Last Tuesday, we kicked-off our WYD experience with the gathering for Canadian pilgrims – a first in WYD history and a wonderful way to begin our week.
Yesterday, the feast of St. Rose of Lima, I had the chance to end my WYD experience with another national gathering – this one for Panamanian pilgrims that took place in the Monastery of San Lorenzo del Escorial. This is the site, if you remember, where the Holy Father met with young women religious and then celebrated Mass with young university professors last Friday.
About 45 km northwest of Madrid is the little town of El Escorial. The most prominent building in the town is a 16th century monastery and church, built by King Felipe II to be used as his royal mausoleum and to help the Church counteract the Protestant tide of the day. They say that the king envisioned a large multifunctional complex to be used as royal residence and monastery under the patronage of St. Lawrence
In 1885 King Alfonso XII gave the building to the Augustinian Fathers, where they now have a monastery and seminary. The seminary has 16 Panamanian students and Fr. Pedro Moreno, also from Panama, is one of the faculty members.
The Mass for the 130 Panamanians who were present was presided by Mons. Jose Domingo Ulloa, OSA (who is also an Augustinian, as well as the Archbishop of Panama, and a great supporter of youth and World Youth Days), and concelebrated by Mons. Uriah Ashley (Bishop of Penonomé and president of the youth section of the Panamanian Episcopal Conference), as well as by the Apostolic Nuncio to Panama, Bishop Andrés Carrascosa Coso. Also in attendance was the Panamanian Ambassador to Spain, Álvaro Tomas. After the Mass, there was a short cultural program in true Panamanian fashion, with music and dancing.
Mons. Ulloa reminded us that Pope Benedict’s call to us at this WYD was merely the call that all Christians have: to respond to Jesus’ call to holiness. How do we do that? One way is to follow the example of saints, such as St. Lawrence and St. Rose of Lima.
St. Lawrence is a personal favourite of mine. His feast day in a way, kicked off our WYD journey, as it was on that day, August 10th, that we gathered in the Holy Cross Chapel at S+L to commission our team that would be going to Madrid the next day. St. Lawrence was a deacon (another reason for my admiration of him) in Rome under the Emperor Valerian. Legend goes that Valerian demanded that Lawrence bring him the treasures of the Church, so he could take them for himself.
Lawrence agreed and the next day brought with him all the poor people of the town. He presented them to the emperor saying, “Here are the treasures of the Church.” Valerian had him burned at the stake. There is another legend that says that while Lawrence was burning he said, “You can turn me over now, I’m done on this side.”
St. Rose of Lima’s feast day is August 23 – her feast day ended our Madrid journey. St. Rose is the first fruit of evangelization of the Americas: she is the first Latin American to be canonized. She died very young after a life of penance and contemplation and is one of this WYD's patron saints. Mons. Ulloa told us that St. Rose’s parents used to live in the Panamanian paradise island of Taboga and that, rumour has it, even though she was born in Peru, St. Rose was conceived in Panama.
As I was walking around the Monastery grounds after the gathering, I was thinking about all this – a lot to take in – and seeing our Faith, our Christian life, as represented through all these events. Being a Christian may simply require us to respond to Christ’s call – but his call was not issued to one person individually. His call was issued to a group of people, a church. Jesus himself said to Peter, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” Jesus is building a church and it’s HIS church.
And so, to be a Christian is to be Church. And it’s important to gather as a people, with the leadership of our bishops and priests. It’s important to celebrate together. And we draw upon the examples of great ones like St. Augustine, St. Lawrence and St. Rose. We follow their example of courage and desire to embrace the Cross. We draw upon the example, prayer, support and education provided by wonderful congregations such as the Augustinians. And we admire the patrimony left to us by others who have loved the Church.
To all my Panamanian brothers and sisters: a safe journey home and may the Church of Panama, the Church which first received me as a baby and that brought me up in the Faith, continue to grow firm in the faith and remain rooted in Christ. May the seeds that have been sown here in Madrid grow to a full harvest.