“Blessed are the merciful: they shall have mercy shown them” (Matthew 5:7)
As I reflect on my experiences of World Youth Day 2016 in Poland, I seem to be zeroing in on one specific theme: the people. Don’t get me wrong…being fifteen feet from Pope Francis was amazing, but that only lasted a few seconds.
Many people with whom I spoke before leaving believed we were going on vacation. This experience was anything but a vacation. We experienced a regimen of prayer, walking, catechesis, Confession, Mass, holy sites, and more. There is no way anyone could confuse this adventure with anything but a pilgrimage.
In addition to the strict spiritual regimen, we were lucky enough to be placed with a wonderful host family who housed six of us girls in the upstairs of their home. We all slept in one room and shared one bathroom, which included a full sized tub and shower. These may seem like common items to any American, but we quickly found out that our accommodations were exceptional. Just down the street from where we were staying, forty French Pilgrims slept in an elementary school, and tents of people occupied fields near us.
Our host family cared for us as if we were relatives, ensuring that we were well nourished and comfortable. Every day we enjoyed homemade breakfasts and dinners.
Though we were thirty miles outside Krakow, we were happy travelers averaging seventeen mile hikes every day. Just when we thought we had the train, bus and tram system figured out, all transportation into Krakow ceased, and we were required to walk miles to our destination in extreme heat and in crowds that I have never experienced in my life.
Making the best of our situation we struck up wonderful conversations with those who were near us. Most everyone spoke English, which made our experience all the more enjoyable. We met the most fascinating people, many of whom had their countries designated on their t-shirts so we knew where they were from. We exchanged book and movie interests along with other popular cultural interests. The most common question I was asked was who I was voting for in the upcoming U.S. presidential election. The world seems to be holding its breath on this issue. I was under the impression that other countries hated Americans, believing that we were an “entitled” people. I soon found out that they were fascinated by us, and many wanted to be like us.
In addition to the many wonderful people we met, the holy sites we visited were exceptional. I stood in the room where Saint John Paul II was born! I saw the bullet and gun his attempted assassin used. I prayed in the same church in which he was baptized and confirmed and I walked the same streets he walked as a youth. I must say, though, that one of the most profound moments I had was in the most common of places. After having walked for many hours our group was excited to find a train at the platform for which we had been looking. When one of the ladies in our group inquired where the train was heading the conductor replied “Auschwitz.” Three of us took an apprehensive step back at the same time, and decided to wait for a train heading in the opposite direction. It is easy to get carried away with the beauty of the landscape and the cheer of the people around us, and forget the horrible tragedies that happened there. Hidden beneath the smiles are people who have suffered great losses, and yet they are happy to entertain people who want to visit their land and learn how things have changed. They are putting back the pieces of their lives and showing the world how resilient they are.
Though we experienced hardships along our journey I would encourage anyone to partake in such a rich event and spiritual undertaking as World Youth Day. Also, I have to thank all of you who spiritually and financially supported us, and I hope that you will see the fruit of that support in the many years to come.
Pastoral Associate for Youth Ministry
676.9111 ext. 124 email@example.com