More than a million youth gathered in the outskirts of Madrid for a prayer vigil with Pope Benedict XVI, one of the key events of the 26th World Youth Day at Cuatro Vientos airfield in Spain.

The World Youth Day (WYD) officially opened with a mass last August 16 officiated by Madrid archbishop Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela while Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Laity president Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko welcomed the delegates.

The pilgrims, hundreds of thousands from around the world arrived a week earlier to participate in the Days in the Diocese (DID) events across Spain, are housed in various schools, parishes and public facilities in the city of Madrid.

Out of the more than half a million delegates participating at the WYD celebrations in Madrid, around 3,000 are Filipinos, according to the official website of WYD 2011.

Filipino youth from Belgium also sent a delegation to Madrid.

According to the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), the event is profoundly meaningful for Filipino youth participating in the WYD celebrations because it coincides with the 25th anniversary of the Episcopal Commission on Youth and the proclamation of 2011 as the “CBCP Year of the Youth.”

In a pastoral letter, Bishop Nereo Odchimar lauded the ECY on the great progress it has made in youth ministry even as he acknowledged that there is still much to be done, especially in reaching out to those who are “still outside the reach of the Church.”

He urged for integral formation for those involved in youth ministry as well as to pursue programs that would address various issues related to spiritual, moral and social development.

In Ateneo University, more than 10,000 youth gathered Saturday as part of the local celebration of the WYD. “WYD 2011 from Madrid to Manila” is an overnight vigil from Saturday to Sunday. The vigil will have as a highlight the video feed of Pope Benedict XVI’s message to the youth. The Pope's message to the youth will be telecast live from Madrid.

The youth vigil will feature prayer, catechesis and reflection, worship and inspirational songs, liturgical celebrations, and sharing of faith stories.

World Youth Day celebrations are held every 2 or 3 years to inspire younger generations of Catholic Christians to celebrate and share their faith.