World Youth Day (WYD) is an International Gathering of youth from all over the world celebrating their Catholic faith. It takes place every 3 years in a different city each time. This year it was held in Krakow, Poland from 26th to 31st of July. Krakow is the home of St. John Paul II and St. Faustina (who received the message of the Divine Mercy). Therefore, the theme for this WYD was very appropriate – “Blessed are the Merciful, for they shall obtain mercy”. It was a wonderful feeling to be in that city and follow in the footsteps of these two saints. Three past volunteers from Pallotti College in Melbourne were very fortunate to be able to attend, thanks to the sponsorship from Pallotti College. I was one of them. We had all volunteered with Pallotti College at various times during the past few years. We were two girls from Ireland and one girl from United Kingdom.
The official WYD Celebrations are held over a week long basis. However, in the last number of years, there have also been week long celebrations in each Diocese before this official week. These are called “The days in the Diocese”.
Pilgrims spend this week in various dioceses all across the country. We stayed with a wonderfully kind family outside of Warsaw. During this week, we participated in events with other members of the Pallottine community from all across the world. We visited the Pallottine Divine Providence Seminary outside of Warsaw and had a lovely Sunday concert where pilgrims showcased various dances/songs from their country. It was nice to mix with other members of the Pallottine Community from all across the world. I felt this instant connection with the various people whom we met during that week, and it was wonderful to see how much of the world hold St Vincent Pallotti close to their heart. People were also interested to learn about our work that we completed in Melbourne with Pallotti College. We celebrated mass in the church of the Seminary on the Sunday.
On the first day of the official WYD celebrations, we made our way to Krakow to start our WYD journey. When we reached Krakow, we again were staying with host families. The three of us were staying with the local Parish Priest in the community. It felt such an honour to stay so close to the parish church and to interact with the local priest. We met 5 Pallottine Sisters in Warsaw who were also going to Krakow for WYD. Fortunately, we met again and spent the whole week with them, attending all the main events together. It felt like St Vincent Pallotti was guiding us along our week in Krakow. They were glad to spend some time with us, as we were very grateful to spend time with them. We learnt a lot about them during that week.
During the week, we attended various events and visited the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy. We prayed in the chapel of the convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, where Saint Faustina received the revelations of the Divine Mercy. We prayed under the picture of Jesus with the inscribed words “Jesus, I trust in you”. We attended some catechesis, listening attentively to Bishops from various countries speak about the general theme of Mercy. One such Bishop was from Sydney. We attended the main events such as daily mass or large gatherings with the Pope. Along with the Pallottine Sisters, we visited a new house that the Pallottine Sisters in Poland are building – a house for the poor and disadvantaged. We also walked the streets of Krakow and enjoyed the atmosphere of various sounds and colours there.
During our week in Krakow, the local parish priest accompanied us to Auschwitz, the most sombre time of our stay in Poland. It was hard to imagine the evil that had occurred there. Our pilgrimage of faith, love and mercy met the exact opposite at Auschwitz.
The crowds that attended WYD were hard to fathom. To think that youth from all across the world were gathering in the one place, and acknowledging their faith before each other was something that needed to be acknowledged. I stood back at one stage and tried to take in this wonder – all the colourful country flags waving in the air and the groups singing various songs connected with WYD. Everyone had a smile on their face and the feeling was one of love, connection and joy, despite some rain.
I had never been to anything of that scale before. For the main event of WYD, which was a vigil and Sunday Mass, we got quite close to Pope Francis. To see Pope Francis in the distance and to hear everyone chanting “Papa Francesco”, was a memory that I will hold dear to my heart forever. We camped out that night, waiting to celebrate mass with the Pope on Sunday morning.
Pope Francis’ message during the final Mass focused on the encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus. He spoke about how this had changed Zacchaeus’s life, despite the obstacles he had to face in order to meet Jesus. The music that we heard during WYD was played after each main event. It was nice to be able to join in with other pilgrims and sing and dance. The lyrics of the refrain (which we sang in Polish) expressed the theme of WYD 2016: “Blessed are the merciful, for it is mercy that shall be shown to those who show mercy”.
During the final Mass, 6 pilgrims received a bright candle from the Pope. These 6 people were from different continents and this represented bringing the light of God to each corner of the world. This was a moving moment for me and one which demonstrates that actions speak louder than words. Pope Francis praised the energy and enthusiasm of the youth present and encouraged them to bring God’s love and mercy to the world. The walk back to the city showed one of the tough aspects of the pilgrimage coming to the fore. We took plenty of rests, but our rain ponchos certainly worked overtime.
It was Pope John Paul II who initiated the idea of WYD. Some questioned how it would work out. I feel that by being in Krakow during that week of WYD, anyone could see how successful an event like this is – massive groups coming together despite language, culture or national barriers and just freely expressing and enjoying their Catholic faith. The connection you feel to complete strangers is a wonderful feeling. The sharing of faith with other youth from across the world and feeling of the youth’s enthusiasm was encouraging to see and experience. There was a joyous atmosphere down every street in Krakow that week. The lasting feeling for me was the freedom of each person there expressing their faith in such a joyful manner. Youth were not embarrassed to express their faith and it was widely a topic of conversation I felt very comfortable to talk to other pilgrims about their journey in life, and how they trust in God to guide and direct them. I feel that away from WYD, this topic of conversation is much harder to initiate.
During the final Mass, Pope Francis announced that the next WYD will be held in South America – in Panama City in 2019. I imagine it is an honour for any city to be chosen to hold some a wonderful and peaceful event. The people of Poland this year were so welcoming and it seemed to create of sense of solidarity and a great celebration of one’s faith, which is so often needed in our daily lives. We experienced kindness and hospitality from our Polish hosts. The beautiful gathering of youth in Krakow appeared to show a basic goodness of humanity, and this was shown by the smiles on people’s faces and the goodness in their hearts.
(Jenny, from Ireland was a volunteer at Pallotti College, Australia}