Tuesday, May 06, 2003

:: Weather and wardrobe 2 ::

We are going through a period of crummy weather. After two days of glorious sunshine in Madrid during the Pope’s weekend visit, we have had two days of clouds and rainshowers. What a rude welcome to reality!

:: Wickedly wonderful weekend 1 ::
I spent the weekend in Madrid to join the two major activities that had been organized for the Pope—a vigil with the youth on Saturday evening at Cuatro Vientos, and the canonization mass of Sunday at Plaza de Colón. And what a weekend it was! I was already excited about the Pope’s visit, and was supremely grateful that it coincided with the period that I would be in Spain. And then I was doubly grateful that there were no classes on Friday, as the next lecturer for the class I was attending was arriving from Italy on Tuesday next week yet.

I don’t remember the time when I was as tired as I was on Sunday evening, at the end of the Pope’s visit; sometimes I wonder if it is just the effect of age slowly creeping in but I always conclude that it’s just my imagination. Neither do I remember ever having been as happy, except for two other times when I also saw the Pope—in January 1995 for the World Youth Day in Manila, and in October 2002, during the canonization of St. Josemaría Escrivá. It was a really unusual combination of extreme tiredness and extreme joy. My body ached like anything after two nights of little sleep, kilometers and kilometers of walking, hours under the sun standing or sitting still as a mouse for lack of space, and yet my body also buzzed with energy every time the Pope was near—his arrival at Cuatro Vientos airfield, his passing by Paseo de Castellana just a few meters from where I stood, the mass of the canonization in the Plaza de Colón on Sunday morning…

Since I had no classes on Friday, I made plans to meet Chaz Navarro and then later my cousin Pepeton and his wife in Madrid on Friday afternoon. I left for Madrid by bus at 10 a.m. By 3 p.m., I was in Madrid, and Chaz met me at the bus station. We had lunch at Hard Rock Café, and then went to his flat to have coffee. After some time exchanging news, we then walked to my cousin’s flat, which was only about 15 minutes away. Pepeton and his wife brought me to a merienda cena in the house of one of their friends. About a dozen Filipinos—mostly Filipinas, actually, who call themselves the Golden girls, on account of their age—were there.

After the merienda cena I met the group from Pamplona and we then proceeded to the flat where we would spend the night. The next day, after an unhurried breakfast, we brought our things to another flat where we would spend Saturday night. This flat is in a part of Madrid such that it would be, say, the equivalent of a condominium in a building in the Makati or Ortigas commercial area. It was huge compared to other flats I had been in, and very well appointed. We lingered only long enough to meet and chat for a while with the owner, an uncle of one of the guys with us, then to deposit our things in our respective rooms.

We went right away for Cuatro Vientos, losing our way a couple of times because of the re-routing schemes for the Pope’s visit. We eventually got to Carbanchel Alto, a barrio beside the airfield, and parked the car close to the edge of a huge industrial park under construction and which had been turned into a huge parking lot for buses for the event.

Cuatro Vientos is an airfield used by the Spanish Air force located several kilometers southwest of the city proper, and getting there is sort of like going to Ayala Alabang from Greenhills. Of course the trip was faster, and over much better roads.

We started walking at around 2:45. We must have passed a couple of hundred buses already parked, and continued walking until we reached the start of the tarmac. There was a never-ending flow of people, mostly young (and some not so young—there was an 88-year old lady who had come and was given a seat in the front row) streaming onto the tarmac and flowing into the vast open field where the vigil was going to be held.

Security was tight; we had to pass through an initial screening of bags, and those with larger bags had to pass them through scanners like those used in the airport. Everything was organized very efficiently, however, and the extra precautions caused only little delay in getting to our designated zone.

We had tickets for the central area right in front of the stage, on the left side, where the Pope would stay. We found ourselves a nice spot a few meters from the barriers that separated our area from the stage, and set up camp there. The walk from the car to the spot where we settled down took a little more than half an hour, and there were already tens of thousands of people scattered al over the field by the time we arrived.

It was blazing hot, and it was a good thing that the administration had prepared a lot of fluids—soft drinks in cans, juices in tetra packs, bottled water—as well as a lot of food for us to bring to the event. We stayed put in our place for about 7 hours all in all, from the moment we arrived until the moment the vigil ended. The first two hours passed by very slowly, the discomfort of the heat and the crush of the people growing with each minute that passed. For the first few hours, there was enough space in our area for each person to stand and to sit down in as he pleased. But the crowd continued to thicken and by the time the Pope arrived—at about 7 p.m.—the density had reached the level that we experienced in Manila in 1995. Eventually a million people would come for the event, and we were packed like sardines, especially in the area near the stage. There was a lot of discomfort, of course, and some little squabbles over territorial rights and other similar matters, but there was also a surfeit of patience and general good-naturedness overall.

I was getting the tan that I thought I would never get, having missed the chance to make a summer trip to the beach two years in a row now. I ended up with an uncomfortable sunburn, but it was nothing like what the Caucasians had to endure. I have to admit that I was a bit amused watching them turn pink and then red like lobsters as they slowly baked under the sun. The heat was really stifling, and the situation was bearable only because it was dry heat, so unlike the damp and sticky heat that you normally experience in Manila. At one point fire trucks with high pressure hoses started moving slowly through the field raining cool water upon the crowds; the crowds would move in waves to where the fire trucks were, much as metal filings would move on a piece of paper to follow a magnet being passed under the paper.

There were musical numbers performed one after another, mostly rock and folk type songs by well known Spanish bands (well known to the Spaniards, at least). At around 5:30, an hour before the Pope was due to arrive, they put on the better performers who really got the crowd, which was obviously uncomfortable after so many hours under the sun and thus apathetic, really into the mood. They played some songs with fast, catchy rhythms that got many of the people swaying and clapping and singing along.

At around 6:30 the emcees announced that the Pope had left the Apostolic Nunciature, where he was staying, and was on his way to Cuatro Vientos. The crowd cheered and clapped, as they would do the rest of the vigil every time the Pope appeared or spoke. We followed the popemobile’s progress through the streets of the Madrid on a large screen integrated into the backdrop of the huge stage. About 20 minutes later the helicopter that was tracking the Pope’s itinerary could be seen approaching the field and the level of excitement went up. The emcees led the crowd through a series of rousing chants and cheers. In a few minutes the Pope arrived, and a roar of applause came from the huge crowd. That was followed by some moments of confusion as the Pope did not appear on the stage for some time. It turned out that he went through the entire crowd, much as he did in October 2002 after the canonization mass, and his ronda took a little more than half an hour given the size of the crowd present.

Finally, at about 7:30 he appeared on stage, moving slowly to his seat on his moving platform. He was received with great warmth and affection, and the crowd broke out into spontaneous cheers and chants. After allowing the crowd to cheer for a few minutes, he started the vigil ceremony. The whole ceremony centered on the mysteries of the Rosary, and was composed of brief meditations on the mysteries, readings from the Gospel, and testimonies about the Christian life of the young today—the most impressive testimonies came from a priest, a seminarian, a young lay man, and a nun. The whole ceremony lasted about two and a half hours. Towards the end of the ceremony the Pope gave his elocution, which was interrupted many times by applause. It was such a moving experience, and the Pope was obviously energized by the crowd as well. He was so different from the last time I saw him, in October last year. He spoke much more clearly, much more forcefully, and had much more energy. He had obviously not lost any of his mental sharpness, and he interrupted his prepared text to respond to the cheers of the crowd with witty remarks, all in Spanish. At one point in his elocution, for example, he began to dialogue with the crowd, who had responded with a spontaneous outbreak of cheers and applause when the Pope, pointing out that a life given to the service of the Gospel is always worthwhile, mentioned that he was turning 83 and that he had been a priest for more than 56 years. The crowd started chanting ¡Juan Pablo Segundo, eres un chaval! and ¡La juventud del Papa, esta es! The Pope responded by saying “Yo soy un chaval de 83 años,” to the great delight of the crowd. Later, as the end of his elocution approached and he said “Al concluir mis palabras,” the crowd responded with a loud ¡No!; he repeated the phrase and then chuckled audibly as the crowd responded with an even louder ¡No!; the crowd chuckled with him when he said, for a third time, “Al concluir mis palabras,” and then gave his last words and the blessing. The whole ceremony ended at around 9:30, and we walked back through the huge parking lot, losing our way several times as we had completely lost our bearings because the whole parking lot had changed so much from the time we arrived. The number of buses in the lot had grown probably tenfold, to maybe two thousand, from the time we first saw the parking lot eight hours earlier.

We got back to the apartment close to 12, completely exhausted, but supremely satisfied with the encounter with the Pope and the response of Spain’s youth to the Pope.

I won’t go into detail about the canonization mass of the next day, as it was much like the mass of October 6 last year, and was relatively more quiet and solemn, as it should have been.