A group of 11 students and two spiritual advisers from the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph and St. John’s University in Collegeville journeyed to Krakow, Poland, July 26-31 for World Youth Day. They created a blog, csbsjuwyd.wordpress.com, and invited people to follow along through their writings and photographs. The following is an excerpt from the final day of the event, written by CSB junior Maria Frie with input from her fellow pilgrims.
Our pilgrimage has come to an end. Our final days were peppered with challenges and blessings. On the day of the vigil [with Pope Francis], we awoke early to start. We partnered with a group from Alaska to travel the nine-mile stretch to Campus Misericordiae (“Field of Mercy”).
Together, our two groups celebrated Mass behind our hostel and then headed to the nearest tram. Trams only would get us so far and so we had to finish the next four miles on foot.
As a group, we all agreed it was smart to move out so early. The afternoon was blistering hot! After making it through security, many of us napped, played cards, explored our bags of food and tried not to roast in the sun.
When it was time for the vigil to start, Pope Francis entered in through the specially built Doors of Mercy, “Jesus I trust in you.” It was a simple way to acknowledge the Doors of Mercy spread throughout the world during this Jubilee year! For us, who have access to two different Doors of Mercy on our campuses, it was even more special.
The next part of the program focused on five concepts: counsel the doubtful, hope for the discouraged, love for those who feel indifferent, forgiveness of those who have done wrong and joy to those who are unhappy.
Each one was performed in different ways. Some included videos, dancing, even sports. It was through these scenes that pilgrims were able to understand how to evangelize in today’s day and age; actions were stressed over arguments and violence.
Rejecting ‘couch happiness’
When Pope Francis took the stage, he started with asking us to be aware of all the persecution in the Middle East. He also asked us to pray for those who do not understand family, fraternity and communion, which is central to creating healthy community.
Pope Francis also told us not to let fear rule our hearts. When we do, our generation is finding “happiness” in comfort.
“Couch happiness” he called it! Francis said this can having a numbing and paralyzing effect … and it prevents our skills from being able to be used. With society as it is, he said that it’s easier for others to make decisions for us when we’re numb.
In a way, we’re surrendering our rights by letting fear keep us indoors, away from activity shaping our communities. “We did not come into this world to vegetate. . . (but) to leave a mark! . . . Happiness is not comfort. Jesus is the Lord of Risk.”
Francis encouraged us to grab soccer cleats instead of sitting on couches. All of us are starters and are called to play right away.
Then he addressed our doubts saying that God doesn’t see what we can’t do, but all that we will be able to do! At the end he blessed our dreams. When we reflected later, many words from this speech resonated with us. It was amazing to have such utter truth laid out before us in an accusing, encouraging way.
Adoration was next. Words limit the descriptions we can give of being surrounded by millions of people and candles, listening to sung versions of the Divine Mercy Chaplet in different languages, and our own personal moments with God in that space. We can share that it was moving and that God was potently present.
Following adoration was a concert with different Christian artists from all over the world. Have you ever heard of the game “Head’s Up?” If you like group games, it’s golden! We learned how hilarious the game can be with our monastic members (not to mention the lack of sleep and the euphoria surrounding WYD events). We laughed harder than we had the entire trip!
After a night under the stars, we awoke around 6 a.m. to sound checks [for the closing Mass]. Unfortunately for us, the speakers remained on for the rest of the morning too! Groggily, we got up at our own pace. . . with the exception of Erin who had the greatest sleep of her trip thus far! By the time Mass began, all of us were wearing our light blue Pope Francis shirts and were already sweating through the cotton. It was hot and during Mass there was a sea of makeshift sun blockers from umbrellas, to cardboard, to scarves and buffs.
During this Mass, 3 million people had gathered to celebrate with the Holy Father. The immensity of the event still has not sunken in.
The Gospel was about the tax collector Zacchaeus. Pope Francis focused on the three obstacles Zacchaeus had to face before meeting Christ: his stature, shame and the crowd.
Breaking down each one, he was able to relate Zacchaeus’ challenges with our own. Zacchaeus was physically short and had to climb a tree, and sometimes we let our feelings of smallness keep us from seeing God. Zacchaeus had sinned but, like us, needed to recognize the abundance within God’s mercy. Zacchaeus had been blocked and accused by the crowd, and others may do the same to us but “do not be discouraged!”
The pope also transitioned into a beautiful send-off: “We can say that World Youth Day begins today and continues tomorrow, in your homes, since that is where Jesus wants to meet you from now on.”
After Communion, which is always a bit haphazard among millions of people, the next location of World Youth Day was announced. Panama will be the location of the 2019 WYD! It was a celebratory moment!
Suddenly, it was all over, but yet it wasn’t. The official events had concluded, but millions of people needed to file out of Campus Misericordiae and find their way home. We waited in the heat and, when firemen set up giant sprinklers, pilgrims danced, gasped and even washed in the cool water spraying 30 feet up in the air. Clouds began to gather and right when our group was setting out: downpour.
We ventured nine miles through mud, three heavy downpours and sticky humidity in between. Even though the context seems ridiculously hard, our pilgrimage home was one of the most fun parts of our journey!
We sang with the Scottish, stopped for lody (ice cream) and fresh fruit, ran through newly formed rivers flooding the road, and laughed as we ventured home. Many of us developed blisters through the joy of walking. When we arrived back, we celebrated by spending our last pilgrim vouchers on pizza and crowded in the hallway to feast together. We toasted to the Lord of Risks and our struggles and successes.
Needless to say, everyone slept well that night.