Traffic signs directed the coaches to pass by the hill of Montjuic, through a park of palm trees and cacti that overlooks the sea and offers a magnificent panorama of the city. “What a beautiful city! Such light! And what warmth!” You could hear these words in the coaches, especially in those which were arriving from the North of Europe.
A Long Preparation
Young people from many different countries, as well as those from the city and the region, had spent several months preparing for the meeting. But for all of them, it was a real discovery to realize how close they were! The joy that characterized the entire meeting was not only due to the Mediterranean temperament of the Catalans, but to a long inner preparation as well.
“When our guests were thanking us,” writes Miguel, from the parish of Saint John the Baptist, in a suburb close to Barcelona, “I felt that I should be thanking them. What a marvelous opportunity for my friends and me to welcome people who came to our parish from France, from Hungary, from Ukraine and from Poland! The meeting was full of the joy of all the participants; it brought new vitality to the parish. Now a group of young people has begun to lead a regular prayer and to share our hope by taking a more active part in parish life.”
“What do we have to do? How will we find enough places? How will we communicate with one another? Who will lead the singing? What can we share? There are so few of us!” These questions often came up during the preparation meetings in Barcelona; it was as if those who had agreed to offer hospitality were at a loss. Some of them has already taken part in other European meetings, or even welcomed participants fifteen years ago during the previous meeting in Barcelona. And yet, it was as if they still had to climb over walls and to regain self-confidence, in order to be able to offer a warm and attentive welcome.
A few days before Christmas, it was still hard to imagine that over half of those coming would stay with families. People came to offer their homes right up to the very day the participants arrived.
The whole city was involved in the welcome. Even the internal television station in the underground showed images of previous European meetings and invited people to open their homes with these simple words: “You too can welcome.”
Approximately 250 parishes offered hospitality to between 100 and 400 young people each. “For me it was the feast of Pentecost,” writes a young mother. “We needed a breath of fresh air, and it was shown first of all by the astonishing fact that we were able to communicate despite the lack of a common language. Just as those who came to us were not afraid to set out on pilgrimage, in our turn we were able to go beyond our fear of strangers, of the unknown. Their experiences were a stimulus for us. It was important in particular for our children to see that it is possible to live together in great simplicity. In our parish, too, we got to know one another better, to count on each other and now, just like after Pentecost, we are looking forward to communicating what we have received. This visit of young pilgrims awakened in us a spirit of joy and festival, and we have understood better that prayer is the source of this.”
Prayers and Workshops for Reflection
In the parishes, groups were formed every morning after the prayer together to hear people speak about their life or make visits to places in which signs of hope are lived out. The months of preparation were a time for discovering that thousands of people in Barcelona, in every neighborhood of the city, are active in projects of solidarity, mutual aid and welcoming the homeless. “For the life of our local Church,” said a pastoral worker, “the preparation of the meeting was a unique opportunity for us to discover one another in a new way, to forget what often is so burdensome, the antagonisms and the discouragement. It was important to have this experience of great generosity and of the joy of communion. People of all generations were together for once, as well as those who go to church and those who do not go so often. Don’t wait another fifteen years before coming back!”
At about noon, everyone met in the exhibition halls of the “Fira.” Located right in the city, they surround a beautiful sunny space where everyone could eat outdoors. Four halls were large enough to hold all the participants for midday and evening prayer. To add to the beauty of the worship, ancient Catalan frescoes that decorate the Romanesque churches in the region were reproduced and set up in the halls.
The presence of many residents of Barcelona at the times of prayer showed how deeply they were involved in the adventure of the meeting. The archbishop of Barcelona and other bishops came one evening, as well as Mr. Jordi Pujol, the president of Catalonia, who had previously written a message in which he said, “For the third time, Catalonia gives a warm welcome to you…. We feel like a family thanks to the spirit of reconciliation and contemplative prayer which seeks the worldwide Christian unity. The European meeting will undoubtedly give us a fresh breath of honest and sincere spirituality.”
How can the twenty-five workshops of reflection and listening held in the afternoons be summed up? Some people listened to an Orthodox church choir from Serbia, while others reflected on social problems, for instance violence. Some went to a museum close to the Fira to discover the place of the Gospel in Catalan art, from the Middle Ages to Gaudi. Others listened to an introduction on the theme of God’s call. One afternoon, a young convict was authorized by the prison to come and speak to a group. He read a text from one of his comrades in prison who said, “I found God in prison. Now I am happy, even if my life is not easy. I read Brother Roger’s letter and these words especially struck me: ‘God is spirit…. He lives within us always, in times of darkness as well as when everything is bathed in light.’” Other participants were happy to spend time in one of the halls which had been set up for silent prayer.
To Witness to the Happiness of Trusting
How can we share this happiness discovered together? Many people are asking this question now. The letter A Prospect of Happiness? opens a way forward: “Christ calls us, the poor of the Gospel, to live out the hope of a communion and of peace and to let it shine out around us.”
The gathering was above all an experience of communion. And this was only possible because many made the gift of themselves, for example the thousands of contact persons in every country who agreed to take charge of a group or of a bus. And there were all those in Barcelona: people in charge of parishes, school principals and caretakers who gave up their holidays so that the schools could be used to welcome, city workers who did their best for everything to work well, among other things the arrival and departure of the coaches.
It is true that Barcelona is a city that likes to organize festivals, but it is also a city of faithfulness. For more than twenty years now, a prayer has been held every Sunday evening in a church in the centre of the city. In many parishes, there is a great desire to continue a regular time of prayer. There will certainly be many new initiatives, as in one parish that now wants to offer a time of religious instruction for adults: “The young people gave us an example of living faith. If we for our part do not know what is at the heart of our faith, how can we hope to transmit the essential to others?”
To conclude, why not remember, as one Catalan wrote, a phrase heard on New Year’s Day in the underground? The subway trains and stations were packed with participants in the meeting wearing backpacks, who were on their way to find their coaches. A voice came over the loudspeakers: “Don’t worry; they are waiting for you.” “Some people saw in these words a deeper meaning than just reassuring those who were worried they would be late. Don’t worry, you saw that a communion is possible, with others, with God. Don’t worry, we are going on a journey together, and we are waiting for one another; we don’t want anyone to be alone. We are waiting for you, because we need to be together to witness to the happiness of trusting.”