One of the goals of the planners of the Madrid World Youth Days is that the events be marked by the Spanish character of the Catholic faith and not simply a gathering of globalized citizens that are at home at Starbucks, McDonald’s, Burger King and the local Cineplex. Although Madrid has all of those places in its busy streets, they will not be highlighted in the WYD experience.

Most of the patrons saints of WYD Madrid are Spaniards or of Spanish descent, with the exception of Blessed Pope John Paul II. The pilgrim kits will include the ever present abanico (folding fans) that are especially popular in un-air conditioned Spanish churches. The WYD materials given to the pilgrims as they arrived today are red and yellow, the colors of the Spanish flag. There is even a Spanish cerveza(non-alcoholic beer) from a local brewery included in the red and yellow mochillo (backpack).

It is the art, culture, food and spirit of faith — and spirit of fiesta — that show that this is a Spanish WYD.

Highlights for pilgrims are two museum collections. Madrid is a major museum city, and visitors almost always take in the big three:  The Prado, The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, and the Reina Sofia Museum of Contemporary Art.

The first two, The Prado and the Thyssen-Bornemisza, have put together special collections for World Youth Day pilgrims, who will be allowed in for free or at reduced rates. The contemporary art museum has only two or three explicitly religious paintings in a collection that covers four floors and is about a city block long.

The Prado, though, has installed Caravaggio’s The Deposition of Christ, on loan from the Vatican Museum, and has surrounded it with a themed itinerary of 13 masterpieces from its permanent collection titled “The Word Made Image: Paintings of Christ in the Museo del Prado.” The exhibit will run through mid-September.

Spanish masters such as Zurbaran, Velasquez, El Greco and Murillo have their important religious works highlighted and explained in small plaques in Spanish and English that are marked with the World Youth Day logo.  It is rare for a painting in the Prado to not be religious in theme, whether drawn from Scripture, the life of Jesus and the saints, or the history of the Catholic Church, especially in Spain, so this WYD special will allow pilgrims to better appreciate a few key works in a sea of masterpieces.

The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum is a private collection that was made public in the early 1990s. From its collection of European masterpieces, it has brought together nine works that depict scenes from Christ’s childhood until after his resurrection in an exhibit titled “Encounters: Religious Paintings From the 14th to the 18th century at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.” The works are not all of Spanish origin, and include Dutch and German works, but they have all become part of Madrid’s cultural patrimony. Carmen Thyssen-Bornimesza, a major social figure in Europe and part of the family that donated the collection, opened the display last Thursday in the presence of Madrid’s Cardinal Archbishop Ruoco Varela. The exhibit will also run through September.

Included is Duccio di Buoninsegna’s Christ and the Samaritan Woman from the 14th century and Brueghel’s Christ in the Storm of the Sea of Galilee from the 16th century. All the works show Jesus encountering a real person in the midst of his and their real lives. 

Encountering Jesus anew is one of the principal goals of Pope Benedict for World Youth Day and the young people who will gather with him in Madrid. He continually says that he is not the star, but that he has come to Madrid to point the young people to Christ and facilitate an encounter with him, especially through the Church and its sacraments. 

Jesuit Father Matthew Gamber is the Register’s correspondent at World Youth Day in Madrid.