When two million people from all over the world converged on Madrid, in August at World Youth Day — a Roman Catholic sponsored event for young people — events were held on the runways of Cuartro Vientas airport.
Pope Benedict XVI navigated through the crowd in his Mercedes vehicle, where he was elevated and protected with bullet-proof glass, as the crowd parted around him.
Flags from Spain, France, Italy, Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, and Portugal were waved during celebration.
In the massive crowd were 58 Kansans, half representing small towns and half from major metropolitan areas. Three-year Centre High School teacher Laura Klenda was among them.
As a Catholic, it was hard for Klenda to explain the personal significance of seeing a pope in person. She compared it to seeing a celebrity but the experience encompassed much more than that.
On Aug. 20 and 21, the pope held a vigil and celebrated Mass; those days may be the only time Klenda will see the Holy Father. For Roman Catholics, Benedict XVI is second to seeing a saint in person.
To Klenda that singular excitement was amplified through two million people.
“There was so much youth around, so much excitement,” Klenda said.
She could not even understand the Mass, which the pope celebrated in Spanish. However, she said she witnessed a transference of faith in the pope’s affable interactions with the young patrons in Madrid.
“He was outgoing and loving,” Klenda said.
Klenda flew to Spain Aug. 5 and the Mass Aug. 21 was only one activity in which she participated. She toured Avila, Segovia, Toledo, and Cartagena seeing holy sites and cathedrals.
She stayed with a family in La Algaida, a town about the size of Hillsboro. Even though Klenda knows some Spanish, communicating with her host family was difficult. Most requests were conveyed using an awkward sign language or common words.
Klenda had to adjust to other cultural differences. In Spain, people wake up late and tend to not eat lunch until 2 p.m. They eat supper at 9 p.m.
She described Spainish residents as laissez faire; time is not nearly as constraining in Spain.
“If you’re 30 minutes late, you’re on time,” Klenda said. “You had to be flexible.”
The Spainish climate and diet were agreeable to Klenda. She described the landscape as desert-like and said there was next to no humidity anywhere.
Spanish menus contained more fresh fruits and vegetables than their American counterparts. The Spanish flavor replacement for butter and other high-fat condiments is olive oil.
“They put olive oil on everything,” she said.
She especially enjoyed Valencia style paella, a rice-like pasta, and empanadas.
Klenda enjoyed her time in La Algaida more than the other stops in Spain. Generally, Spanish residents were welcoming and friendly to guests. She said they were largely “happy go lucky.”
Klenda’s host family even asked her to return for a visit some day when she left.