Our group left Birmingham, Ala., Sunday around noon. Dressed in matching purple T-shirts, we gave up our personal identity for the sake of communion, which was a real sacrifice for some of us!

At our first layover in Houston, we ran into a Madrid-bound group from Texas. Just running into fellow pilgrims united us, and we all prayed together when our connector to Newark (N.J.) airport was delayed. This made for some frantic activity scrambling through the airport, but as Providence would have it, our connecting plane to Madrid was also delayed. Picture an empty Newark airport at 11pm, except for one gate full of rowdy teens, anxious to be on their way.

The groups of pilgrims were easily identifiable by their different T-shirts, but quickly becoming friends. And, due to our common destination, we were fast becoming friends.

We arrived in Madrid to an airport thronged with a huge group from Brazil. They were all wearing hats with their national flag on top! In a crowd already popping with enthusiasm, we finally found our guides and made it to the hotel.

Though we were so tired, our enthusiasm provided a tonic, so out onto the streets we headed, and off to Mass for the solemnity of the Assumption.

JMJ Youth, which is our tour-guide program, had a Mass said in honor of Our Lady at the beautiful Franciscan church Cristo de Medinaceli. It will be the fourth stop for the upcoming Stations of the Cross. A priest from the Conventual Friars of the Renewal was the main homilist. He reminded us that we will encounter a lot in the next few days and we should answer the way Mary did: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.”

He also gave us a fun little saying: When things go wrong, we should just remember to shout “POPE!” This stands for Part of the Pilgrimage Experience, while at the same time reminding us of why we are here.

Every few minutes another group starts chanting “Benedicto,” and all the pilgrims join in. It is hard to describe just how joyful the crowd is. Adios till tomorrow.

Rachel Howell, the Register’s customer-and-administrative-support representative,

is blogging about the faith-filled events of World Youth Day 2011 from Madrid.

She is traveling with a group of first-time pilgrims from her parish in Alabama.