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WYD-PREPARE Sep-23-2010 (600 words) With photos. xxxi

Organizers hope World Youth Day helps youths experience joy of faith

Father Javier Igea and Mauricio Lapastora, both officials for the Organizing Committee for World Youth Day 2011, answer questions during a meeting with American Catholic leaders in Madrid, Spain. More than 2 million Catholic youths are expected to attend World Youth Day next August in Spain. (CNS/Russell F. Evans)

By Russell F. Evans
Catholic News Service

MADRID (CNS) -- On a clear, sunny morning in late summer, Father Javier Igea met with a group of U.S. Catholics in the Plaza San Juan de la Cruz. He smiled, shook their hands and greeted them, one by one, in unexpectedly good English.

Behind them hung large, colorful signs that read, "Arraigados y edificados en Cristo, firmes en la fe." These are the words of St. Paul, "Planted and built up in Christ, firm in the faith," the theme of World Youth Day 2011.

Father Igea is a member of the Organizing Committee for the Aug. 16-21 World Youth Day. He said he sees the event as a chance for young people to experience the joy that comes from Catholic faith.

"I think that (the young people) will discover the church in their expression of love, the church that is not different from Christ," he said. "Being a Christian is not boring, it's fun."

The U.S. Catholics hoped to gather information and experience in Madrid and at Spain's many holy sites so they can excite and prepare the young people of their dioceses for World Youth Day.

Among the group was Eva Fleck, a mother of three from Troy, Mich. The visit was her first to Madrid's grand plazas and ornate Catholic churches.

"When my boys come to World Youth Day they will see hundreds of thousands of people, and the people will be singing and praying in their own languages," she said, adding that she loved the cleanness of Madrid and its layout.

World Youth Day, begun in 1985 by Pope John Paul II, gives young people the chance to connect with Catholicism in a social and very personal way. On Sept. 3 Pope Benedict XVI released his message for the 2011 event and spoke about "a personal relationship with Jesus Christ."

Fleck said she hopes that her sons will experience the joy that comes from such a personal relationship.

"I really believe that something will awaken in every single person that's going to be there," she said. "I want (my boys) to experience that awe. I want them to be awakened. I want them to know this is real."

Pope Benedict, whose first World Youth Day as pope was in 2005 in Cologne, Germany, will be one of WYD 2011's greatest draws. He'll be received Aug. 18 in Madrid's massive Cibeles Square and celebrate Mass Aug. 21.

Dioceses all over the world are preparing to send young people to Madrid by fundraising, making travel arrangements, and contacting dioceses in Spain regarding Days in the Dioceses, which provide an opportunity for visitors to spend time in non-Madrid dioceses for several days before Aug. 16.

Father Igea, who heads the Days in the Dioceses program, said he hoped Catholics from other countries would experience a pilgrimage during that time.

"So they come and they do 20-30 kilometers, maybe 15 or 20 miles. Being pilgrims, we hope that they meet other youngsters in Spain and that true bonds of friendship and faith come out," he said.

Of Spain's 69 dioceses, 60 will participate.

Fleck said she hopes that the spirit of this event will continue into the future.

"You continue to live what you have learned during the preparation, what you have experienced, how you were touched," she said. "So then you take it, and you live it, and you become an example for others and you inspire others."

She said she tells her boys, "The way you're going to live your life is where you create memories that not only enrich your life, but the lives of others."


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