World Youth Day: I survived a collapsing tent

It was Saturday, on the night of the vigil with Pope Benedict XVI at the Cuatro Vientos military airbase.

Now before I go any further, let me give you a vague idea of what to expect in that place: it's a huge airbase, shaped a bit like a fan; there were a minimum of 1.5 million attendees camping out there. They had cards which lead them to designated areas in the airbase — each card has a letter (determining the row, how far the person is from the altar) and a number (determining the column, how far to the left or to the right we were). It's all tarmac, straw and rocks. There were no trees, not very many things to block the movement of the wind, except for strong structures in designated areas of the airbase, where the screens and audio systems were set up. Right in front of the airbase was the altar with the World Youth Day logo imposed on the top right corner. There were tents set up here and there for various purposes — some were bars, some were for food supply, some were shops, and four tents were chapels.

We were close to the back. There was one chapel near us, and I decided to go there for a confession. By that point the vigil with Pope Benedict XVI had begun.

At around the time I went in, it had begun to rain. Soon, it grew into a thunderstorm. People were taking shelter in the tent. Some people were praying the rosary, whilst some of us awaited our turn. Then came my turn. I went. In the middle of my confession, the tent shook a bit. People screamed. I wondered what the matter was.

Soon after, I saw the pillars to my left LITERALLY RISING OFF THE GROUND (they were metal, mind). Not a good sign. The tent was about to collapse. People were running away. The priest who heard my confession proceeded straight to the absolution (I did not know that I had been absolved at that point). Christina, my friend from Kent, grabbed my hand, I grabbed the priest's hand and I yelled, 'LET'S GET OUT OF HERE!'

The roof was falling, and it was one of those moments where I did not know if I would make it out in one piece. We ran to the entrance. The priest had let go of my hand by the time I reached the entrance, and I saw the metal bars supporting the entrance about to fall on my head.......

The second I made it out, the tent completely collapsed. Christina was crying because she made it out safely. I knew we needed to find the rest of our group. There were fourteen of us, and there were two priests with us — Fr Mark Vickers and Fr Stephen Boyle. It was pitch dark and I did not know where to begin searching for them, but I knew that they were somewhere along that stretch of road. I looked behind me and I remembered that the priest who had heard my confession was still inside. I did not know what had happened to him, and I needed to find my friends quickly. And so I grabbed her hand and we walked together. I began screaming...


No sign of them. As we went along the road, I tried a second time. A third time. A fourth time.
I began to wonder where the rest of the group had gone. I knew that they had to move quite a lot of things because of the rain and the winds — no one wanted our things damaged — and so it would be tough finding them. I was still thinking of the priest, and I began to cry. It didn't matter if I was soaked by the rain. I tried one more time...


The people who were there waved at us and signalled us to come in. Fr Mark had gone ahead of the group by that point; Fr Stephen was still there. He asked if we were alright. Christina was crying. I was, too. Fr Stephen took me in his arms and I was crying on his shoulder, telling him how worried I was about the priest inside. I cried for quite a while. Another friend, Jason, had sprinted to the scene and rescued the people who were still inside. He gave word to Stacey that the priest was okay, and Stacey told me. I was relieved. I stopped crying.

It turned out that no one was actually hurt by the tent — people were only hurt from pushing each other out.

The vigil had to be started over because of what had happened to the tent, and so we made our way to the nearest screen.

What happened that Saturday night made me think.

Truly, I have dreams, and I have people whom I care for, many of whom I find here in Britain. But all that could've been wiped out with the blink of an eye. Also note that absolution during confession washes the confessor CLEAN. His sin is taken away, and his soul is brought to the same state of grace as if he had just been baptised. Having said this, I was told by Christina that she saw the priest actually giving me absolution — I could have been taken up if God wanted to take me up, that night. After all, people have been known to die from such collapsing tents, and with the movement of the strong wind (either the Sirocco or the Mistral), anything could have happened. But that my life had been spared only shows that there is work to do. Watching the vigil, adoring Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrement that night and partaking in the joy of the closing mass the next day, I breathed prayers of thanks to God for sparing my life, for sparing Christina's life, and for sparing the life of the priest who absolved me.

People who have been to previous World Youth Days have been profoundly changed in one way or another. In my World Youth Day trip, I'd say that day made all the difference for me — I became more willing to let go and let God take control. And as a consequence, I became more willing to ask God things, in accordance with His will. The joy I have now comes from that change, as well as the thought that my life has indeed been spared.

Coming soon:
World Youth Day: The author tells all 


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