Following months and months of spiritual and organisational preparation and a lot of buzz and excitement, the World Youth Day Main events week was upon us. As our group of 11 pilgrims set off for Krakow to join an estimated 500 000 pilgrims from all over the world for the week’s events, we could not have anticipated the experience we were about to participate in.
Pope Francis had chosen the fifth of the eight beatitudes given by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount as the theme of this 21st World Youth Day – Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy (Mt5:7). This was therefore the underlying message of every meeting, catechism session and all the teachings and events of the week. Even the red and blue flames of the logo were a reflection of the theme as they alluded to the image of the merciful Jesus (red representing blood and the blue representing water). The theme song also followed along the same vein.
Nothing, however, could have prepared our group of pilgrims for the levels of fun and excitement that were in Krakow that week. Nothing could also have prepared the group for the amount of suffering that we were about to encounter at every turn. Suffering and joy were the main themes resonating throughout the week. The theme of suffering presented itself as an opportunity to unite more closely to Christ on the Cross, our only hope of salvation. We were constantly challenged to accept all the crosses with joy. This suffering came in the form of constant walking, as we walked an average of 15kms per day from early in the morning until possibly after midnight, depending, and we were mostly on our feet which started to ache badly and for some swell up and blister. Most of this walking was in the heat of the day, and on the Saturday we had to walk from the city to the Vigil site for Mass with the Holy Father, and then walk back Sunday afternoon in the same heat, and then some heavy rain. All this in some very large crowds in the streets and public transport, at least 10 people in one’s personal space at any time…all crosses we accepted with joy! Long queues for food were another common experience, as we spent significant time to get food, which was always a hit or miss, another cross we accepted a little more begrudgingly…with joy !
The program for the week was very rich as every day was an experience to remember, with Main events, Catechesis, the Pilgrimage of Mercy and the Youth Festival. The most memorable of the events were as follows:
Tuesday – Opening Ceremony with Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz (long time personal secretary of St John Paul II –the main message of this ceremony and Mass was to pray for the events as well as to direct our thoughts towards St John Paul II, the creator of the idea of WYD, priest, bishop and Pope from Krakow, Pope of mercy , and Saint.
Wednesday/Thursday – Mercy Centre and Catechesis. We had the opportunity to attend catechesis sessions preached in over 34 languages from around the world in different churches, stadiums, parks etc. The main message was around the theme of mercy and during catechesis, our group, together with all other pilgrims, had the opportunity to take advantage of the sacrament of penance and reconciliation, and catechesis always ended with a celebration of the Eucharist.
Thursday afternoon to evening. We had the opportunity to take part in a Pilgrimage of mercy which began at the St John Paul II Sanctuary and from there we processed to the Divine Mercy sanctuary. This was a truly enlightening experience as we learnt a lot about the Divine Mercy prayer, the image – Jesus I trust in you and the life and relics of Saint Sister Faustina.
Saturday – We were truly blessed and enlightened to get the opportunity to visit the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz the day after Pope Francis had been there praying and meditating in silence on the atrocities that took place there. We also got to learn about a very important Saint, a man of mercy, Saint Maximillian Kolbe, prisoner number 16670, who gave up his life for another prisoner to be saved.
The most important encounter of our WYD was the 15km to Campus Misericordiae for the vigil with the Holy Father. It was an intense time of prayer and encounter with Christ, with the adoration, and candlelit vigil, full of concentration and joy. We then enjoyed the concert through the night, and after a few hours of sleep at the camping site, celebrated the Final Mass with Pope Francis. We got to renew our Baptismal vows, the culmination of all the meetings, as the Pope sent us out to the whole world to consistently apply the theme of WYD to our lives going forward.
So cast aside your fear and have faith, give your cares to the Lord, and trust in Him! Jesus Christ you are my life…Alleluia Alleluia !!