“Very happy and grateful to everyone”, Benedict XVI left Spain on Sunday evening, 21 August, and with his subsequent landing at Ciampino Airport and return to the Papal Summer Residence at Castel Gandolfo he concluded his 20th journey abroad.
The occasion, of course, was World Youth Day in Madrid, the celebrations of which – as he himself described them to King Juan Carlos during the welcome ceremony at Barajas International Airport – “will remain deeply etched” in his mind and his heart. The Pope’s presence in this noble land was also an embrace to the people of that great nation, which open and pluralistic does not renounce its fundamentally Catholic spirit. One testimony to this, among others, was the group of children dressed as Swiss guards, present both at the arrival and the departure of the Pontiff.
For Benedict XVI, those four days spent in the Spanish capital had been beautiful and demanding. When he the Nunciature he was greeted with a folkloristic greeting by young dancers to the rhythm of Flamenco. After getting into the Pope mobile, en route to Madrid’s airport, he stopped at IFEMA to greet 12,000 of the many volunteers who had generously offered their service in the preparation and unfolding of the 26th World Youth Day. Theirs being a hidden and discreet labour, which received well deserved recognition, the Pope prayed with them and thanked them for the sacrifices they had made in ensuring the welcome and every kind of help for pilgrims.
Unlike past World Youth Days, the “directors” and members of the organizing committees – who were usually greeted together with the volunteers – were met by the Pope the day before, on Saturday afternoon. At the Papal Nunciature the Holy Father received the Mixed Committee formed by the Archdiocese of Madrid and the Spanish Government, coordinated by the Minister for the Presidency, Ramón Jáuregui, and Undersecretary Soledad López. For two years the committee worked for a positive outcome, thereby offering an example of collaboration between Church and State. On this occasion, Benedict XVI also met with two elderly women religious. The first, 104 years old, gave him a book with a dedication: her name is Teresita Barajuen, a cloistered Cistercian of Buenafuente del Sistal (Sigüenza-Guadalajara), who entered the cloister on 16 April 1927, Holy Saturday, coincidentally also the day of Joseph Ratzinger’s birth. The other, in a wheelchair, is a Sister of the Sacred Heart who had worked for a long time in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, when he was Prefect.
Afterwards, the Pope visited the San José Foundation, where the Religious of the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of God welcome and care for the physically and mentally handicapped.
The Society of St Benedict Menni, Refounder of the Fatebenefratelli - the facility has beds for 400 and employs 300 health-care workers. Antonio Villuenda, a deaf student of architecture greeted the Holy Father on behalf of those present, among whom were also a group of young participants in the WYD suffering from handicaps, in order to bring attention to the world that suffering is a fundamental dimension of the life of the Church.
At the end of the meeting, characterized by touching moments, Benedict XVI signed the golden book of the Foundation and left as a gift a mosaic depicting Christ, taken from the image in the niche of the Confession of St Peter where the pallium is kept, under the papal altar of the Vatican Basilica.
Now for the young people who are leaving Spain to return home it is time of mission for them in their places of origin, especially looking forward to the next appointment in Rio de Janeiro. This is why it isn’t by accident that one of the projects of solidarity that arise as a result of WYD charity is intended for Brazil: it aims to create opportunities for recovery and integration for the Country’s young people most tried by poverty and situations of violence.
The other project made possible thanks to Madrid 2011 in the Spanish capital will be reminder: it concerns the construction of a residential complex for families at risk of social exclusion – 127 apartments on four floors. The coordination is entrusted to Caritas Madrid who in 2004 and 2006 opened two buildings with the same purpose, taking in 300 families, a total of 1,000 people.
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