On December 28th, 240 buses brought to Madrid more than 13,000 young people coming from more than 25 countries of Europe and the other continents. They attended the 41st European Youth Encounter organized by the Community of Taizé as a response to the invitation made by the archbishop of Madrid, Carlos Osoro. Together with the Community of Taizé, the Youth Delegation of Madrid, about 150 parishes of the diocese and a significant number of Christian communities, including the Teresian Association, have collaborated in the preparation.
Each year, between Christmas and New Year, The Community of Taizé sponsors a gathering of young people in a European city, within the framework of the so-called Pilgrimage of trust throughout the earth that Brother Roger initiated more than 40 years ago.
Let's not forget hospitality
Thanks to this pilgrimage of trust, pavilion number 4 of the IFEMA (the fairgrounds of Madrid) became the capital of young European Christians, who, with their mutual acceptance and the spirit of simplicity, prayer, joy and service that characterize the gatherings of Taizé, created in our city a climate of trust and hope that has comforted us all. With different facial features and different languages, we were able to enjoy the richness of diversity in the unity of following Jesus and the silent prayer interrupted by the typical repetitive songs of Taizé.
On the afternoon of December 28th, Brother Alois, prior of the Taizé Community, and Cardinal Osoro, welcomed this tide of young people who flooded the fairground with their joy. In his welcoming words, Brother Alois communicated the theme of the encounter: "Do not forget hospitality." This is the invitation, he said, in which we want to go more deeply during these days and throughout the next year, in Taizé and elsewhere. "The hospitality offered to us moves our hearts [...] Hospitality brings us closer, beyond the differences and even divisions that exist among Christians, among religions, among believers and non-believers, between peoples, between life choices and between political opinions. Of course, hospitality does not erase these divisions, but it makes us see them in another light: it makes us capable to listen and to dialogue ".
The Teresian Association has been able to hear this call to hospitality and has been actively involved in the preparation and welcoming of these young people. The International headquarters, the local headquarters and several apartments of TA members have hosted a significant number of these young pilgrims. The TA Youth group of Madrid was joined by eight boys and two girls from Santander, Murcia, Córdoba and Brussels, some of them members of ACIT Youth, EDIW or MIT.
The Teresian Association of León, in collaboration with the DIR group (Interreligious Dialogue) of the city and the University Pastoral team, joined the preparation of the "Taizé Madrid" event, spreading it and encouraging young people to participate in it. For this purpose, on November 6th, they organized a prayer meeting in the auditorium of the Santa Teresa School, which was well attended. They had with them Brother Rodrigo, from the community of Taizé, who traveled from Madrid, to pray and dialogue with the young people of León.
Moments of prayer
Each day, in the host parishes, the morning began with a few moments of prayer, followed by a time of dialogue in reflection groups.
At 1:00 pm, in ten churches in the center of Madrid, including the cathedral of the Almudena, there was a second time for prayer.
In the afternoon, at 7:30 pm, there was another prayer meeting with all the pilgrims in pavilion 4 on the IFEMA premises. In it, Brother Alois offered each day, together with D. Carlos Osoro, some points for meditation about hospitality -the theme of the encounter, and some information of interest to all.
Those of us who were lucky enough to participate in these moments cannot forget the wonderful spectacle of contemplating 15,000 young people praying.
Workshops and discussions
On the 29th and 30th, from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm, the young people were able to participate in more than 25 workshops that were offered with very different and appealing themes.
María del Carmen Aragonés and Inmaculada González, members of the TA, guided two workshops. María del Carmen Aragonés, with the group IXE (Christian Initiative for Europe) facilitated a discussion on the topic “Europe: an enclosed fortress or a meeting place among peoples?", in the church of San Isidro.
Inmaculada González, together with Brother Jean Marie, from the Taizé community, addressed the theme of Saint Teresa: “A big and expanded heart like the sands of the sea: To discover the life of Teresa de Ávila, mystic and reformer of the Spanish Golden Age”. This workshop was part of a diptych in which they wanted to present to young people how faith transformed two very significant people, one of them Teresa de Jesús, and the other Miguel de Unamuno.
For the musical animation of this workshop, Inmaculada had the help of other TA members, like Rufina Cárdenas, Irene Gregorio ACIT Youth, as well as Beatriz Díaz as translator. The workshop was attended by some 200 young people from different countries, who participated actively in the small groups and in the larger group sharing. Some expressed their gratitude after discovering this great woman, Teresa de Jesús, who up to that moment was quite unknown to them.
On their return to Taizé, the brothers of the Community made a stop along the way, with more than 200 young people, in Ávila to pray with the Saint.
The host parishes had invited young people for the night of the 31st, after the prayer at the IFEMA, to a prayer vigil for peace, followed by the Feast of the Nations. In some of them, they finished this celebration with the Eucharistic in the wee hours of the morning.
Tuesday, January 1st was the time to say goodbye to host families and places of welcome; emotional moments, in which the language difficulties were overcome by gestures of affection and gratitude.
Testimonies of lived experience
♦ María Romero, member of ACIT Youth:
«It has been a completely renewing experience, inside and out. I am really happy to have attended this encounter because from the first moment of meeting those who were going to be your companions on the way during those days, you could already feel how that spirit of communion and fraternity, which so characterizes this community of Taizé, envelops you and makes you really feel like family [...] That sharing has enriched me a lot [...]
Another thing that I would like to emphasize is the atmosphere that was lived in the common prayers, a moment of true union, praying each one in his or her own language and sharing the songs in the language that was played at each moment, all followed by an overwhelming silence respected by the thousands of young people who were there.»
♦ Elena Crespo and Rufino Gregorio, ACIT members, host family:
«In this pilgrimage of trust organized by Taizé and to which the Church of Madrid invited us, we have enjoyed as a family the gift of hospitality.
We were waiting for them in the afternoon and they arrived in the morning. They were a young couple from Serbia, Sanja and Niki. She is Orthodox and he is Catholic. They have given us the opportunity to share the diversity and richness that we have as a family, to open the door of our home, to unite dreams, concerns and joys and to make hospitality an opportunity for them and for us.
We put aside our routines and adapted ourselves to reorganize it with others. We let ourselves be surprised and the gift of tongues of the Spirit was poured out in abundance; we understood each other in English, French, Serbian and Spanish. We shared a roof, had breakfast together, danced and laughed. And we felt invited to join each other in prayer in communion.
Everything has surpassed and exceeded our expectations. It has been a family, personal, and Church experience, generous, fruitful and surprising. God has been great with us and we are happy!»
♦ Pilar de Oñate, TA member:
«I have been fortunate to be able to host several persons in my home so that they could attend this meeting.
It has been a very enriching experience, and I thank God the Father for the opportunity to have lived the hospitality, love, dedication, simplicity, fraternity and trust in God that have made it possible for people of different generations, confessions and countries, to be together.
Both the parish and some of the volunteers who have been in charge of groups have expressed their gratitude for having welcomed them and having shared some meetings with them, telling me: Joseph and Mary would have found an inn in your house!»
♦ Mª Ángeles Merín, TA member:
«To open our house, Puerta de Toledo, to three Slovenian girls, participants in the Taizé meeting, Marta, Lucija and Pitra, has placed us before young persons with concerns of transcendence, full of gratitude to the little or much that we could offer, with no demands and with great joy to share their prayer and faith with so many young people from different countries: A very positive experience with which we have seen that we can say without fear "Come and see".»
We need trust
The words of Brother Alois came true: "With all these persons whom we did not know before, we lived an experience of communion and, in it, we found great joy. [...] For trust to be born and reborn in us, we need someone who trusts us, someone who welcomes us, who offers us his or her hospitality. Hope can be born where there is an experience of communion."
At the end of the meeting, we have verified that this miracle has been possible. And now, what are we willing to do with this passing of God among us? How will we continue the journey?
Text and photos: Inmaculada González Villa and participants in the meeting.
Translation: C. Zabalegui & R. Cameron.