MADRID (EWTN News) — A week ago, Samantha Betor and Rosali Mendiz didn’t know each other. Now the teenage pair from Massachusetts are best friends, united in their Catholic faith, thanks to World Youth Day 2011.

“Oh my goodness. It’s been indescribable,” 17-year-old Mendiz, from Westfield, Mass., told EWTN News at the closing Mass at Cuarto Vientos airbase on Aug. 21.

“Just getting to see the Pope and stuff like that — I would never have thought in a million years I’d get this opportunity.” 

The two girls come from different parts of their state, but they were both part of a Diocese of Springfield, Mass., pilgrimage to World Youth Day in Madrid.

That changed both of their lives.

“I’ve never been in big crowds before, so that was a completely new experience,” said 18-year-old Betor of North Adams, Mass. “And last night [Aug. 20 at the prayer vigil] with the storm, we prayed the Rosary, and it stopped raining. So, it’s the little things like that which make me believe stronger.”

“It’s been so amazing and holy,” added Mendiz. “We were doing adoration, and everybody was just silent. That was probably one of the best moments of my life.”

“This is what makes me most proud of being Catholic,” she added.

Their experience seemed common to nearly all the young pilgrims EWTN News spoke with at the closing Mass, regardless of where they came from.

“Looking out right now at this ocean of nations, it’s profoundly inspiring to see so many people come here — not just to see Pope Benedict, but to see Christ, really,” said 25-year-old seminarian Eamonn Hyde, who hails from Harlow, England. 

He’s glad that World Youth Day “can inspire young people to see ourselves as something more than going along with what society tells us. It’s just brilliant.”

Proudly holding the English flag aloft next to Hyde was 17-year-old Sean Jones from Southend-on-Sea, England.

“It’s probably one of the best things I’ve done,” said Jones, who called it “a growing up experience, spiritually.”

Moments later, Jones enthusiastically took off with his flag, waving it as he chased the popemobile around the perimeter of section D-3.

Beneath a different national flag, but in the same section, 18 pilgrims had come from St. Margaret’s Church in Clydebank, Scotland. 

“I certainly think World Youth Day is life changing in the same way my very first World Youth Day in Cologne was life changing,” said 24-year-old Patrick Brown. 

The event always has a profound impact “in some way. It’s an absolutely moving experience that you’re never going to forget for the rest of your life.”

Aug. 19’s Via Crucis in central Madrid provided the most touching moment for Karol Paul DeBono of Malta.

“Meeting such a huge number of young people professing the Catholic faith really enriches your faith. It’s a wonderful experience, and it gets you closer to God,” said the 21-year-old from the village of Tarxien. 

Now, a million-plus pilgrims return home, many of them renewed in their desire to live and teach the Catholic faith.

“I’m a schoolteacher, so I think I’m going to take a lot back to my students,” said 37-year-old Cheryl Hamill from New South Wales, Australia. She teaches religious education.

“But also in terms of my own faith, this week at World Youth Day is going to enhance that greatly as well.”

St. John of Avila

Pope Benedict XVI has honored the 16th-century Spanish priest St. John of Avila by naming him the 34th doctor of the Catholic Church.

“In making this announcement here, I would hope that the word and the example of this outstanding pastor will enlighten all priests and those who look forward to the day of their priestly ordination,” said the Pope at the conclusion of a special World Youth Day Mass for seminarians at Madrid’s Cathedral of the Almudena on Aug. 20.

St. John of Avila was born in 1500 in the town of Almodovar del Campo, 155 miles south of Madrid. A Christian of Jewish descent, he studied law at the University of Salamanca before being ordained a priest. He went on to become a great preacher, author and mystic, writing works that influenced St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Francis Borgia, among others. 

His best-known works include Audi Fili, a tract on Christian perfection, and his collected spiritual letters to his followers. He was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970, with his feast day falling on May 10.

The title “doctor of the Church” is bestowed upon a saint whose writings are deemed to be of universal importance to the Church. The Pope must also declare the individual to be of “eminent learning” and “great sanctity.” Other doctors of the Church include Sts. Augustine, John Chryosostom, Francis de Sales and Catherine of Siena.

“It is very happy news because he is the patron of secular priests in Spain, and it was a surprise because we didn’t know this announcement was going to be made,” said 22-year-old Madrid resident Alfonso Rodriguez-Ponga, speaking to CNA after the Mass.

“I think that he’s a very important saint for Spanish people,” said 28-year old Almudena Vigie, also from Madrid, “and I think that it’s very good news, because we all in Spain love this saint, and we study him at school and know all about him. And now, hearing the Pope say he’ll be a doctor of the Church is very good news. We are very happy.”

The last saint to be given the title was the 19th-century French nun St. Therese of Lisieux. Her elevation to the rank was announced by Pope John Paul II during World Youth Day in Paris back in August of 1997, with the proclamation coming into effect two months later.

‘Festival of Forgiveness’

Pope Benedict XVI heard confessions from four young people in Madrid at the Aug. 20 event billed as a “Forgiveness Festival,” where 200 priests also offered the sacrament of reconciliation.

A drawing took place from the pool of World Youth Day volunteers who wished to go to confession with the Pope, according to Vatican Press Office director Father Federico Lombardi.

To be included in the pool, the volunteers had to be able to speak one of the three languages that the Pope speaks best: Italian, French or German.

Two volunteers from France, one from Switzerland, and one from Spain were chosen. Originally, three young people were to be chosen, but a fourth was selected in case one could not attend. In the end, however, all four arrived and met with the Pope.

Pope Benedict concluded the confessions in the morning and went to the Cathedral of El Almudena, where about 2,000 seminarians were expecting him for a special Mass.

A World Youth Day volunteer named Guadalupe was at the Forgiveness Festival and told CNA that she had “never seen anything like it in my life.”

Young people “cried with joy and excitement. It was very nice to see so many people united.”

Open-air confessionals were set up in a Madrid park for the purpose of reconciliation throughout WYD.

New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan applauded the Madrid Archdiocese’s decision to authorize all priests at World Youth Day to forgive abortion, a task normally reserved for the local bishop.

“At special times like this, the Church bends over backwards to say, ‘Alleluia, your sins are forgiven; go in peace. There is no limit to God’s mercy,’” he told CNA on Aug. 19.

“Not bad if you ask me,” he enthused. “Alleluia!”

Church regulations, known as canon law, require that “certain particularly grave sins” — including cooperation in an abortion — can only be absolved “by the Pope, the bishop of the place or priests authorized by them.”

In practice, many bishops in countries such as the United States do authorize priests to forgive such sins, usually after special training.

For WYD, Madrid’s Archbishop Antonio Rouco Varela granted this authority to all priests in attendance.

“This is to make it easier for the faithful who attend the World Youth Day celebrations to obtain the fruits of divine grace,” the archdiocese explained on its website.

Archbishop Dolan said the current canon law showed the Church to be “a wise teacher.”

“And one of the ways she teaches is by sometimes attaching certain penalties to sins that are particularly hideous — abortion would be one of them — so usually abortion is regarded as a ‘restricted’ sin.”

But with pilgrims coming to the diocese for just a brief time, “you don’t want to be in the position of saying, ‘Hmm, could you come back tomorrow?’”

“No. You don’t want to do that, and Jesus wouldn’t want us to do that.”

Archbishop Dolan’s sentiment is shared by Vicki Thorn, the Milwaukee-based founder of the post-abortion counseling network Project Rachel.

Thorn was in Madrid for WYD and told CNA that while abortion “must normally be taken to the bishop before forgiveness is granted,” the process is “untenable at an event such as this.”

It would be “an undue burden to expect a pilgrim to find the same priest before leaving after he has had to make contact with a bishop.”

Thorn, who has counseled post-abortion for 44 years, says the experience of true repentance, followed by sacramental confession and absolution, “is absolutely critical to the healing process.”

A woman who wrongly assumes that she has “committed the unforgiveable sin … needs the grace of confession to heal.”

Abortion sharply divides Spain, as it does most other Western countries. Last month, Spain’s Socialist government received parliamentary approval for new laws liberalizing the process, in a country
where more than 100,000 children already die from abortion each year.

Among all of the faith-filled talks, Masses and events, as Catholic News Agency reported about the closing Mass, “The only disappointment for many pilgrims was that most were unable to receive Communion during Mass. This was due to the fact that many of the 17 Eucharistic chapels around the venue had blown down in last night’s storm while others had to be dismantled due to safety fears.”

More WYD coverage:

Pope Says Farewell to Youth at World Youth Day

Pope Encourages Youth to Be Faithful Disciples of Christ at Closing Mass

Pope at Prayer Vigil Tells Youth to Remain in Christ’s Love

Pope: Jesus, Mary and the Saints Show Us How to Experience Suffering

Pope Remids Seminarians at World Youth Day to Follow Christ

Pope Tells Youth: ‘May Christ’s Love for Us Increase Your Joy’ at Way of the Cross

Pope Encourages Young Religious Sisters and Professors to Teach the Truth

‘Use These Days to Know Christ Better,’ Pope Benedict Tells Youth at World Youth Day

Opening Mass Kicks Off World Youth Day

Read about our Register staffer’s 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
The Final Blessings of World Youth Day: Prayer Vigil and Closing Mass