Barcelona: Stolen Wallets, Terrorist Attacks, and Making Sense of It All

We recently returned home from a family pilgrimage to Spain, Portugal and Fatima.  Gotta say, it did not disappoint.  It was an amazing journey from beginning to end.

So let’s begin at the beginning:  Barcelona.  Our time in Barcelona began with us deciding to travel as pilgrims do:  hoofing it with all of our bags, taking public transportation, and making our way to our hotel off of Las Ramblas.

We’ve made it to Spain! We’ve made it to Spain!

There we were, jet-lagged beyond belief, trying our best to make sure we didn’t lose a child or a bag, navigating the very busy metro system of Barcelona.

It was going pretty well — until we found ourselves literally split into two groups on a very busy metro ride.  John was on the platform with half our kids and I was in a moving metro with the other half.  John looked panicked as he waved his hands and mouthed the words “one stop”.

Fortunately, we managed to safely get off at the next stop, and we were all reunited on the next train.  We had a good laugh about it, and the people on the metro also seemed to celebrate our reunion with smiles and laughter.

First kink in our trip:  not so bad.

We got off at our stop and quickly realized we were in a very sketchy environment.  It was packed full of street vendors with huge canvas bags filling the platform of our stop.  We could hardly walk around them without falling dangerously close to the train.

My oldest son pointed to the bags and said, “I guess that’s where they put the bodies.”  Oh boy, do we think alike.

We held on tightly to our kids and climbed through the exit doors of the metro.  Finally, we were on Las Ramblas and there were people everywhere.  We begin to feel better about our situation.

Walking Las Ramblas — a sea of people from around the world. 

As we tried to get our bearings, John suddenly had a panicked look on his face. He announced, “My wallet’s gone!”.

A bit of a frenzied search began and our suspicions were confirmed.  One of those kindly street vendors bumped up against John as he tried to get out of the metro station.  It happened so quickly, he didn’t think anything of it at the time.

And it only took 30 minutes in Barcelona for my husbands wallet, two credit cards and a chunk of cash to be stolen. 🙁

As my good friend said, “Welcome to Europe”.  Yep, we got the age-old welcome for the weary traveler.  This pilgrimage was off to a great start. 🙁

So we found our hotel — just steps off of Las Ramblas — and proceeded to contact credit card companies and try to shake off our very disturbing welcome to Barcelona.  It wasn’t easy.

We decided to make the most of it and walk Las Ramblas.  We eventually found a spot for some tapas, some sangria, and a little rest before we were to find Mass for the Feast of the Assumption.

We navigated our way through the narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter and finally to the Cathedral.  We were so excited to get in there and give thanks to God for bringing us safely to this point — albeit with a few less possessions in hand.

Made it to the cathedral! Time to thank God for bringing us safely here.

Strangely, there were only a handful of people in Mass.  This was a holy day of obligation.  Where were all the people?  The streets were packed, but few people had made it inside to Mass.

I had a strong sense that this city was beginning to forget God — and that forgetfulness was erasing some of the things that were so beautiful about it.

Looking up at this dome of light, I began to wonder, was Barcelona beginning to forget God?

This wasn’t the Barcelona that I remembered.  Our kids were noticeably bothered by the feel of the city.  Frankly, I was too.  It felt like an oppressive spirit had descended upon this beautiful city.

And I know people who recently visited and had an entirely different experience — so I am led to believe that this oppressive feeling was a precursor to the evil that would descend in a few days.  It was palpable, the closer you walked to Las Ramblas.

We were not at ease.  There was a swampy smell coming off of the streets — it was hard to find a breath of fresh air.  The once fresh water in the main fountain at the Plaza Real looked stagnant.  There were marijuana bars, sketchy people on corners,  and people coming off of acid trips in the streets.

Something wasn’t right.  Even as I looked into the faces of the people around me, many of the eyes I looked at returned my gaze with a dark stare that was disturbing.

You could tell that there was a battle going on in many of the souls we passed:  some were fighting the darkness, others had given in, and some remained a visible light to the city.  The contrast was eerily obvious.

Looking into the eyes of the people I passed — they seemed to sense the oppression too.

I was secretly counting the hours until we left Barcelona.  I felt an urgency to pray hard.  That first night, I didn’t sleep more than two hours.  I prayed throughout my sleepless night.  I prayed for the thief who stole John’s wallet. I prayed for protection for our family.

I felt like I was wrestling with something throughout the night, but I didn’t know what it was.

We woke up with a full day of activities ahead of us.  I’ll share more about that in the next post, but back to Las Ramblas.

As already mentioned, we didn’t feel safe there.  John got robbed there, and within a few hours of our leaving the city by train, a terrorist attack happened there.

It happened on the very spot we walked with our 6 kids, for two days straight.  Apparently, it also was meant to happen at the Sacrada Familia — but an explosion that killed some of the terrorists the night before meant that the attack had to be pared down.

The prayers of many people around the world no doubt had something to do with the lessening of terror on that fateful day.

And I know that my family didn’t deserve to live any more than those 15 people deserved to die, or those hundreds to be injured — but knowing that we were spared has left me very searching for the meaning of it all.

I know that this attack wasn’t because God had abandoned Barcelona — because God will never abandon us. But my time in Barcelona made me wonder if the city of Barcelona was beginning to abandon God.

Don’t get me wrong.  We met many kind, beautiful, loving people in those two days.  They shined even brighter because of the darkness around them.

But that darkness is what pushed us to get out of the city — and fast.

The contrast between the dark and light seems to be stronger in Barcelona than other places we visited.

On the morning we left,  it appeared we were going to miss our train and have to stay longer in Barcelona.  We were running late and had a long distance to go to make our train.

I prayed to Saint Sebastian, “help us make that train”.

I felt a strong inspiration that we needed to run, as if we were running for our lives — and so we did.  We would have made Forreset Gump proud — running our hearts out with bags, babies, and littles in tow.

We arrived with only two minutes to get on our train, and I embarrassed my kids by cutting to the the front of a long line of people and throwing our bags through the X-ray machine. I was determined not to miss that train!

We ran to our car, jumped in, and breathed a deep sigh of relief.  The doors closed behind us, and we headed off to San Sebastian.

Shortly after our arrival in San Sebastian, we dropped off our bags, went to the beach, and watched the sun set.

So many emotions as we watched the sun set.

And then the texts began to come in.  People were asking if we were okay.  They said there had been a terrorist attack in Barcelona.  We couldn’t believe what we were reading.

We decided not to tell the kids.  We carried that burden with us throughout the rest of the trip, taking extra caution, but allowing them to enjoy themselves.

My last thought before going to bed that night was, “We have been spared.  We were escorted out of the city to safety.  Now what am I going to do with the time that God has given to me? Am I going to squander it selfishly, or am I going to try my best to use it to do good?”

Since Barcelona, the urgency of that question has seemed to grow stronger in my life.  Now that I’ve had time to reflect, I am struck by three convictions that have remained with me:

Pray everyday.  God wants to protects us from evil and lead us to a life of abundance — but we’re not going to hear His voice if we don’t spend time with Him in prayer.

And this isn’t to suggest that if you pray, nothing bad will ever happen to you — clearly bad things happen to good people all the time –but even when the bad things happen, God will walk you through those times, and His presence will make all the difference.

Give your day, your plans to God and ask Him to guide you, even in the little things.  Little things can become big things.  Originally, we had planned 3 nights in Barcelona, which would have left us smack dab at or near ground zero of the attack.

A few months in advance of the trip, John and I prayerfully asked God to guide our choices for itinerary.  We decided to shorten our time in Barcelona. That prayerful acknowledgement of God may have spared us a lot of pain.

Most decisions in life don’t involve avoiding terrorist attacks, but choosing to acknowledge God and seek out His wisdom will no doubt lead us to places and people and beautiful moments we never imagined were possible. Include God in your plans.

Be the Light. Our world is literally starving for God, and we have an important part to play in bringing His light to the world.

Yes, we’re all flawed, sinful, selfish people — but God is just waiting to transform those things about us, if we let Him.

If we’re not willing to become a light for our world, then our society will quickly change into a place none of us will want to live.

We need to stop apologizing for a faith that preaches love for all — men, women, and children. We need to be brave enough to preach it from the rooftops.

Let’s be the light.  No more hiding our faith away.  Be the Light.

And that is all.


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10 thoughts on “Barcelona: Stolen Wallets, Terrorist Attacks, and Making Sense of It All

  1. Wow. That is incredible. It is beautiful that you happened to post this when today’s Gospel reading was “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” MT 24:42-51. I think you nailed it with “Now what am I going to do with the time that God has given to me?” I am sure your prayers and your family family brought a spark of light and lifted the oppression in many small ways.

    1. Thanks Jaime.
      Yes, I heard that reading today and felt it was so timely, for sure! Gods word — always new, always relevant. Hopefully our family did bring a little light — there were some people there who absolutely shined bright during those days. So impactful to witness that, and a real reminder to take Gods call to be the light far more seriously.

  2. Hallelujah my dear sister! Well, you can honestly say it could have been so much worse….I’m always proud of you and your insight. So, have you thought of a good American pilgrimage next time. Like braving Naples, Fl or the wild terrain of Charleston, SC? I’m sure you and Jon could find a good bit of prayer and perhaps a local pick pocket to make you remember what matters in life….love you, Megan

    1. Well, believe me, we’ve thought about a more low-key pilgrimage next time — but I think Ireland might be calling us next. Perhaps we could hire out your former bouncer husband as security. As you know, security is not John’s strong point. :).

    1. Hello Adi!
      We’re so grateful as well. Hope you’re doing well. We all miss seeing you here, but know you’re in a great place. We’ve been praying for you. See you at break!

  3. Moira,

    I just had the chance to read your blog. We are relieved that you all came home safely.
    What a trip – unforgettable, I’m sure. Hope to see you when you are visiting our area.
    Love you. Let’s keep praying for each other.
    Aunt Jo

    1. Aunt Jo!
      Yes, it was an unforgettable trip. As you probably know, it definitely gave mom and dad a few more grey hairs. 🙁 I know that the prayers of friends and family were a big part of our safe return home. Let’s keep praying for each other, for sure!
      Love you, Aunt Jo!

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