Leader of WYD Organization Praises Participants

Yago de la Cierva on Slip-ups and Great Success

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By Inma Álvarez

MADRID, Spain, AUG. 23, 2011 (Zenit.org).- There were some slip-ups and surprises during the 26th World Youth Day, but only a few, considering an event of such magnitude.

This was the initial evaluation offered by Yago de la Cierva, the director of organization for Madrid’s WYD.

One of those who worked most closely with the Pope during his memorable four days in Spain, De la Cierva told ZENIT about the biggest challenges that the organizers faced. He also offered an overall assessment: «The secret of a celebration is in the quality of the guests, and that was evident at WYD.»

ZENIT: What is your general evaluation of this 26th World Youth Day?

De la Cierva: A marvel of grace. Madrid has changed, Spain has changed, and above all thousands of young people have drawn close to Jesus Christ thanks to the Pope’s teaching. If I were to highlight something, it would be the very great number of young people who were able to concentrate on the essential, who dedicated time to Eucharistic adoration, went to confession and took part in the events with tangible devotion.

Q: What were the main problems that had to be addressed?

De la Cierva: The World Day is an event of young people for young people, organized by ecclesial institutions worldwide, which work with very different methodologies and virtually opposite cultures. An Italian group with much experience and flexibility is not the same as a more rigid one; a small group that buys Spanish telephone cards is different than an enormous group with little communication among themselves; people of cultures where punctuality is a value and it suffices to say things a couple of times, and those where time is flexible and a barrier is an invitation to jump. In this connection, WYD is, essentially, organized chaos. But the results have been fabulous, precisely because people knew what they were coming for: pilgrimage.

In the second place are difficulties related to organizing an event of these dimensions with teams of volunteers and a limited budget. We are very pleased that virtually everything turned out well, and we are sorry, and apologize for what turned out badly: groups incorrectly assigned to lodgings, errors in the distribution of food in Cuatro Vientos, lack of water for two hours in some areas — given that the reserves of water were used to shower, not to drink, understandable given the heat, but it upset our plans, etc. 

However, these incidents do not add up to 1% in any of the cases. We are sorry because they affected people, but experts in large events — and experience in other WYDs certifies it — tell us that those errors unfortunately are inevitable. However, not for this reason do we give them less importance and we apologize to those who were affected.

ZENIT: In regard to the protests against WYD in the Puerta del Sol and the images that went around the world, of pilgrims being insulted and jostled, what is your evaluation? Did the organization at some point fear a boycott of the ceremonies?

De la Cierva: The Spanish political and social situation is not simple, and that’s why it isn’t strange that many journalists who arrived in Madrid to cover the event did not wholly understand what was going on. There was only one manifestation against the Pope’s visit, which the government had to approve because in the official request its real nature was not revealed. The protests of the 15-M were not against the WYD. Moreover, some of the troublemakers were not in Madrid by chance, but they could be described as «professionals of provocation.» In fact, those arrested by the police all had criminal antecedents — and many of them were not Spanish. I take advantage of the opportunity to thank and praise the work of the Spanish police force, which was able to keep order with very few exceptions that were due, precisely, to the violent.

My evaluation of these events is that they were the shadows that every picture has, which do no more than highlight the lights and figures. Much clearer has been the difference between those who spread love and those who live on hatred; those who want to help young people to look to the future with responsibility and hope, and those who are shut-in on themselves; those who gave an example of coexistence and those that are intolerant of those who don’t think as they do and use verbal, graphic and physical violence. However, now it is easier to appreciate the work of the Church with young people throughout the world.

ZENIT: Perhaps one of the most critical moments was Saturday’s prayer vigil, when the sudden storm made the Pope pause and several tents were damaged or fell. Did you fear, at some point, that the ceremony would have to be suspended?

De la Cierva: I lived those moments very close to the Pope and in truth, the only thing that worried us was that we didn’t know how to shelter the Pope from the rain, because it came down horizontally. In fact, the Pope was asked if he wished to leave, and on two occasions he said no, that he wished to continue. So the ceremony was reduced, given that one never knows how long a storm can last, and the central part was kept: Eucharistic adoration. The Pope himself commented later that he was happy because in this way the essential was clearer: the presence of the Sacramental Jesus among us, and personal adoration in silence. And I dare add that the Pope’s and the young people’s personalities were also made clearer: No one left; rather they faced that rain with joy and the capacity of sacrifice. They had not come to have a good time, and that inconvenience was clearly foreseen by God, so that they assumed it gladly.

The strong wind rendered one of the 17 Eucharistic tents useless and caused damages in two others. To avoid greater destruction, the police decided to tear down all the ones that were unharmed to avoid the sail effect, and close them, so that there wouldn’t be more wounded. Because of this it was not possible to give Communion the next morning, as it was going to be distributed from the Eucharistic tents. That was perhaps the most painful element of the Mass, that so many young people were unable to receive the Lord sacramentally in Cuatro Vientos, but had to make a spiritual communion and then go to a church in the afternoon to receive the sacramental Lord. However, I understand well the reasoning of the police: In a moment of doubt, one must opt for the physical safety of those present, taking into account the uncertainty of the weather and the reigning darkness.

ZENIT: Another problem was that many pilgrims were unable to access the Cuatro Vientos enclosure because of a lack of space. Can you explain what happened and why?

De la Cierva: Cuatro Vientos had two areas: one for those registered, and another for those not registered. One hundred thousand more people could be accommodated in addition to those registered and yet many young people — and I understand it: when I was their age I did exactly the same thing — did not respect the accesses and the assigned areas, and they occupied places that didn’t correspond to them. When the people arrived who could be there legitimately, on seeing that the places were taken, they did not want to go back but settled in the access lanes. In those circumstances, it wasn’t safe for the young people for more people to come in, because ambulances and water vehicles, etc. could not get through; and we, in agreement with the police, decided to close the accesses: Better to be outside than to endanger the young people.

Hence some 18,000 pilgrims remained outside, because many of them preferred to wait in the accesses closer to the stage than to go to the south part, as was indicated to them. It is a notable number, and we really feel sorry for them, but it is equal to 1% of those who attended the vigil. I must add that early on we asked the young people to leave the lanes and to pick up their jackets and sleeping tents and to let all those pass who were ou
tside, and many others who were only participating in the Mass.

ZENIT: Heat, rain, security problems. Has it been the most troubled WYD?

De la Cierva: Well I don’t know. All the WYDs have had their problems and we did too, perhaps, given the fact that this day was the hottest of the summer, and that Cuatro Vientos was the hottest place in the Community of Madrid that day. But we must trust Providence. In the end, everything has meaning. The secret of a celebration is in the quality of the guests, and that was evident at WYD.

ZENIT: Personally, what did you think at the moment the wind was blowing about the Pope, the stage and the young people?

De la Cierva: I thought of the Pope’s courage and the magnificent example that the young people gave.

ZENIT: What data does the organization have on the final participation?

De la Cierva: We don’t have the data on participation; we don’t have the instruments for a reliable estimate — that’s up to the authorities and the experts. We only know that there were many last-minute registrations, and we reached almost 475,000. The telephone companies speak of almost 1.5 million operating phones in Cuatro Vientos; Madrid’s Chamber of Commerce indicated that the economic return of the WYD for Madrid’s economy was €160 million; the association of [restaurants] tripled its business; the traffic on the social networks regarding WYD was very high; and Madrid’s health system pointed out that it was the most numerous and long event it ever attended, and was surprised that the numbers of those needing treatment were very low. And as a curious note, they were amazed that in the country of the «botellon,» that in more than one million young people, there was not a problem of drunkenness. It’s obvious that they’ve never attended a WYD.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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