The experience of walking down the streets of Krakow, Poland alongside 2 million other teens and young adults from 186 different countries like France, Italy, Australia, the Philippines, Syria, Egypt, Spain, etc. was amazing. We had made the long journey to Poland filled with unexpected adventures in order to be with this representation of the universal church and grow in faith together. It was unlike anything else you could have ever experienced. We woke up each morning and embarked on the many adventures and graces that awaited us. There was singing and chanting everywhere we went and it was impossible not to join in. We experienced Mass throughout the week in the Tauron Arena where our catechesis sessions also were. The Sisters of Life were everywhere in the Arena, hanging out with us and talking with us. So many young religious sisters, brothers, and priests were present at World Youth Day, which was really inspiring. There were a number of Bishops and Cardinals who we met throughout the week all encouraging us to remain prayerful and focused on our relationship with God while also living the lives we were called to live by God.
It was extraordinary to go to Mass with 20,000 people during the week and end with a Mass of 2.1 million with Pope Francis on Sunday. We walked about 10 miles to go to the campsite for Mass with Pope Francis and upon arriving to the site, after a couple of our group members waited a few hours for food, we found out that they had run out. So, we enjoyed the vigil and then heard there would be food available afterwards. There was some confusion with the location of the food, so after four hours of walking, two of us returned with food for the group. We were determined to find food for the group because we knew we had a 10 mile walk back the next day and needed sustenance for the journey.
We finished our trip visiting Wadowice, the childhood town of St. John Paul II, and Auschwitz and Birkenau. These were powerful experiences for all of us. It was eerie walking through Auschwitz and Birkenau. There was such a silence and somberness that you could feel it as you walked around. We saw where St. Maximilian Kolbe died and where so many others were innocently taken as well. We didn’t just learn about the darkness and destruction experienced here in Poland in the 20th century, we saw it and felt it. It was unlike anything we’ve ever felt before. At the same time, we were able to feel the joy and peace that comes from the Lord in the midst of death and destruction. It reminded us of Jesus and His suffering on the cross. In His suffering, He brought to us eternal life. We were provided with the opportunities all week at World Youth Day to offer up our little sufferings and be reminded during this year of Mercy how redemptive our suffering is. So many beautiful saints came from Poland to remind us of this and St. John Paul II, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and St. Faustina were just a few who we met and encountered here during this week. We are so grateful for the opportunity to have traveled to Poland to represent St. John’s and to understand more about the sufferings of our universal church family while also growing in faith and community together. St. John Paul II, pray for us.