|El Escorial, August 2011
University Maria Christina
Pope Benedict had scarcely returned to Rome from Madrid, and young people from across the globe had not yet caught up on hours of sleep missed during World Youth Day, when various groups of friars and young lay leaders began to arrive at El Escorial for the Augustinian Youth Animators' Congress at the University of Maria Cristina. Most of the approximately sixty participants at the congress were coming from the Mass they had celebrated earlier in the day at Cuatro Vientos Field with the Holy Father, and now they were to spend the next four and half days discussing their ministry with young people and their own spiritual journey as Augustinian youth animators.
The Congress opened formally on the evening of August 22 with Mass celebrated in the capilla vieja of the historic El Escorial Monastery. The Prior General presided with two archbishops of Panama concelebrating, - our own confrere, José Ulloa, Archbishop of Panama City, and the Apostolic Nuncio to Panama, Andrés Carrascosa Coso, - and a large number of friars.
The topics presented over the course of the Congress, all under the theme "For You … With You…", concerned aspects of ministry among young people - challenges and opportunities -, various models of the Church, the call to holiness, and the spiritual growth of both animators and young Christians. Conferences, small group discussions, workshops and an open forum, were the settings in which the work of the Congress was carried out. Times for prayer and for the celebration of the Eucharist were interspersed throughout the day in the basilica, the capilla vieja, or the chapel of Maria Cristina. The warm and generous hospitality of the community's friars as well as of many members of the province who participated, provided a comfortable and agreeable context for the week's work. A special highlight for many were the guided tours of the monastery, the basilica and Royal Pantheon.
While the days were long with work and discussions, the evenings provided ample time for socializing in the friendly environs of El Escorial. The Congress was brought to a close with an open evaluation in which many helpful comments were offered to the International Youth Commission for the preparation of the next Congress. The concluding Eucharist fittingly brought the gathering to its completion with animated singing in what seemed a spontaneous expression of gratitude and happiness for having had the opportunity to spend this time together.