Achbach, Guptill, Piroutek pilgrimage to Spain for World Youth Day program

World sized crowd, world sized television screens ... The World Youth Day event in Spain included semi-truck-mounted gigantic televisions so the 1.7 million people could better see the Pope and stage. As shown here, they even saw themselves as a crowd, from a distant aerial view.

by Del Bartels

Father Kevin Achbach, high school senior Josie Guptill and college sophomore Danielle Piroutek attended the World Youth Day (WYD) program August 16-21 in Madrid, Spain.

"There is only one word to describe the pilgrimage to Spain, unbelievable," said Josie Guptill. "We all experience challenges in our everyday lives, but this pilgrimage allowed me to see more clearly the good that can come for those challenges."

World Youth Day, a Catholic event held in different countries usually every third year, focuses on youth. The estimated attendance for the 2011 event was 1.7 million.

"It's a pilgrimage in the sense that you are going on a journey for the experience of sufferings and the graces of spiritual benefit," said Achbach. "The biggest part is having Mass with the Pope. He has a finger on what kids are experiencing, for the kids to experience faith and take it back home."

The group of South Dakotans from West River included 50 people, of those there were three priests.

The pilgrimage was self-financed by contributions from the youth, approximately 70 percent, along with companies and other individuals giving approximately 30 percent. Officials estimated that the event generated three times as much in tourist revenue than the cost to Spain for security and infrastructure for the event.

"Growing up in the country, I am not use to thousands, or millions, of people in one area," said Guptill. "It was a little overwhelming at times, but knowing each one of us was there to acknowledge our faith together made it worthwhile. It was most definitely not a vacation and understanding that each one of us each had to make sacrifices, such as no hot water, walking for long periods of time, and getting lost, were all part of the experience."

The event had a built-in 'cultural programme,' which meant the youth stayed several days with host parishes and families in outskirting towns and villages. According to Achbach, this getting a flavor of the culture included the young ladies receiving beautifully crafted flamenco skirts and the young men receiving cloth cummerbunds and scarfs. The youth then participated in dance lessons.

Piroutek said, "We got to stay in a small town, 1,000 people. The hospitality and how people got along with each other really reminded me of Philip. It was cool."

Though Rapid City was the first diocese in the world to register, the locals still had trouble with Spain officials losing reservations, accreditation and paperwork-filled issued backpacks. "Part of a socialist bureaucracy," explained Achbach. "Our mind set, we want competency and people who can see the overall picture of things." This caused the group to have to stay the last few evenings in a suburb hours away from downtown Madrid, having to sleep outside under the stars and take cold showers. The South Dakota people would get to sleep around 2:00 a.m. and had to get up around 6:00 a.m. "Part of the little struggles of the pilgrimage," said Achbach.

This lead him to experience what he called the best part of the trip, "Definitely the youthful faith of the kids we were traveling with. It was so inspiring; a desire to grow in their faith, a reality that this was a pilgrimage. It was like a shot of spiritual adrenaline right into my soul. And then you multiply that by 1.7 million youth."

Piroutek agreed, "I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn more of what the church has to offer, meet people and learn the universality of the church." She said. "And above all see how the Christian faith transcends people, places and cultures. It's the same wherever you go."

Guptill said, "The best part, well there are so many there is not enough paper to write it all down. I met the most amazing people, experiencing the unity of millions of Catholics all over the world, and coming back with the knowledge that what I believe is real and nothing can ever take that away from me." Guptill concluded, "This pilgrimage has opened my eyes to my faith and has made me realize that no matter where you go you are not alone in what you believe."

Piroutek said, "I think the coolest part for me was the day we spent in Granada. There are some caves where it's believed that that is where some of the first martyrs in the Christian church and in Spain were. It was a beautiful moment, where what we believe is worth dying for."

Achbach said that WYD is one of the biggest feeders for priesthood and religious life. The global result of WYD is having young adults more actively involved in their church.

The event opened with a Mass in Madrid´s Cibeles Square, presided over by the archbishop of Madrid. August 21 was the final Mass, where the Pope, along with thousands of bishops and priests, celebrated with the record-breaking numbers of pilgrims. The next event will be held in Rio De Janeiro in 2013.