Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from across the world descended on the Spanish capital Aug. 15 with an array of colorful T-shirts, bloodshot eyes and a combined spirit of excitement about World Youth Day.
On the eve of the festivities' official opening, pilgrims with their specially intended World Youth Day backpacks crowded the streets, Metro cars and cafes. Many were tired, having arrived only hours before.
Sona Mpofu of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, landed at Madrid's Barajas airport at 8 a.m. after a 10-hour bus ride, a night at a Catholic center in Johannesburg, and a succeeding 10-hour flight. Despite the lack of sleep on the plane and the intense, dry heat, she and 21 other pilgrims from southern African were delighted about being at World Youth Day.
"When you come here, you feel at home," said Mpofu, 27. "You don't need to give details of yourself. You are who you are. We understand each other."
"It's been an overwhelming experience when you see that everybody shares the same faith, despite color, race and upbringing and culture," said Fungai Mawada, 20. "We all have that one thing in common. To get here, it's like coming home to a bigger family."
For most of the group, it was not only their initial World Youth Day, but their first time coming to Europe and even their first time getting on an airplane or leaving Zimbabwe. This pilgrimage was particularly poignant for the Zimbabweans because their coordinator, Spanish Marianhill Father Ricardo Davila, died in June from injuries continued in a car accident. The family of the late priest stepped up, helping organize and host the pilgrims for their journey.