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World Youth Day Report from the
Quo Vadis Vocations Group

Archbishop Peter with the Quo Vadis Group
(please click on the photo to view a larger version)

Eighty-five young people from across England and Wales joined the diocesan Quo Vadis Group for its pilgrimage to World Youth Day and together they shared an experience of faith and prayer that was quite extraordinary. No one who was there will ever forget the heat and dust of the Cuatro Vientos airfield as some two million young people gathered there, nor the drama of the thunderstorm that erupted as evening fell, nor the beauty and peace of the great prayer vigil that began as the storm abated. To be kneeling there in silence with the Holy Father, with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament before us all, and to be part of that great gentle wave of prayer, was to experience the huge reality of the Catholic Church and all that it means.

The vigil, and the morning Mass that followed on the Sunday, were the climax to a week of prayer, talks, singing, international encounters, friendship, fun and pilgrimage. At the core of the QUO VADIS group were our seminarians training for the priesthood who came out a few days early with the Vocations Director, Fr Stephen Langridge, to make sure all our pilgrims would have the best possible experience. They and all the others in the group shared in a great sense of unity during the unforgettable days in Madrid: morning prayer and Mass together in the church of Santa Maria de Cana where we were housed (and made very welcome) throughout the week, talks, concerts and presentations on many aspects of the Faith, a great celebratory gathering to greet the Holy Father on his arrival, opportunities for confession and Eucharistic adoration beneath the trees in a great park near the city centre. It was great to have Archbishop Peter celebrate Mass for us and find time to spend with the group afterwards.

Part of the special quality of World Youth is the joy: a real sense of young people celebrating God’s love. It spills over into exuberance so that the whole place becomes alive with it. Our QUO VADIS group made its own – often very noisy – contribution to the singing on trains and at street corners, to the shouts of “Benedicto!” and “Viva el Papa!”, and to the chatter as people from different countries exchanged greetings and jokes and news and general enthusiasm. We had brought with us a couple of big British flags and a Welsh flag, and these proved useful in helping to keep the group together on the various journeys around the city – and especially on the long walk out to the airfield for the final events.

The heat, throughout the week, was terrific – we’d all been warned about the need to carry water and protection from the sun. Our special WYD backpacks included hats and fans as well as a Gospel book, a copy of the new (superb!) YouCat youth Catechism, drinks, a teeshirt, tickets which got us free meals at great restaurants. We also had our own QUO VADIS teeshirts, and a special 'Southwark Vocations' gadget we all came to appreciate – a water-spray which we used liberally on ourselves and others throughout the sun-scorched days.

No one is unchanged after a World Youth Day. It challenges you, brings new friendships, gives a massive experience of the worldwide Church, brings you into contact with the successor of St Peter. It is a time of prayer, penance, and lively talk, of physical discomfort and sudden laughter, of solemn reflective moments and long late-night discussions. The reality was – and is – a great and moving affirmation of faith: the Catholic Church’s John Paul generation reaching its adulthood as the Benedict generation, and showing its love of Christ and desire to serve him. It was thrilling to be part of this.