I first went to Madrid in the early 1970's. General Franco was still in power ...just. The Caudillo or the Generalisimo, as he was modestly known, was to die in 1975, and this was when, as a young student, I first became aware of history in the making. One era was being replaced by another.


Since that time Spain has emerged as a mature democracy.  It is currently in the news as one of the PIGS - Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain, i.e. countries which are the centre of the crisis which is currently confronting the Euro.


It is possible another little piece of history was made in Madrid this late August weekend in 2011.


Remarkable events took place there. One million young Catholics from over 120 nations from all over the globe descended on the Spanish capital  and, as our Priest put it this morning, stayed in a damp field overnight. It was World Youth Day.


It is the sheer numbers that have caught my eye. In these days of riots in the UK, financial turmoil on the international markets, famine in the horn of Africa, and momentous events in Libya, these young people stand out like a true beacon of light.


A true beacon of calm, thoughtfulness, and serenity.    


Catholicism has around 1 billion followers on the globe. This powerful religion has had its difficulties over recent years in developed world - the Catholic Church has experienced challenges in the United States, Ireland, Belgium and the UK, amongst other countries.


And yet, and yet....


Catholicism continues to grow at a phenomenal rate. The events in Madrid bear witness to this. Has moral relativism gone too far? The Pope, who spoke to the young people this weekend, has made a formal stand against moral relativism.


In the current world of hustle and bustle, 24/7 news, and ever increasing pressure to perform in the work place, the ability to stand back from the maelström of life has, evidently, increasing attractions for a growing (albeit small) number of young people.


By standing back from the maelström of life, these youngsters are developing the ability to reflect on the more profound areas of our existence as human beings. The Catholic Church has over 2,000 years of experience of dealing with the key events in life - birth, marriage and death.


So, from the wet centre of a fiery and passionate country, a beacon of light is sent out to the world.


A beacon full of youthful vigour and energy. Just like the maturing Spanish democracy.  Is this another birth of a new era?