About a month has passed since World Youth Day ended and I've had the chance to talk to pilgrims from various places. The one thing that inevitably comes up is the Cuatro Vientos vigil. The two most asked questions: (1) Did you make it in? and (2) Did you get drenched? So when I received word that among the pilgrims on the field that night was the Bishop of Sale, Australia, Most Rev. Christopher Prowse, I asked him those questions, and more. Here is what Bishop Prowse had to share:
Question: Why did you want to stay at Cuatro Vientos, knowing that it's going to be a long, uncomfortable night?
Bishop Prowse: Thanks be to God, I am still fit and young enough to be able to endure the uncomfortable aspects of spending the night at World Youth Day vigil venues. I was determined to stay with my diocesan pilgrimage group as much as I could. The vigil with His Holiness and the overnight stay at Cuatro Vientos are an important part of that. For some of the pilgrims it is one of the highlights. I wanted to share that with them.
Q: The electrical storm was a total surprise to everyone, especially the locals. What did you think when you saw the storm clouds approaching and how did your group fare?
BP: We could see the storm approaching us from afar. There were large bolts of lightning, too. Some groups seemed to panic somewhat and were making fast for the exits. Our group simply prepared for whatever may occur. There was some rain. However, given the heat of the afternoon, we were happy to be drenched by God! People were helping each other to find some waterproof shelter. The strong wind, though, was a greater issue. It seemed to become dangerously strong. We were so happy to see the patience and sense of humour of the our beloved Pope Benedict XVI. His smile and patience helped us not to panic. The digital screens were very good and we saw the Pope all the time during the storm but we could not hear him for a period as the amplification stopped. Suddenly, the brief storm passed and we all settled down again. Indeed, the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the fresh air that now prevailed was so refreshing in soul, mind and body! And we shared it all with the Holy Father. It helped the Christian family atmosphere in the pilgrim crowds to deepen.
Q: By the end of the vigil the worst of the storm has passed. How did you and your group spend the rest of the night and what do you consider to be the highlights of that night?
BP: After the prayer vigil, our group settled down for the night rather quickly. We were all so tired after such a long day. People were very co-operative. Space was found for everyone. We simply continued to pray quietly and give each other the space and opportunity to rest. Some groups seemed to sing all night. Fortunately, there were quite some distance from us! We shared food, water and snacks together. It was like one huge family under God. We were comfortable with the stillness and the silences deepening within us all as the night progressed. We felt close to Jesus alive in His Church. Personally, I had a deep feeling that Blessed John Paul II was with us all in a special way.
Q: The next morning you concelebrated at the closing Mass. How did the experience of the night before enrich that Mass?
BP: I only slept a few hours. That did not matter. My priests joined me and we started moving towards our places for the Mass at 6am. I joined my brother bishops to concelebrate the closing Mass with His Holiness. By now the weather had cleared. It was a bright and sunny day. Staying the night with my pilgrims and now joining the bishops of the world and the bishops of Australia with the Pope gave me a deeper sense of the Catholic Church universal. Catholics are diocesan, national and universal in locality. The theological principles were now lived out in a pastoral experience of a lifetime.
There were 41 pilgrims representing the Diocese of Sale in Madrid. Despite the heat, the group -- along with Bishop Prowse -- walked from from downtown Madrid to Cuatro Vientos air base and was able to get access to their assigned sector on the field.