“Dios No Existe!” the graffiti on the church screamed as our tour bus rolled to a stop in Madrid. It was not the sentiment that I expected to encounter as we started our World Youth Day pilgrimage back in September of 2011, but in retrospect, it points to the core of the Holy Father’s theme for the event, “Firm in Faith.” We the church are a pilgrim people, lead by faith through a world that cannot see its Creator.
Faith called nearly two million people from all over the world to celebrate the love of the invisible God made visible in the person of Jesus Christ, present to His Church in the Most Blessed Sacrament and in the hearts of the faithful. Faith in His forgiveness and the promise of eternal life filled the pilgrims with overflowing joy that radiated from our faces. Faith in God’s infinite and healing love brought people of every nation, tribe, and tongue and bound them together into one Body, with Christ as its head.
The faith of the pilgrims was a monsoon in a desert. My group brought along a fairly sizeable cross that we used instead of a flag to keep us together. If we entered a large crowd, we would just keep our eyes on the cross and it would tell us where we were going. When I carried the cross, older Spanish Catholics came forward reverently and touched the wood of the cross. Gentle joy on their faces spoke volumes of years of oppression, shame and sorrow washed away by the sure knowledge that the Church is ALIVE. Their faith was renewed and reinvigorated.
The final night vigil was an experience of God that ignited my own faith and will stand as a signpost of God’s power and love for the rest of my life. Millions gathered at the event grounds on the outskirts of Madrid. Your mind can’t even begin to hold 2 million people. An endless sea of the faithful cheered and sang to greet our beloved Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, when he came out to tuck us into bed with evening prayer.
As the liturgy began, a storm rolled in behind the crowd, lightning tearing through the heavens. A mighty wind rushed upon the people, bringing rain that fell more sideways than down. The crowd cheered as many donned ponchos and we dug in our heels. We had traveled the globe to arrive at this night, and we weren’t going anywhere. The wind knocked the pope’s hat off, and he briefly left the stage after instructing us to pray patiently and wait for the storm to pass.
A few minutes later, he returned to a surge of cheering. He brought us into a time of Eucharistic Adoration. A gold monstrance arose from out of the stage, and Our Lord was seated on His throne. The rain stopped. The wind dropped to a whisper of a breeze. The Holy Father knelt, followed by millions of others. Silence. Stillness. Who is this that even the wind and the rain obey Him? Hymns broke the silence. The Blessed Sacrament was removed. The Holy Father said good night as the winds and the rain returned. It was awe-inspiring.
Without faith, it’s impossible to please God, because without faith we can’t even begin to see Him. No doubt there are plenty of Spanish meteorologists who have very different views of events. I think that is why He brought us to Madrid by the million. To those who are unable to see Him with the eyes of faith, He sends His Church. We are His hands and feet, human beings transformed by Love, given the task of spreading the Good News.
He doesn’t want “Dios no existe!” to perish in darkness, He wants that person to be invited into repentance, washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb, filled with the Holy Spirit, and brought into the joy of His Kingdom. That is the mission of His Church until every human heart has been inscribed with the Truth embroidered on the hat I purchased especially for my pilgrimage to Spain, “Dios es bueno!”
Jesus snatched me out of the darkness and saved me from complete madness. If you want to hear more of that story, check out Demoniac, now available on Amazon.