Thursday, April 24, 2014

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English-speaking pilgrims find culture, faith at Love and Life Center

081611-wyd-americans-arriveMADRID — The colors of World Youth Day lit up the auditorium of the Palacio de Deportes sports arena in Madrid Tuesday afternoon for the opening of the "Love and Life Center: A Home for English-Speaking Pilgrims."

American, Canadian and World Youth Day flags, among others, swayed to the rockin' beat of Louisiana-based L'Angelus, a Catholic family band that opened the event to cheers of young people ready to be on fire with their faith.

Band members invited their younger siblings onstage. Twins Maximilian and Kolbe Rees, 7, played "When the Saints Go Marching In" on the trumpet, and 5-year-old Molly endeared herself to the crowd by singing and performing a French-Canadian dance.

L'Angelus offered a fitting tribute to the center's celebration of the Catholic faith.

The center is a "microcosm of the culture of life," said Sister Mary Gabriel, novice director for the Sisters of Life. "You will find everything. You will find a home for yourself."

A collaboration of the Knights of Columbus and the New York-based sisters, the Love and Life Center will offer four days of programming to help pilgrims grow closer to God. Events include catechesis by Sydney Cardinal George Pell; a panel on theology of the body; music from groups like L'Angelus and Northern Virginia-based folk-rock group Scythian; a "You and Me" exhibit depicting the power of choice; and, of course, prayer.

The center is co-sponsored by Holy Cross Family Ministries, Canada's Salt and Light Television Network, the Apostleship of Prayer, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), World Youth Alliance and the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family.

Sister Mary Gabriel said the Love and Life Center is all about giving hope to the young people who participate. She said the nuns arrived Aug. 10 and have since been busy getting the center ready for the pilgrims, especially the "You and Me" exhibit, which uses audio to tell the stories of people who allowed God to work through the choices they made in their lives.

"It's about the human person and the power of a choice," Sister Mary Gabriel said. "Even one choice can radically change the world."

Pilgrims wiped tears from their eyes as they moved from station to station, listening to the witnesses of real people the Sisters of Life met through their ministry or through the Catholic community. The different examples of family life show how "literally new worlds were opened up" as people found guidance through God's help, Sister Mary Gabriel said.

"They touch on issues of the heart, the issues that everyone grapples with to some degree," she said. "They're all really powerful."

Jennifer Loser, alumni relations manager with FOCUS, said the group's connection with the Knights of Columbus has enabled it to "share in the joy and the hospitality of inviting people into the love and life center."

"We hope that (pilgrims) see that people are young and attractive and excited to serve the Lord," Loser said.

Sister Mary Gabriel said she hopes the pilgrims will leave the center knowing there is "hope for me -- that Christ is good and Christ means good for us."

"The idea is that everyone who comes here will be able to receive something that allows them to grow closer to Christ and grow closer to who they are and knowing what their potential is," she said. "The Lord is with them. Love is possible in their life. They can live life in this way and be set free."

She said all the work, time and effort put into getting the center ready all boils down to making "a place where the Lord can give us what he's prepared for us."

"He's here and he's anticipated this more than us," she said. "That, to me, is what is so beautiful. He just takes over, and you let it roll."

Pictured: U.S. World Youth Day pilgrims cheer around their flag Aug. 15 during a television interview outside the check-in hall for the international Catholic youth gathering in Madrid. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

— Gretchen R. Crowe, Catholic News Service

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