Tricia, Nikki and Briana Walz, three sisters from St. Peter Parish in St. Cloud, are making their way to Krakow, Poland, to attend World Youth Day July 26-31 with 2 million other young Catholics.
“We’ve always wanted to go,” said the oldest sister, Tricia, 25. “We thought, ‘Who knows where we will all be in a couple years when the next one comes around?’ So we wanted to take the opportunity to go now.”
Tricia looked around for groups that were going and came across a trip the Diocese of Winona had planned.
“It literally had everything that we were in love with,” she said.
The “pre-trip,” the part of the pilgrimage before official WYD activities begin, includes stops at Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp; the Divine Mercy Sanctuary, the resting place of St. Faustina Kowalska; and the holy sites of Czestochowa and Wadowice, the birthplace of St. John Paul II.
“It worked out so perfectly. I just knew we were supposed to go,” Tricia said.
Though she was convinced that everything was “perfect,” her younger sisters were a little less sure. After a little persuading and a lot of prayer, Nikki and Briana agreed that it seemed “meant to be.” They began the planning process with Ben Frost, director of youth and young adults for the Diocese of Winona, and a total of 27 pilgrims, including Bishop John Quinn.
“In preparation for the trip we have been emphasizing to our group the importance of prayer and entering into the spirit of pilgrimage,” Frost said. “In many ways we can see the exciting elements of the trip to World Youth Day, but the experience is so much more than a trip. The experience is meant to be an encounter with Jesus Christ.”
Briana, 20, is the youngest of the three sisters and is eager to experience a variety of people from throughout the world.
“To see and hear people praying together in different languages, to see people dancing and worshiping, I’m really excited to see what all the different cultures do,” she said. “It really takes it to a new level when we say ‘one holy catholic church.’”
“And of course, we are excited to see the pope,” Tricia added. Pope Francis will celebrate a closing overnight vigil and Mass for the pilgrims.
Before they join the other pilgrims, the three sisters have a pre-trip of their own planned. It includes stops in Iceland, where they will see a hot spring; Madrid, where Nikki can practice her Spanish — one of her college majors; Germany, where they will visit Tricia’s host family whom she stayed with during a high school trip; and Rome, where they hope they might get an audience with Pope Francis.
The girls’ parents, Dean and Kim, and family and friends said they are excited about the sisters’ trip and, understandably, a little nervous about their safety and will be praying for them while they are gone.
Diane Hansen, a friend of the Walzes and part of a group of people who have consecrated themselves to Mary, told the sisters that the graces they receive on the pilgrimage can be shared back at home.
“We are all the mystical Body of Christ,” she told them. “You can send those graces you are receiving through your presence there back to your family and friends through your prayers and through your guardian angels. Just like at Mass, the prayers that we say affect everybody, not just the people who are there.”
Because World Youth Day coincides with the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, the event is also a Jubilee Year event for youth. The theme is “Blessed are the Merciful.”
“It’s really cool to have that as a theme in Poland because of St. John Paul II and St. Faustina,” said Nikki, 24. “I think it is going to make it so much more real what mercy is and what it means, actually being where they lived and learning about them.”
Another experience they are looking forward to is the night they spend camping out in a field with all 2 million pilgrims. The Blessed Sacrament will be exposed for all-night adoration and concludes with Mass in the morning with Pope Francis.
“I think it will be really cool that there will be all these people and you probably won’t be able to understand a lot of them but we all have something in common — our faith,” Nikki said.
Two other pilgrimages to WYD from the Diocese of St. Cloud include a group of 11 students and two spiritual advisers from the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University. They created a blog, csbsjuwyd.wordpress.com, and invite people to follow them on their journey through their writings and photographs.
A second group is made up of 28 adults and youth from around the diocese, including Little Falls, North Prairie, Holdingford, Upsala and Avon. Father Gregory Mastey is their spiritual director. A send-off Mass for this group is planned for 4 p.m., July 23, at Holy Cross Church in North Prairie.
Both of these groups were featured in the May 6 issue of The Visitor. All three groups have asked for prayers as they make their pilgrimage.