We are going to Spain this summer. I have never been, and am looking forward to the trip. The planning of the trip, however, started off with a desire to go to a mass with the Pope.
In an effort to raise enthusiasm and awareness of the Catholic message among teenagers, Pope John Paul II put together an event called World Youth Day. Every other year Catholic teens from across the globe would convene in a large city, pray, participate, take pictures, buy a t-shirt, and go home with some great memories. I thought this sounded like an incredibly cool opportunity for my boys. I asked around, and our diocese just happened to be putting together a group to go to Madrid, the muster point for this year's World Youth Day. The tour's climax was a mass with Pope Benedict. Wow, I thought. This was meant to be.
Then I remembered my experiences on school tours in foreign countries. The lightning fast pace. Four countries in four days. The mega buses on the micro-streets. The ancient bread rolls served at breakfast. In Munich, the rolls were served with something call Shinken-Creme, a pasty meat spread made of ham and pork unmentionables. Breakfast was like eating the business end of a medieval mace, nicely buttered with the liver of your recently smitten victim. Maybe a cheap student tour wasn't the best idea. Besides, I wanted to go with.
Obviously, a trip to Europe is something to be savored. It shouldn't be rushed, or the bargain-tour-package-of-a-lifetime- better-go-now-as-prices-go-up-everyday kind of trip. I wanted the boys to enjoy Europe, to learn something about themselves, about culture, to explore the historical landmarks of the Old World, and to map out Europe's wheel chair ramps, so dear Old Mom could count on touring with style and comfort in her golden years.
After a little investigation, I was astonished by the magnitude of World Youth Day. I began to imagine the potential response to Pope Benedict's appearance in predominantly Catholic Spain. In 2008, there were a reported 400,000 attendees at World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia. In Rome, 2 million. In 2005, there were 1.2 million participants when the event was held in Germany. That's a lot of Shinken-Creme.
World Youth Day began to sound like an overwhelming crush of teenagers, and it didn't seem like the boys could take advantage of learning any Spanish while in Spain. So, I abandoned the idea of the boys traveling to World Youth Day, and turned to the internet to find a good summer program instead. One stood out as a good solid 4 week immersion program, so I signed 'em up.
My sister in law heard about our plans to travel to Spain to pick up the boys after their program ended, so she mentioned she would like to tag along. Then, my niece chimed in. A week later, my other niece raised her hand too. Our cozy group of five turned into eight, then eleven, as my brother in law, wife and daughter decided to go too. Still, it was not the sea of people World Youth Day promised. I booked the rooms, rented the van, and now I am waiting for the take off.