People, people and more people — that is all I have seen for 24 hours. Group Alabama just returned to our hotel after one of the most incredible experiences I have ever been through.

First, we walked and walked in streets filled with people, only to arrive at the field where the closing Mass took place around noon Madrid time yesterday.

As far as the eye could see, people were walking, and then settling down into the dust to wait for the Holy Father. We were very fortunate to get there as early as we did because we got a good spot up against a fence.

For the next eight hours, we fought the lines for water and wished it would rain. It was so hot!

Little did we know our prayers would be answered — but not until we no longer wanted it.

The ingenious guys in our group made us a little shelter to shade us from the sun out of our tarps, and there we camped.

Finally, Papa Benedict arrived — to an estimated crowd of 2 million cheering and dancing young people.

As the sun set and the prayers began, so did the rain. Under our tarps we all went, and the prayers were halted for a time.

Though I felt sorry for everyone (including myself) out in such miserable circumstances, I felt especially sorry for all the cardinals and bishops — and the Pope — up on the stage who just sat through it all.

The rain provided some off-script comments from the Holy Father to the joy of the crowd! There was a comradeship with him that deepened when you saw his wind-blown hair and his umbrella fighting the wind and rain.

Then he led all of us in Benediction, and the vast crowd knelt in the rain to adore Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

It was a night I will never forget.

It rained on and off. We all huddled under tarps to keep dry, sharing shelter with perfect strangers. The mood was pretty happy, despite the circumstances.

Life took on a different perspective when I awoke this morning. All of our material possessions had been ruined during the night. We were aware that faith is really the only thing we have that is a lasting happiness.

As the sun came up over the crowd, everyone tried to clean up and prepare for Mass.

My biggest disappointment, out of everything, was the fact that the tents that held the Blessed Sacrament were destroyed during the storm, taking away our chance for adoration, and making it impossible to distribute holy Communion during Mass in the morning.

Finally, Pope Benedict arrived again, but, due to the vast crowds, he was unable to drive around through all of us. Another huge disappointment, but it is all part of the WYD sacrifice.

A very dirty, tired crowd participated in the beautiful closing Mass.

There is nothing like the experience — youth of the whole world praying together. Even though we all speak different languages, we are all united in the sacrifice of the Mass. We followed along in our pilgrim manuals and wished we could speak Spanish.

One of the songs was Here I Am, Lord, and it was in English! The familiar words to that song took on a deeper meaning after such physical difficulties: “I will break their hearts of stone. Give them hearts for Love alone.”

That is my prayer for WYD: After all that we have experienced, as all the youth return home to their countries, may our hearts be only for you, Lord.

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.

Read about Rachel’s other WYD adventures:

Praying for World Youth Day
4 Reasons to Go to World Youth Day
Madrid, Here We Are!
Opening Mass Welcomes Pilgrims to WYD
Day 3 in Madrid: A Trip to Confession Park, Vocational Booths and ‘Life on the Rock’
Day 4 in Madrid: The Pope Has Arrived!
Day 5 in Madrid: The Way of the Cross and a Blessing by the Pope