Traveling to Poland
What excitement to be headed out on our journey to Kraków! While waiting for our departure, it occurs to me as I look around at each pilgrim in our group that many of us are strangers. We all have a matching hat to make ourselves aware of each other. We are certainly not yet a close group of friends at this point in the journey, but we are about to share this wonderful experience and in a few short days we will be family. Actually, that's true for all the pilgrims coming to world youth day. We all come from our separate homes, countries, jobs or schools, and experiences but we join together with each other as the body of Christ. In Him, whether we speak the same language or have the same background or beliefs, we are one family.
We have been looking forward to this trip for so many weeks and months and it has finally arrived. My mind is flooded with questions but very few answers about what we will experience. I trust that we are in good hands with our tour guides but even more importantly, I have faith that we have a holy guide who will lead us this week and always. Our journey is unknown but we have faith that Jesus will carry us where we need to go. His mother will make sure all the details are worked out and it will be a great week! I've learned that God loves to show us that he is present even in the tiny details, but we have to keep our eyes open to them. Thank you to all of those back home who are keeping us in prayer. We have been and continue to be surrounded by your prayers and know, too that we will keep all of you in prayer back home. Pray for us that we not let any experience pass us by without learning something. May we be aware that each person we meet this week is also on a journey. It may be up to us to share our experience with them. Our words may be the details someone else needs to hear.
Lord, keep us safe, and keep us aware of your presence with us each step of this journey. May we be your hands and feet! Amen.
On to Poland!! What do you have in store for us today, Lord??
By Pamela K
Arrive in Poland/ Tour of Our Lady of Czestochowa Church
By Luke F
World Youth Day Opening Mass at Blonia Park
Visit Pope St. John Paul II Shrine Church & Divine Mercy Shrine
Crowds, Crowds Crowds!
The operative word for Day 3 of WYD is Crowds! We started to encounter the magnitude of the attendees today. We were meeting kids from every continent speaking so many different languages. The down side of course is that they were all trying to get on our trolley. Imagine the Peachtree Road race times ten.
Since this pilgrimage is all about trusting in Jesus and Divine Mercy, you are challenged to see the blessings in the crowds. When you are shoulder to shoulder on a train taking you to see the Church of Saint John Paul ll, you are forced to look into the eyes of the person pressed against you. You appreciate that persons shared experience and you are able to make a connection even with your very poor attempt at speaking Polish. When you are packed together in the blazing hot sun queuing up for your minute at St Joseph's Church to venerate the relics of St Faustina and the original image of the Divine Mercy, you appreciate God's blessing of a refreshing cool breeze or the brief relief of a bit of shade. It makes you live in this moment and be grateful you are in it. Lastly, when you attend the Opening Mass of World youth day with the Archbishop of Poland and hundreds of thousands of fellow pilgrims, you appreciate the beauty of the wonderful exuberant crowd sing and praying together. You have hope for this world that is broken because there are so many youth here with a passion for the heart of Jesus. You get emotional when the sign of peace is shared with you in so many different languages. You are moved to tears when this huge crowd goes silent for a moment after receiving the Eucharist. You have hope for the future with the world in there hands. Thank God for this wonderful crowd!
By Rhona F
Vistting Pope St. John Paul II Shrine church
Communion Line at the Opening Mass
Making our way back to the Hotel
Inside Divine Mercy Shine
Inside St. John Paul II Church
Divine Mercy Shine church
Night of Mercy ~ XLT in Krakow
[Fair warning, this blog is LONG. Grab a cool drink, put your feet up and live vicariously for a few minutes.]
Good morning from WYD! I woke up SO tired. Slept like a rock. I had to change my shoes because they hurt my feet so much from yesterday. That's how the morning started. At around 10:00 we went to the English speaking arena where we had a day filled with talks ahead of us. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for not having to walk all over Kraków and to simply stay in one place for the whole day. We made it to the arena right as we were starting mass. We thought we had missed it, but by the grace of God we made it. Mass was beautiful.
Next we stood in line for food. It took a long, long time, but that's okay because it was a chance to build community. After that we went to listen to some speakers. I went to a talk called "Be the Spark." It was an INCREDIBLE talk. The man who spoke was a NFL football player and then lived as a hermit and then choose to be homeless for three years. He said that he choose that because Jesus comes to the broken. He felt called to give up everything he owned and go to the broken to show them Jesus. What stuck out to me the most about his talk was letting Jesus love me and showing others that love. I cannot articulate this as well as he did, but I'll try my best. He spoke about being a witness to divine mercy. This means showing love even to people who bother us. JP2 spoke a prophesy about Kraków sending off people to be a witness to divine mercy and setting a spark off around the world showing the love of Jesus, which will bring peace and love to the world, preparing it for the second coming. The speaker believed that this was why he came and this is why WYD was happening here. He told us to prove that we love Jesus. Prove it. Prove it by showing mercy to those who persecute you. Prove it by loving the outcast. Prove it by seeing the humanity in those who are your enemy. Be that spark.
The next thing we did was listen to a panel of world renowned people who are advocates for stopping the genocides happening in the world. One of these people was the Bishop of Iraq. This man has seen his people, possibly his friends and family, suffer. They are suffering because they believe in Jesus Christ. They have chosen to stay in the country to preserve the Catholic community there. They are being martyred for their Faith. The bishop said that he was praying for us in our sufferings too, and that together we can be united in our suffering. Who are we to have our suffering compared to a man who has more than likely seen so many rough things happen to his people. This is a subject which is not covered much on the news in the USA. But it was such a powerful talk, and we should be more aware of the genocide and try to help as many as we can. This can begin by making daily prayers for the people over there. It truly was a powerful thing. Mercy and Love wins, God has already won. Love wins and we need to step up and show it.
Finally, after taking a break for dinner, in yet another long line, we began XLT. XTL is a night of praise and worship, adoration, and a talk. Matt Maher and Audrey Assad lead worship. Joel Stephank was the speaker. He spoke once again about Mercy and how much God loves each and every one of us that no matter what we have done, the mercy of Christ will always be there. We need to let ourselves be loved before we can love other people. After a beautiful adoration of the blessed Sacrament with 18,000 youths, we left for the bus. We met a bunch of AWESOME South Africans. They taught us songs and spoke to us in their cool accents. We decided that they were the coolest group we had met and that we, as an American group, need to have an awesome theme song. We are still deciding what song that is. We got back to the hotel and had a great small group discussion. Now I am sitting here writing this long blog, trying to figure out how to fit in all the awesome parts of this day. Thank you so much for reading (if you made it this far.) We are praying for you all back home!! Would greatly appreciate the prayers in return. Remember your faith, show Mercy, love others, and Prove it. Tell the truth of who God is. Have a great night!
By Kelly D
Blessings from Kraków Poland ! Today marks the fourth day of our pilgrimage here at Would Youth Day! But most importantly this day includes the Papal welcome! Today we began our day in prayer at the mercy centre in which we drew nearer to Christ. In doing so also prepared ourselves to welcome the Holy father.
As the day drew on we left the area where we had our catechis and began to make our way to the field near the city of Kraków where we had the opening mass just two days prior and awaited the hold father's arrival. As he arrived the world welcomed him with open arms as the arrival celebration began with dance and song from all the nations in attendance. This was followed by his Holiness addressing all the pilgrims who had gathered. During his opening speech to the crowd the Holy father began to explain to us how "mercy always has a youthful face" Like that of Mary of Nazareth, whose daring “Yes” began her on what the Holy father described as an adventure of mercy. And what a beautiful face it is. During his address many times his holiness broke out into a casual Q&A with the youth asking this of us "Are you looking for empty thrills in life, or do you want to feel a power that can give you a lasting sense of life and fulfillment? Empty thrills or the power of grace? To find fulfillment, to gain new strength, there is a way. It is not a thing or an object, but a person, and he is alive. His name is Jesus Christ.
During my days here at World Youth Day I am renewed daily by this sense of fraternity that is everywhere we go. This sense of "fraternity " is made possibly only by unity of the Church and surpasses what nation you are from but instead links us as Christians as brothers and sisters.
Yours in Christ
Group Picture ~ Hoping to see the Pope!
Listening to the Pope
Walking back to Our Hotel!
Way of the Cross at Blonia Park
How many time have we set through the Stations of the Cross leading up to Easter ? If you've grown up Catholic just like me, then probably way too many to count. So how is it that we've come all the way half way across the world to Kraków to attend another Stations of the Cross?
As we were walking to the main park in the center of Kraków where the stations were to be held the crowds were lively and singing and cheering and there definitely were more people this evening than the previous day and for the opening ceremony. As we entered our assigned area we waited in anticipation to see if today would be the day Pope Francis would drive by our area but unfortunately we realized he was already on stage.
Right before the Stations started we began in prayer and asked God to open our hearts to truly walk the Stations and to keep a merciful heart. Once the reading of the Stations started we went through every station reading the gospels in one language and the reflection in another. Between the reading of each station and the reflection a various representation of the cross was shown and the World Youth Day cross was passed around the park (this cross was dedicated to the youth of the world by St. John Paul II when he entrusted the future of the faith to them). There were crosses made by the pilgrims with their bodies, ballerina forming a cross, acrobats making the cross with chains. On the main stage there were also people interpreting the stations. At times it was difficult to see the jumbotron, but when Jesus is brought down from the cross and lies dead with Mary kneeling by His side, I had a direct and clear view of the screen. Seeing this station acted out on the big screen really touched my heart. It was as if I was suddenly alone in dead silence sitting on Calvary watching Mary watch her son die.
I've listened to the Stations be read many times but sitting here in Kraków I sat and listened and understood as if though I'd never understood before. Every station was followed by a reflection referencing the works of mercy. And as Pope Francis spoke to us, the future of the Catholic faith, he spoke nice and clear and let us know that if we are going through life without placing our selves at the service of others then we are not truly living: for it is through serving others that we truly live. So I also ask you, are you truly placing yourself at His service?
By: Maria R
Saying the Station of the Cross with people from all over the world.
Starting the walk back to the Hotel!
Today was a journey, physical and faithful alike. With each new step our bodies tired, but we became closer to God. It began with a fairly normal routine: wake up, eat breakfast, take a few buses (not without a dash of nervous confusion, as usual), and get to mass. But instead of walking into the arena for mass just in time, we got there as the homily was wrapping up. Our perfect day had seemingly already fallen apart, but with a quick recovery, Jessica suggested that we get a head start to the vigil site and beat the crowds. So, after a bathroom and medical break, the whole group began the trek to the park where we were to camp for the night.
The first part of the hike held no inclination of what was to come later in the day. In the beginning, our "green hat group" bumbled along a back road with no other World Youth Day participants in sight. I was having such a pleasant time that I hadn't even noticed the passing of the first hour (Luke and I were engaged in an enthusiastic discussion about all things superhero [and Jedi], with an occasional side note from Jesse [including a fantastic Heath Ledger Joker impression]). I didn't hear much from other sections of our group, but my overall impression was positive. It all started, as many dramatic arcs do, when a select few people had to use the restroom. "Green hat group" was split up at about 11:30, when the bathroom break was taken. The following events ensued until my portion of the group made it to the campsite at approximately 3:45.
One word to describe it would be chaos. 7 stragglers we were, embarking not into the sea of mercy, but the sea of unending and unrelenting Italians. Of course other countries were represented in this madness, but the vast majority of the people in the lines in the street were from Italy and were not afraid to yell about it. Flags and t-shirts of all colors spanned what looked like miles of Polish road, without a visible end. At a particularly stressful moment, our group of 7 was split (not in half because to have it completely equal, we would have had to cut Luke in two pieces and no one wanted that). Now, at individual points in this expansive line were groups of 10, 4, and 3 wearing the same green hat. My collection of 4 battled through the crowds, as I am sure was true for the others, while trying to be aggressive and friendly at the same time. We sweat, stopped, started, smiled, argued, ducked, and stood for just about 3 and a half hours before taking our first break. That lasted around 15 minutes before we rekindled our hopes for a quick conclusion to our journey and walked back into a slightly dissipated crowd. We made it to the site 1 hour and 45 minutes later with sweat-stained clothes and aching appendages.
That night we heard the Pope speak, set up our sleeping areas, and tried to fall asleep as soon as we could. Pope Francis' words about youth and mercy were truly inspirational, especially considering the manner in which the entire message was delivered. The full presentation included dancing, singing, and acrobatics performed by professionals from many different countries as well as testimonies from inspirational and international speakers. Then, the estimated 2-3 million people took part in a candlelight vigil and time of prayer. The atmosphere was reverent and peaceful, one of the calmest parts of the day and the best way to end the first part of the gathering.
After a night of faithful celebration, most of the group went to bed at around 12:30 and had varying degrees of a "good night sleep." We prepared for morning mass and the conclusion to a fantastic World Youth Day experience that was to come on the following day.
Walking to the Vigil site
Candles were passed out to everyone at the vigil site
Visualize the sunrise, the moment that the sun breaks into our world. The blinding light is like Christ's power to cleanse our hearts, he is calling us to seek him and find peace.
We pilgrims, all 2 1/2 million or so who camped out in the 119 acres of Campus Misericordiae or "Camp of Mercy", felt our Creator's warmth shining down from the heavens starting at 5:00 am.
Some of us greeted the disruption of night with joy, others covered their eyes with their sleeping bag or blanket to remain in the bliss of slumber. I was happy to see the sun and took a quick photo. After I captured the image, I quickly fell back asleep until 7:00 am when a "gentle" greeting in 10 different languages came from one of the 30 big screens. The next two hours were spent in preparation for the pinnacle of our journey: the celebration of Mass with Papiez Franceszka or Pope Francis as most Americans call him. During the entirety of our pilgrimage in Kraków, the energy of the crowd rose exponentially each time that Pope Francis arrived on the scene. Adoring youth, young adults, chaperones, and religious ministers chanted for "Papa Francesco" enthusiastically.
His holiness, Pope Francis' message to the world is that we need to get to a place in our lives where Jesus' and our life may truly meet. If we are discontented, it means we are not realizing our true identity or God's will in our lives. No sin, defect, or mistake that we are burdened with can take His love away from us. The "golden connection" to Jesus is prayer.
In today's Gospel, Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector, a man short in stature, climbed a tree to see Jesus preach. By taking this risk, Zacchaeus opened himself to the Lord which caused Jesus to joyfully receive him. Pope Francis shared that we should not wait with arms crossed when feeling abandoned by Christ; He wants the exact opposite, to approach Him during our weakest times.
When going through periods of pain, sorrow, or worry, we tend to look selfishly inward about our own comforts rather than offering this suffering to Jesus. "Do not put your souls under anesthesia," The Holy Father, Pope Francis told us.
Christ Jesus loves us more than we love ourselves. We should "trust in the memory of God," The Pope said, "Not a hard drive looking at the past, but a heart that sees the good in all of us."
Oh Heavenly Father, we pray that You rekindle in us the voice of Jesus to ignite the fire of merciful love among all people across the world. Open the doors of our hearts and welcome those around us; those who we regard as sinners. Help us to show our sisters and brothers the mercy that the You give us.
In Your name we pray.
By Lisa H.
Good morning from Kraków!!
First off, this is a long and sad blog about history and pain so take it with patience and a grain of salt.
We are feeling a little under the weather, but MARIA GOT ENGAGED last night at Mass!! Today we are heading to Auschwitz and JPII's house in Wadowice, pronouced Vadovicee.
In Wadowice we went to Pope St. John Paul II's house where he was born and raised. In the museum there were artifacts from his youth and his residency as Pope. My favorite exhibit was the one on the assassination attempt in the 1981. There were pictures, videos and quotes from the event. There was a pair of trousers with blood stains on it, which belonged to a member of the Swiss guard, who caught JPII as he fell after the shots. There were also pictures from when he visited the man who had tried to Kill him. The Pope forgave Mehmet Ali AÄÅ¸ca for attempting to kill him. After visting his home, we went to Mass in St.Mary's, which was the church JPII was baptized in. It was in incredibly beautiful. It was great to hear Mass in English again, instead of Latin!
During our lunch break we went to a small cukinera that sold Pope cake, or John Paul's favorite cake. It was a custard like filling with filo dough on the top and bottom with powdered sugar on it. They were so good! Also, they were super filling. Then Jessica and I went to the bathroom and saw the largest husky I had ever seen. It was very fluffy and sweet.
Now we are on our way to Auschwitz. For me I am very interested about going there. I enjoy reading WWII era books relating to the Holocaust. I recognize the severity and the impact the Holocaust and these camps had on the world and it is an integral part of history that shouldn't be forgotten.
As I was walking through Auschwitz, I couldn't help but think I was walking on a graveyard. That people died and shed blood there and I was walking on them. I felt incredibly sad about the actions that has taken place there. It made me sick to think that thousands of people starved, died, cried and bled. I felt unworthy to be walking there seventy-ish years later. It made me question why God gave me life and so many people died in such a brutal and inhumane way.
Something I didn't know previously was that a German gynecologist had done sterilization experiments on women. It said most women died but those who didn't die were left changed physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. That made my blood boil to think about how women were treated so brutally and how a doctor tried to take away God's gift to us: life. After that we made our way to the crematorium and gas chambers where thousands were killed and burned from Zylon B gas. It was haunting to see where people died and where their ashes were shot in the sky. Later, we rode to Auschwitz-Birkenau and I was in awe of how many barracks there were and the sheer size of it all.
It was massive and I couldn't help but feel sick to think of all the people who lived in such horrific conditions.
Well the day is almost done and we are on our way back to Hotel Koynier for our farewell dinner. It was a somber and trying day. Thank you for reading this blog and your prayers for us. Please pray for a safe and healthy journey for us!
"Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky." -Elie Wiesel, Night
Inside Camp Aushwitz
The building where St. Maximillian Kolbe was Killed.
Gas chamber at Auschwitz
Sunset at the Hotel
The ceremonies of World Youth Day are complete, and we have all made it home. It was a crazy but amazing 10 days, full of nonstop activity, and some of the teens are already back in school for the fall semester. Where has the summer gone?
So, now that the official event is over, what does that mean for us? In his final address, during Sunday mass, Pope Francis told us that we should actually think of the closing mass as the true beginning of World Youth Day, emphasizing that we MUST bring the message of WYD back home with us. As we sat at the airport, (way too early in the morning) our group discussed what that meant and how the looked for each of us. We asked everyone to try to nail down the one thing that affected us the most during this experience and decide how that one thing was calling each of us to action. As you can imagine, after 10 days, it’s hard to narrow it down to one thing, but our teens and parents are a great group, and the answers did not disappoint. They ranged from being open and sharing about the trip on a deep, spiritual level to being more conscientious of the desire in our hearts to receive the Eucharist.
On a personal level, my call to action came from one of the addresses of Pope Francis. He spoke about laziness and the problem that it presents. He said, “you are meant to make a mark on the world, not your couch. Stop being couch potatoes.” That statement hit me in a profound way. It is such a simple concept, but it was absolutely something that I needed to hear. So often, if find myself spending entire days stagnant, playing video games, watching movies, on my phone, etc… It’s easy to rationalize such things by saying something to the effect of, “it was a tough day/week at work.” or “I just need a break.” However, what Pope Francis was getting to with his previously mentioned statement was that when “making the mark on the world” we need to be interacting with other people, and that the human interaction is what will bring us joy.
When you start thinking about it, it’s so true! For all that time spent watching movies and playing games, there is no fulfillment to be found. Does it feel good to beat a tough level? Sure. Is seeing a movie with someone bad? No. (I’m going to see Ghostbusters tonight.) However, when you look at those things compared to time spent with others striving to achieve something, there’s no comparison. In listening to the Pope’s words, my resolution is to cut down on those “couch potato” moments and to fill the new found time with intentional time spent with friends and family.
It’s hard to try to wrap things up and put a “bow” on such a powerful trip. We saw and experienced so many things that it doesn’t seem sufficient to type a few lines and call it a day. This was a pilgrimage that change most, if not all of us, in a profound way. We experienced something that few will every have the opportunity to experience, sharing our faith with 2.5 million other Catholics from all around the world. When you look across a field and see nothing but people, for as far as you can see, all there to celebrate their faith, you can’t help but be changed. Something clicks. You see the true universality of our faith, and there is no turning back from that.
This trip would not have been possible without the support of our amazing parish, donors, Msgr. Marren, everyone working behind the scenes, and you. I speak for all the pilgrims when I say thank you all for your thoughts and prayers. Thank you for your support. Thank you for reading these blogs. Thank you for everything you do, that you have done, or that you plan to do for the youth of All Saints. I am humbled to be part of such a wonderful community. Please continue praying for us, and we will do the same for you.
Hanging out in Frankfurt, Germany
weary travelers - the journey turns toward home