Matt Bewers, our Education Volunteer from Jersey, kindly agreed to send us his thoughts and impressions after attending World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, Poland this summer.
“Our pilgrim group from the Portsmouth diocese attended World Youth Day from 21 July – 3 August, taking a lengthy 2-day coach journey across Europe to get there.
“Krakow was a very fitting location for this international gathering, not just because of the magnificence and beauty of St. Mary’s Basilica and other churches which are part of in the city but also because it was where St. Pope John Paul II was Bishop for almost 40 years prior to his appointment to the Papacy.
“On our first couple of days there we did some sightseeing in and around Krakow. We toured round a Salt Mine; a fabulous underground world of tunnels and salt sculptures.
“On the 3rd day we visited Auschwitz concentration camp and as we walked round, took in the horror and audacity of the callous and evil genocide carried out to almost 6 million Jewish people. We also visited the Divine Mercy Centre in dedication to St Faustina. We had Mass there and went to the chapel where her relics are displayed for all pilgrims to view in the chapel there.
“The WYD events themselves began on Tuesday. We had daily catechises given by speakers from both laity and clergy, worship music sessions and Mass. The Opening Mass was then held in a large open field, probably about as large as London’s Hyde Park. We arrived into the park and found our quadrant.
“After waiting for all the remaining pilgrims to join, and the heavens opened but then stopped before the Mass began. The altar podium erected in the park was excellent and the music from the orchestra and choir was so beautiful, sacred. And as you looked around the park, a sea of people and flags from every country you could think of from across the world. The whole thing just made me burst into open in tears of joy; I could never have imagined when I was little being a part of this enriching international faith gathering.
“On Wednesday we had a youth festival in the arena. On Thursday we saw Pope Francis make his way to the Park for the welcoming greeting, I got to within a few metres as his motorcade processed through the pathway through the park.
“On Saturday we made our journey to the Campus Misericordia for the night vigil with the Holy Father, which was a painful walk in the heat together with over 1.5 million pilgrims. But the event itself was a beautiful, gathering together as pilgrims to sing praises to out Lord in the Blessed Sacrament (albeit very far away) with candles, prayers and meditations.
“We slept that night outside under the starts and had closing Mass from Pope Francis the next day; where he advised us that God counts on us for what we are, not for what we possess. He encouraged us to not be ‘couch potato’ Christians but to get up of our seats, continue to perform acts of mercy. We heard him also announce the next WYD will be held in 2019 in Panama.
“As you can gather, this was certainly not a holiday, the early starts to each day, long walks to and from the arena for the catechises and the events open air events and in weather from one extreme to the other. On occasions, I almost nodded off, not because I wasn’t enjoying the talks and events but because of the long days and on-the-go full-on experience! But amazingly, everyone in the group maintained a good stamina and engaged fully with the programme.
“It was a very moving and powerful experience, for me, a chance to celebrate and rejoice in my faith in Jesus without worrying what everyone else around me thought. And it really emphasised how the young church is alive and active in so many countries that make up the body of Christ, the universal Church. It was a week in which many rich graces and blessings were poured out, an experience I will never forget.”
Thank you Matt for sending us your photos and for sharing this with us too! Sounds like a fantastic experience!