general Dawkinism, I have no idea the affect we had. But I liked him simply because he looked like the kind of man to start a red-flagged communist revolution, short, dark-haired…all very Dr. Zhivago. There was the woman who looked like a prostitute who I gave a rosary to. The beggar Daniel talked to. The woman running the till at the grocery-store. The sword-seller (sword-seller?) in Toledo who was furiously proud of never being divorced, and wanted us to pray for his 30-year marriage. He said “we fight, maybe she leaves for a while, but we never call lawyers.” Priests, old ladies, atheist kids; our book is a wide-cast net.
But of course, there is resistance to our presence. I was handed a pamphlet protesting the government spending on foreign ‘pilgrims’ (quotations theirs) bemoaning the fact that the government had spent 50 million on a private visit by the Pope in a time of economic recession. (This did not take into account that his visit was public, for the Pope is a Head of State, or that the World Youth Day pilgrims are expected to bring in over 100 million euros in profit for Spain, or that Spain is an officially Catholic country, but the general anti-Catholic sentiment was notable.) There was a small march in central Madrid, protesting ‘500 years of oppression’ by the Church, perhaps referring to Ferdinand and Isabella’s grand ‘go home’ to the Jews and Moors of Spain. (Goodness, the politics are crazy here, the drunk lady I mentioned earlier only refering to Muslims as puta Moros – I’ll let you translate that yourself.) But overall the reaction is one of either positive greeting, or a sort of shock. A shock that the Church is so alive, a shock that Americans teenagers would spend all their money to see one old man. So a good shock.
There is so much more, and I hope I will recall it all for you. My posts drag ever so slightly behind my experiences…I’m excited to put up the video about our – rather frightening – experience in central Madrid. I cannot wait for World Youth Day to start – my kingdom for an English Mass – and I miss my girl back home, who I will not see until Thanksgiving, for I am going straight from World Youth Day to Franciscan. But life is very good across the ocean. Now adios, cigars call me.