This summer, five students joined thousands of their peers from around the globe at World Youth Day in Spain to celebrate their Catholic faith.

Accompanied by Fr. Patrick Rogers, S.J., the group prefaced the event with a 10-day Magis pilgrimage across the Spanish countryside. Sponsored by the Jesuits of Spain, Magis is a program for students from Jesuit universities that encourages learning and reflection in the spirit of the Ignatian tradition. Over 2,500 people met in Loyola, Spain, the historic home of St. Ignatius, before splitting into “Magis experience groups” that traveled around the region.

The Georgetown participants first traveled to Penafiel and Valladolid, Spain with students from Spain, France and Angola. In each city, the group toured important religious destinations while attending daily Mass in French, English or Spanish and participating in Ignatian-style reflections.

According to students, the trip fostered an international and cultural exchange both through community service and interaction with local citizens, including a local Mass in Valladolid, sung at a nursing home and attended a barbeque with the residents of Penafiel.

The Penafiel excursion was a favorite for many of Georgetown’s Magis attendees, with its mix of serious spiritual reflection and leisure.

“It’s a beautiful town with a castle, wonderful people, great food and great atmosphere,” Carlos Mercado (MSB ’13) said. “I felt we bonded really well with our group, and we experienced the Spanish culture, including drinking lots of wine and sangria. We were able to sightsee, dance at a discoteca, swim in the river next to the house we were staying at, along with prayer and the service work we did.”

The trip also allowed the students to break through the cultural and language barriers that separated them from their international peers.

“The people we met from France and Spain were very outgoing, compassionate, friendly and willing to learn about our culture,” Zachary Reese (COL ’12) said. “We even had a long discussion with them about what parts of American culture are accurately reflected in the movies.”

The pilgrimage was followed by World Youth Day, a celebration for Catholic students held in Madrid from Aug. 16–21. The culmination of the week’s events was the papal mass. Millions of Catholics camped out at Cuatro Vientos Airfield on the outskirts of Madrid in order to attend the service held by Pope Benedict XVI.

According to the students, participating in World Youth Day strengthened the students’ feelings of hope for the progress of the Catholic Church.

“It served as a reminder that there are still many young people that have faith in the Catholic tradition. This provides hope for the future of our world,” Mercado said.

Each participant also applauded the work of Fr. Pat Rogers, S.J., the group’s university chaperone.

“He was instrumental in leading our group in prayer throughout our time in Spain, and he was also very, very well-liked by the other people in our Magis Experience group. I remember one guy from Madrid say that ‘Patrick is the coolest priest I have ever met,'” Reese said.

The students added that the Magis and World Youth Day pilgrimage had both changed and strengthened their faith. For trip participant Frank Miller (COL ’14), one moment in particular stood out — climbing the mountains that surrounded the Basilica in Loyola, where St. Ignatius began his Jesuit journey.

“In addition to absolutely gorgeous view of the Basilica and surrounding towns, it genuinely moved me to simply contemplate how I was in the same place as a man who ‘set the world on fire’ and whose spirituality guides mine so much,” Miller said.

For Reese, the impact of World Youth Day stretched beyond the month of August.

“The Magis and World Youth Day events showed me how passionate young people are about the Catholic faith,” Reese said. “There was so much energy and excitement everywhere we went in Madrid, and it was contagious. It’s that energy that I hope to bring with me back to campus.”

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