I spent ten days making visits in Spain. For the first three days I was in Madrid. Then I went North, stopping in Valladolid, Burgos, Vitoria, Bilbao, Santander, Oviedo and finally, on the way back, in Segovia. In spite of the rain and the cold, the welcome, as so often in Spain, was very warm.
In Madrid I met groups who have been praying with great faithfulness for a very long time. The first evening, I went to a parish in the south of the city. The neighbourhood is called Carabanchel Alto. It is a working class area. It was beautiful to discover people in that parish who had been praying with the songs from Taizé for almost thirty years. “Even when there are only four of us, we pray together and that is a great support”. The second evening, I took part in a prayer that has been in existence for 17 years in the Heart of Mary Parish, in the centre of Madrid. These groups are a witness for us. They are very conscious of the fact that what is important is not that something extraordinary happens each time we pray; but in the long term it is faithfulness that will open a way ahead.
Even if there are signs of long lasting faithfulness, I saw how the situation of the Church in Spain is difficult; what can be done to proclaim the good news in a society that has changed profoundly and is changing constantly? What can be done for the young people to have first of all a personal encounter with Christ?
The Archbishop of Oviedo was particularly welcoming. The day before I arrived he telephoned to invite me to the mass at the cathedral. After the mass, we spoke at length in his office. I thought that was everything, but then he said that he had reserved his entire afternoon to be with me. So, after the mid day meal, with several priests in charge of youth ministry and the seminary, the archbishop took part in a meeting at the seminary that was open to everyone. The hall was full of young people, adults, and seminarians from the diocese. In the evening, there was a prayer in one of the parishes; and there too there were many people. And the archbishop stayed for the prayer too.
Faced with the situation of the Church in Spain, we do not have solutions. No one has the “key”. But I do believe that it is important to make visits. Through these simple visits we can offer our support.
The Canary Islands have always been marked by the distance separating them from the Iberian Peninsula: getting there involves a three hour flight. In each place however the welcome is very warm despite the distance separating the villages and the islands, a distance accentuated by the desert-like countryside. The islands of Fuerteventura, Lanzarote and Gran Canaria hosted times of prayer and meetings in beautiful churches filled by diverse groups of people who are very active in their local communities: pastoral workers; members of religious communities; young people who, despite sitting exams, took a time off in order to join the prayers and thereby showed their willingness to be available.
Among those present many remembered the last visit by brothers to these islands while others recalled how much a week spent in Taizé in the 1970’s and 80’s had affected them. A question which came up repeatedly at the end of each meeting was: Why not find a time and place in our local Church for prayer and meeting in order to nourish commitments made on a personal level as well as in the community?
The round of visits continued on the mainland in the towns of Segovia, Soria and the very prosperous village of Ólvega where the common prayers and meetings were very beautiful and took place in old Romanesque churches. Among those who are active in the church important questions arise: How to motivate and accompany the young people so that they continue their pilgrimage of faith? Within the parish community how to give opportunities to be creative? In the small towns and villages there is a real sense of a more traditional Church trying to come to terms with an urgent call to see how to accompany young people in their personal search.