No more room at the inn

What was supposed to be the amazing culmination of what I would say has been a fantastic World Youth Day experience has kicked off on a sour note.

Pilgrims were not allowed into Cuatro Vientos despite the fact that they had tickets. The venue was overcapacity.

Pilgrims were not allowed into Cuatro Vientos despite the fact that they had tickets. The venue was over capacity.

Here’s what was supposed to happen: After making an estimated two and a half hour trek to Cuatro Vientos, we were supposed to take part in the papal mass, sleep there overnight and end WYD with the closing mass tomorrow. Our experience has been a little different.

After walking over four hours in the blazing heat (the temperature was 46 C during the height of our walk), we were turned away at Cuatro Vientos. There were no volunteers along the road to give us water. (We relied on vendors and running into restaurants to fill our water bottles). Apparently, organizers underestimated the number of people who would show up. It didn’t matter that we had bought tickets. Police had implemented a lock down.

Canadian pilgrims sit outside the entrance the seating area at Cuatro Vientos after being told people were no longer being allowed in.

Canadian pilgrims sit outside the entrance to the seating area at Cuatro Vientos after being told people were no longer being allowed in.

Truly, it was a very sad scene in Cuatro Vientos tonight. Pilgrims have travelled from all over the world to experience World Youth Day. And while we have definitely done so–and it has been incredible–the loss of this experience which so many have been looking forward to for so long is a bitter pill to swallow. No one can believe this has happened. Such a contrast to everything else we’ve experienced.

I’m not sure how such a massive miscalculation could be made. Pilgrims I’ve spoken with who made it inside Cuatro Vientos told me they ran out of food for the pilgrims inside. They didn’t see washrooms readily accessible on site. The crowds looked like they were close to becoming mob-like. This is not what World Youth Day is supposed to look like.

Alessandro Baldessari, an Italian pilgrim, calls his friends to find out where they are--and how they can meet up amidst the massive crowds exiting the aerodome.

Alessandro Baldessari, an Italian pilgrim, calls his friends to find out where they are--and how they can meet up amidst the massive crowds exiting the aerodome.

Of course, there are the positives. The Canadian pilgrims gathered and prayed together onsite despite the chaos. Friends and acquaintances banded together in the extreme circumstances (it started raining in the midst of everything) and despite the heat, pilgrims prayed the rosary and sang together on the walk over. Fellowship was not in short supply.

But right now (and I’m sure for a long time), pilgrims just have one question: How did this happen?

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3 thoughts on “No more room at the inn

  1. The same thing happened to us. We are from Hong Kong and were registered to be in E4 and ended up in G4. It was very disappointing, with 2 of our youth in tears! My husband and I (through God’s grace) were accepting and calm enough to comfort our youth. It was an amazing experience nonetheless. Like you, I can only venture to guess what happened.

  2. What an incredibly sad way to end a beautiful week. I am shocked that the authorities did not find room inside, even to move people around so that these pilgrims could fit. they came from such a distance and walked so long to be a part of this very important mass. We only hope and pray that these actions don’t overtake all the positives that occurred during the week. It is unfortunate that the priests and bishops who had some authority could not intercede. Blessings to all the pilgrims, but especially to those who were turned away.

  3. I just read some of the speeches that the Holy Father gave during the week, and one quote stays with me for all the youth that had this horrible experience of being shut out. He says “may no adversity paralyze you!!” this event was an incredible adversity amid so much love and faith. It is my hope that in fact, although it has cast a shadow on the whole event, the positive activities and feelings of the week will be the centre of what remains with the shut out youth.

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