Vanessa Santilli-Raimondo, The Catholic Register

Vanessa Santilli-Raimondo, The Catholic Register

Vanessa is a communications coordinator in the Office of Public Relations and Communications for the Archdiocese of Toronto and former reporter and youth editor for The Catholic Register. 

You can follow her on twitter @V_Santilli.

Alan Law wanted to know why the gates were closed so early at Cuatro Vientos air base on the eve of the papal vigil at World Youth Day. So he posed this question on the wall for the official World Youth Day Facebook group, run by event organizers.

“Why were the gates closed so early? A lot of people were locked out,” wrote Law, who is a product development manager with Tour Design, a travel company that brought many Canadian pilgrims to Madrid.

He waited for a response but heard nothing. So the next day, he checked again. To his shock, he couldn’t find his comment. It had been erased.

As group leaders and pilgrims settle back home after World Youth Day, discontent at the fact that an estimated 250,000 pilgrims were locked out of Cuatro Vientos airbase for the overnight vigil and closing Mass is starting to be vocalized. Some 1.4 million pilgrims showed up for the overnight vigil and World Youth Day organizers were only equipped to handle about a million, turning away registered pilgrims from around the world.

MISSISSAUGA, ONT. - International Christian Voice is hosting a dinner Sept. 9 in Mississauga to thank Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government for their work in promoting religious freedom internationally.

The Toronto-based human rights organization is run by Peter Bhatti, the brother of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Pakistani minorities minister and Christian who was assassinated last March after speaking out against the country’s blasphemy laws.

“The Conservative government has made an announcement of an international religious freedom office (the Office of Religious Freedom) and they’re trying to promote religion internationally, so we want to thank them,” said Bhatti.

“When my brother was murdered, (Immigration Minister) Jason Kenney attended his funeral… and gave him tribute. And before, nobody was even talking about religious freedom. But now, Stephen Harper has made an announcement that they would open a new office with the focus internationally on religious freedom and that makes us very hopeful.”

TORONTO - The Knights of Columbus in the tornado-ravaged town of Goderich, Ont., are front and centre in the efforts to help the town recover from a devastating tornado that hit Aug. 21.

"(Our hall is) the evacuation centre," Steve Winter, Grand Knight of the Father Nagle Council 5420, told The Catholic Register. "We have a hall that will hold 600 people for banquets."

When the tornado tore through the town, "we were the spot in town that had electricity because we're hooked up to the town's generator," said Winter.

Because the Knights of Columbus hall is the central location for those in need, the Canadian Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Victims Services and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are set up in the hall, too.

MADRID, SPAIN - This World Youth Day, I have been given the gift of reflection.

I had known the theme for World Youth Day Madrid for months before my departure: “Rooted and built up in Jesus Christ, Firm in the Faith.” But only after being here do I appreciate its meaning and importance.

We have to be firm in our faith because it’s so easy to be distracted in today’s world. Our priorities are out of order as we discern between what we want to be and what society tells us we should be. Money, prestige, a “perfect” outward appearance: these are all things the media tells us matter most. Firm in our faith, we can challenge these fallacies.

A strong faith will give us an anchor on which to root ourselves when the tides get rough.

“Make God the centre of your life,” Pope Benedict XVI said in his homily at the closing Mass. We have to make a conscious effort to put God at the top of our priority list.

August 24, 2011

Here comes the Pope

MADRID, SPAIN - The papal welcome ceremony at Plaza de Cibeles Aug. 19 was easily one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I ended up being only a few feet away from Pope Benedict XVI as he passed through the streets of Madrid in the Popemobile. Although it all feels like one big blur, here is a breakdown of what led up to the day’s grand finale.

1:27 p.m.: After meeting with the Office of Catholic Youth group, the leaders told us we needed to get to Cibeles as soon as possible in order to secure good seats. With a big Canadian flag being held up high to lead the way, we started walking very briskly. This soon turned into running through the streets. When we got to the front entrance, half our group made it in but the other half (my half) was stopped by police and told we had to enter the square via a different route. We changed our route and kept on running.

2:25 p.m.: We made it in. After changing our location three or four times, we re-locate to a spot near the papal route (where Pope Benedict would pass — so we were told — in the Popemobile before the ceremony).

3:05 p.m.: Reality kicks in. We realize we have about five hours to wait before the Pope arrives. We are directly in the sun and sitting down on the ground is not a good option — without a towel or mat the ground is extremely hot. I lather on SPF 60 sunscreen and begin the countdown.

MADRID, SPAIN - While 1.5 million pilgrims gathered at Cuatro Vientos airbase for the World Youth Day closing Mass, about 85 Canadian pass-holding pilgrims who were denied entry to the grounds because of overcrowding gathered in a hotel lobby to celebrate Mass and hear the words of Pope Benedict XVI.

With a BlackBerry in hand, Toronto Auxiliary Bishop William McGrattan read the Pope's homily before the Pope himself had read it to the crowd at Cuatro Vientos. Despite a rough night for many pilgrims who were shut out due to volume, spirits were high at the hotel Mass.

"Dear young friends, as the successor of Peter, let me urge you to strengthen the faith which has been handed down to us from the time of the Apostles," read Pope Benedict's homily. "Make Christ, the Son of God, the centre of your life."

The homily also strongly emphasized that following Jesus means "walking at His side in the communion of the Church."

MADRID, SPAIN - Hugo Lage had been looking forward to the papal vigil, overnight sleep and closing Mass at Cuatro Vientos aerodrome for months. It is, after all, the culmination of World Youth Day. But his experience couldn't have been further from what he was expecting.

Lage was one of the estimated 250,000 pilgrims who were denied access to the Cuatro Vientos aerodome, despite having paid for seating.

"I came from Brazil and this is the moment we're all waiting for," Lage, 21, told The Catholic Register. "I tried so hard to get my seating — near the front of the stage — and now I can't even get in the worst place to see the Pope."

MADRID, SPAIN - Fr. Rob Galea brought a crowd of about 5,000 pilgrims to their feet at the gathering of Canadians here Aug. 16, the opening day of World Youth Day.

Galea, a newly ordained priest and singer, serenaded the thousands with Taio Cruz's hit pop song, "Dynamite," along with a song he wrote about finding his vocation. The audience responded by waving its many flags, singing along and cheering.

What will young people do with their lives? "Jesus is telling you to jump and He'll catch you right before you hit the ground," Galea told those gathered. "We only live life to the fullest if we live the will of God."

The gathering of Canadian pilgrims was hosted at Palacio de Desportes, which is acting as the Love and Life Centre — a home for English-speaking pilgrims in Madrid. The Love and Life Centre is co-hosted by the Knights of Columbus and the Sisters for Life. Fr. Thomas Rosica, CEO of Salt + Light Television, was the event organizer.

About 200 Jesuits and their lay collaborators gathered at Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ont., from July 27 to 31 to “remember and renew without counting the cost.”

The congress for the Jesuits in English Canada celebrated the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Jesuits to Canada on May 22, 1611.

“We decided that we would use this celebration not only to remember this foundational event but also to gather all the Jesuits from English Canada plus those who work with us in significant roles in our ministries across the country,” said Fr. Erik Oland, a member of the organizing committee which began meeting about two years ago to plan the congress.

In addition, a substantial delegation of French Canadian Jesuits and one member of the Hungarian Jesuits in Canada were in attendance.

TORONTO - Krystal Pereira was a pilgrim from Abu Dhabi who came to Toronto for World Youth Day in 2002. Almost 10 years later, she is gearing up for World Youth Day in Madrid as a Canadian pilgrim.

And just as her home has changed over the years, so has she. Her goal this time around? To have an open mind and heart and to be ready to learn from the experience.

“My last World Youth Day experience was kind of like a gas station for my life,” said Pereira. “It fuelled me up with hope and excitement to face the next part of my life. So I guess I’m looking for a refill.”

Pereira won’t be the only one. She will be joined by an estimated one-million pilgrims at the gathering together of Pope Benedict XVI with youth and young adults from around the world. The 11th international World Youth Day officially begins Aug. 16 and ends Aug. 21.