Today was so full that I cannot do justice to it. From the amazing guides provided by Youth in Europe (which will soon be changing its name to JMJ Youth), to the patient security guards on the crowded metro, it seems the Holy Spirit is touching everyone.

Our day began with a little clash in cultures — not Spain and the United States, but Northeast/Pennsylvania and Southeast/Alabama. Our groups both have the same guide, and our poor friends from Philly had to put up with us Alabamians running out the door.

We are not known for keeping schedules, and our completely opposite friends are perfectly themed, even down to their matching neon green T-shirts. It must be a case of divine Providence to show us how to grown in the virtue of patience.

Once together, we headed out into downtown Madrid, back on the metro, getting ever more crowded with pilgrim groups from all over creation. The streets were filled with happy groups, singing and chanting. Maria, our awesome guide, took us to Madrid’s Cathedral Nuestra Señora de la Almudena. It became the cathedral of Madrid when the Diocese of Madrid was founded in 1884.

Smiling faces greeted us from every turn in this beautiful cathedral. Thank God we all smile in the same language. We saw the outside of the Royal Palace when we were in the area, but getting inside was out of the question. Next, we headed to a gorgeous little garden called Templo de Debod, an ancient temple that was a gift to Spain from Egypt. It was funny to see a real Egyptian temple in the middle of Madrid.

Next, we continued our seemingly never-ending quest for nourishment. Even with our WYD meal tickets, the cafes are overwhelmed. Right after our group ate lunch, the food ran out, so it was yet another thing to be grateful for. It will be interesting to see how the restaurants cope, as they simply were not prepared to accommodate the sheer amount of people.

We headed back to the hotel to rehydrate, then off to the opening Mass we went! From every point, we could see the streets teeming with people all heading for the Plaza de Cibeles. Throngs of young people crowded together in the plaza, singing and laughing and trading items from their respective countries. Seeing the joy on their faces brought tears to my eyes. And then it really hit me: We are really in Madrid attending World Youth Day!

Mass began with that same joy that seems to pervade the city. Cardinal Antonio Rouco, the archbishop of Madrid, welcomed us to the city. Maria was able to give me a rough translation of most of the homily. The cardinal reminded us that we are the youth of Pope Benedict. We face different problems than the youth of Pope John Paul II did: more challenges, hard economic times, and less faith in the general population than ever before. We need to take the example of Pope Benedict and love like St. Benedict.

He went on to say John Paul II looked at World Youth Day as a huge evangelization tool. He told us Pope Benedict would call us to be evangelized youth — and to answer that call as his disciples.

As Mass ended, we headed off in search of supper and the hotel. We abandoned the metro system — it was totally overwhelmed. We walked all the way back to the hotel, found a shop that still had food, and got the exhausted groups safely back to the hotel.

A few of us were still energized from the lovely Mass, so we headed across the city to attend a concert at the Love and Life Center. It was the ever talented, totally fun group from the United States L’Angelus, who kept us singing and dancing far into the night.

I’m back at the hotel, writing at 2am Madrid time, which is seven hours ahead of by family back home in Alabama. Time for sleep.

Blessings from Madrid!

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.