The Vatican's World Youth Day (six days, really) here in Madrid, Spain, began last night with a Mass attended by a half-million pilgrims downtown at Plaza de Cibeles. (http://www.madrid11.com/en/tuesday-16) My husband and I were returning from a birthday party for evilshrubbery on the subway when it ended.
At a stop north of the plaza, a group of pilgrims in their late teens got on at one end of the subway car and another group entered by the middle door. Many wore the yellow and red backpack they got at registration and the matching tee-shirt, so there was no mistaking who they were. We were surrounded. They greeted each other joyously, and despite a language barrier figured out where they were from: Argentina and Poland. Then they happily exchanged songs, cheers, and clapping.
A few stops later, another group got on carrying a big Italian flag. They were welcomed with a chant of "Viva Italia!" followed "Viva Argentina!" "Viva Polonia!" "Benedicto!" "Carlos Wotyla!" "Juan Paul Segundo!" a few saints, and even "Leo Messi!" (That was from the Argentinians. Messi, from Argentina, is the world's best soccer player.) Everyone was laughing, including us.
When the Italians got off a few stops later, the others bid them farewell with applause and cheers and more chants. And when my husband and I, clearly locals, got off at the next stop, they chanted "Viva España!"
Outside, the streets were filled with pilgrims finding their way to the schools, churches, and community centers where they were staying. Many had stopped at the sidewalk cafés. The next morning, when I went out to buy a newspaper, I glimpsed them dozing in sleeping bags outdoors (the weather is beastly hot) in school patios and basketball courts.
From what I've seen and read in the news, our experience was pretty much the norm for the city now.
The Pope arrives tomorrow.