Protestors Prey on the Faith of WYD Pilgrims

A woman rebukes a pilgrim who cries, holding on to her cross, Aug. 17 during a demonstration against what protesters claim is the expensive cost of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Madrid. The pontiff was in Spain Aug. 18-21 for World Youth Day.

MADRID (CNS) – A paradox was alive in the streets of Madrid as hundreds of thousands of World Youth Day pilgrims shared the sidewalks with local protesters frustrated over Spain’s hosting – and, some believed, funding – of the weeklong event in a time of economic turmoil.

A group of protesters broke into a run the night of Aug. 18 when police descended on a square near the historic Puerta del Sol (Gate of the Sun) plaza, causing bystanders to duck into the doorways of local bars and cafes. Police then barricaded the Calle Mayor, a main street in Madrid’s historic district, as a procession of black-clad pilgrims walked slowly, bearing a giant crucifix.

Flanked by police, participants holding tall candles and arranged in two long rows led the procession. A large group of pilgrims followed, holding the crucifix above their heads and pausing at intervals. Bringing up the rear was a band, in full uniform.

Crowds on the sidewalk – pilgrims and locals alike – snapped photos and took videos; some applauded.

At various times throughout the Aug. 16-21 World Youth Day, protesters – largely young, out-of-work residents of Madrid – confronted young Catholics from around the world. Reactions to the protests among the pilgrims were mixed. Some chose to counter the demonstrations with chants of their own; others prayed.

“I found it fascinating and very consoling because in the midst of a million young people of faith there are still some who are provoked to anger and resentment,” said Brooklyn Auxiliary Bishop Frank Caggiano during his catehesis for pilgrims in Madrid.  “I am very proud of all the young people who came face-to-face with that anger and that resentment and responded with songs, with prayers, with joy.”

Pilgrim Laura Vazquez, from St. Joseph parish, Prospect Heights, was at Plaza de Sol during the protests.

“I was scared, but sadness overtook me more than fear,” she said. “The people ended up just hurting themselves because we all held our faith in God and we just followed that.”

Pilgrim Karen Quiroz Munoz, also from St. Joseph parish, said that being amongst the protest was an eye-opening experience.

“It’s sad that people don’t have faith, but I guess that’s what we are here for: to spread it to people who don’t have it,” she said.

Dave Myszkiewicz and Robert Zygadlo, both from Edmonton, Alberta, said they responded with chants of “Viva Papa” and “Benedicto.”

The Spanish government has said the cost of hosting World Youth Day, including extra security, was being paid for by private funds and donations.[hr]
Contributing to this report were Gretchen R. Crowe of Catholic News Service and Antonina Zielinska of The Tablet.