Experience in the chaplaincy of the Complutense University of Madrid

From student years in turbulent times, to chaplain of his former faculty. The author has been ministering to university youth since 2009, and tells us about his experience as chaplain at the Complutense University of Madrid.

Hilario Mendo-March 27, 2018-Reading time: 5 minutes

In the faculty hall, crowded with students under a hail of pamphlets, two university students from opposing political factions clashed. Within moments, several classmates were quickly carrying out the one who bore the brunt, and a trail of blood was a symbol of the bitter divisions of the moment. It was the 1960s, and it is one of my memories of my student days, which, apart from these episodes, turned out to be an amiable period.

Years went by. I changed cities and occupations. Then came the call to the priesthood and I dedicated a good part of my time to university pastoral work in colleges. Even so, I retained a certain nostalgia for my years in Complutense. Intellectual and social pluralism is always a call to sincere dialogue; and, for a Christian, it is also a challenge to offer peacefully and kindly the riches of his faith. That is why it was a great surprise when I was approached about the possibility of being chaplain of my former faculty and I accepted with enthusiasm.

Collector of e-mails

The faculty has a large chapel, which facilitates recollection, well located, next to the faculty bookstore. It seemed to me that the essential thing, in those early days, besides praying, was to meet people and make myself known. With the door of my office open, I would politely approach people who entered the chapel, following the advice of another university chaplain: that I should become a "collector of e-mails". At the same time that I offered my card with the chaplaincy schedules, I asked my interlocutors for their e-mail addresses, and today I already have several hundred. This allowed me to digitally communicate the activities to a large number of teachers and students, and to receive their queries or words of encouragement, as well as to disseminate useful texts and keep in touch.

I also thought about how I could comment on the Word of God to those who wanted to hear me, and how we could pray together. A short daily homily, tweet-homilyThe first objective is partially fulfilled. To achieve the second, I announced 15 minutes of daily meditation on the Gospel. I would begin the prayer and the participants would occupy the benches nearby: it was my prayer aloud, trying to unpack the sacred text and offer practical applications that would help us imitate Jesus Christ in our daily lives. Few people attended, but it was a sowing of prayer that was bearing fruit.

The most important subject

Confession had to be facilitated, so on my card, I wrote: "Confessions, at any time", a phrase that I printed in large letters on a sheet of paper that I have placed at the entrance of the chapel.

This subject has given me a lot of joy over the years. There is a drip Perhaps the word has spread that in law there is a priest who confesses every evening, "at any time". Sometimes it is necessary to help young people understand that, in addition to an exchange of impressions and some advice, we need above all the grace of the sacrament.

Every year, at the beginning of the school year, I put up a poster inviting people to receive the sacrament of Confirmation. I offer a weekly class of one hour on Christian doctrine, following the outline of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In addition to the confirmands, other interested parties attend; I speak with all of them periodically, to ensure as much as possible that they assimilate the classes, and that the doctrine is informing their personal lives.

One topic that is always present in our personal conversations is the life of prayer. To facilitate this, we have a monthly retreat, which is very brief, since it is a matter of taking advantage of the one hour in the middle of the day when there are no classes in the faculty. I expose the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance, and at the end a blessing is given. In between, spiritual reading with a selected text; a time of prayer; some sheets of paper with questions, so that each attendee can make a personal examination. In the brief intervals, someone goes to confession, or we meet for a quiet chat another day.

The theological coffee and the Youcat

After starting the basic activities, I thought about what to do to facilitate doctrinal formation. I began to refurbish the small library of doctrinal and spiritual books, located in the antero-chapel. But something more had to be done. I organized a theological coffeeThe program, aimed at professors: a regular meeting on a relevant topic, a prestigious guest who speaks briefly, and a steaming cup of coffee. It was a good experience, which helped me to build relationships with a handful of professors. Along the same lines, I set up similar talks-colloquia for students.

On the other hand, Providence brought me an effective experience. A couple of students came to explain to me that they had formed a group of YoucatThe young people were taught the catechism of the Catholic Church for young people, and they met on Sunday afternoons with other friends, in the home of one of them. But there was a problem: they had doubts that none of them knew how to solve, and they argued without clarifying anything. That is why they decided to invite a priest, or someone well prepared, to attend the meetings and confirm them in the correct Christian doctrine. I was delighted to accept this invitation.

For a couple of courses we had these sessions. I would let them engage in a lively dialogue, looking for the interpretation -or the application to daily life- of what was being read: and at the end of each topic, I would clarify doubts, or confirm and expand on their conclusions.

Christian ferment in the university world

There is no lack of plans for the coming year. Now we propose: to encourage more adoration of the Eucharist, with frequent exposition of the Blessed Sacrament; to start another volunteer program with refugees; to promote a novena in preparation for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception; to organize artistic visits and excursions to be more in contact with nature; to facilitate the loan of books....

Thank God, a large group of boys and girls from different faculties has been forming around the chaplaincy - there are already about fifty of them - who are eager to pray, to be formed in a Christian way and to have a good time. We have a weekly meeting, at noon, with three parts: I present them synthetically a doctrinal or anthropological question of current affairs; there is a time of conversation where they share or comment on interesting experiences, and plans are made for the following week; and we go to the adjoining chapel, where I lead a time of prayer in a loud voice. They themselves coordinate a weekly volunteer program with the sick in a nearby hospital. philosophical coffee monthly for university students, in a spacious bar and around a theme fixed in advance; cultural or sports plans; the collection and distribution of warm clothes among the homeless, shortly before Christmas... And we celebrate birthdays and saints' days.


If we had to sum it all up in one word, it would be FRIENDSHIP: with God and with others; and this involves the commitment to offer our friends this horizon. We do not want to be a closed group, but a Christian leaven in the midst of the mass of university students in Madrid. We have a provisional name, somewhat provocative: CO.CA University Group (COmpañeros del CAmpus). For some time we have been present in facebook e Instagram and the page whatsapp The group facilitates daily contacts, the request for prayers before an illness or an upcoming exam, etc.

Last weekend, several members of the group greeted us with their photos from Fatima; and one of our girls climbed the whatsapp his photo parading in the recent Fashion Week Madridthe biggest event of high fashion in the capital. We were delighted to be present, at the same time, at a Marian shrine and at a catwalk of the most fashionable clothes. cool. Intense prayer, and professional and aesthetic vanguard: it seems to me a good symbol of the work of a university chaplain, open to the world of young people, and convinced of the beauty and strength of the Christian proposal.

The authorHilario Mendo

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