Saturday - Vigil of World Youth Day
This time last week we were at the hotel preparing to begin our pilgrimage walk to the vigil site Campus Misericordiae (The Field of Mercy), we set off after lunch, the coach was only able to take us so far before we had to start the long walk to the field of mercy.
We began the walk at 13:30 and arrived at the Campus Misericordiae just before 5pm. The first part of the walk was easy and there was not too many people, but before long the crowds were so heavy that the walk came more or less to a standstill. At times we would only take a few steps and then stop for a minute or two before moving a little further, as we moved with the crowd the heat from the sun was intense with no shade whatsoever. Local people help by spraying their hose pipes and jet washes to help to cool the crowds down, there were also some water hydrants that had been opened, they were opened in a way to send the water across the crowds of pilgrimages. Other local people stood by the road side with baskets of fruit for the pilgrims to take and eat along the way. Once we finally arrived at our allocated area it was time to put down our sleeping bags to ensure that we had somewhere to sleep as the rest of the pilgrims allocated to that area arrived. Over our sleeping bags there were bright orange survival bags just in case rain came overnight. While we waited for the arrival of the Holy Father there was plenty of opportunity for the pilgrims to meet other pilgrims from all over the world just as we had been over the last four days. there was also plenty of music and dancing coming from all around the Campus Misericordiae. Finally the Holy Father arrived, even though we wereright near the front we still needed to rely on a big TV screen to be able to see. The long hard walk was something in the distant passed and was soon forgotten as the atmosphere took over.
The whole atmosphere was wonderful, around 1.8 million had gathered at Campus Misericordiae for the vigil with the Holy father and to remain there overnight waiting for the Holy Father to return to celebrate Mass the following morning. After the vigil with the Holy Father there was again lots of music and dancing with further opportunities to talk to and meet other pilgrims from around the world. The music stopped around midnight, after this people began to settle down for the night in their sleeping bags under the stars. As we entered the early hours of the morning the temperature had dropped considerably and people began to feel the cold, even though we had brought extra clothes for the night we still felt the cold. Thankfully there was no rain over night.
Sunday – World Youth Day
Most people were up and about at around 5am. It was still chilly at this time, but by 7am the heat had returned and by now most people had packed their sleeping bags up and prepared for local people to join us for the Mass with the Holy Father. There was a steady flow of people from early morning arriving at the ‘Campus Misericordiae’ which must have taken the number over 2 million attending the Mass. Again in the morning, even though people where tired the atmosphere was joyful with more music and dancing.
Finally around 09:15 the Holy Father arrived to cheers from the crowds of pilgrims. The as Mass began there fell silence across the vast area of the ‘Campus Misericordiae.’ Most people had their own radios for the translation, while others gathered around a radio to listen to the translation. The pilgrims listened attentively to the words of The Holy father during his homily (transcript to follow).
Once Mass was over, the Holy Father then announced that the next World Youth day would take place in Panama in 2019. Once the Holy Father had finished we began to make our way to meet our coach to return to the hotel. As we walked on the way back the walk was a lot easier as for the first part we managed to find another way out of the ‘Campus Misericordiae.’ Because we took this different route we were fortunate enough to be on the road that the Holy Father would be leaving by. After a short time on the road the Holy Father passed us waving from the window of his car. It was not long before we again became part of large crowds all going in the same direction, the atmosphere among the crowds was very high spirited as they continued along the way. The walk on the way back took a little less time, but was still hard due to the numbers of people and the heat of the sun. We finally arrived at themeeting point for the coach at 2pm before returning to the hotel to spend the rest of the day relaxing in the grounds.
Today was another full day as we continued with visiting the sights and places of interest in Poland. In the morning we travelled to Wadowice. This is the town where John Paul II was born and raised. The oldest church in Wadowice is the parish church in the market square, now called the church of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For almost a hundred years the portrait of Our Lady of Perpetual Help hung in the church, and young Karol Wojtyla developed a profound and personal devotion to her image. You can see the baptistery where the future pope was baptised on June 20, 1920. It was here that he served mass and spend long hours in prayer. On March 25, 1992, Pope John Paul II gave the church the status of a Minor Basilica. Just around the corner from the Basilica is the house where he was born on May 18, 1920. His family lived in two rooms, but the surrounding apartments were obtained after his election in order to make a museum. So many faithful flocked to visit the town to learn more about the beloved Polish pope. It remains a popular spot for pilgrims. The museum displays many of the family’s possessions, photographs and items from his pontificate. We were fortunate that the museum was open, which some people took advantage of and visited, while others entered the church of his baptism and visited the font he was baptised in.
Later in the day we travelled to Auschwitz, when we arrived at Auschwitz the whole group along with many other people fell silent as we stood at the gates ready to enter. As we entered the gates we began to follow the route that has been specially set up for the World Youth Day Pilgrims, along the way there was plenty of information on big boards explaining the history of Auschwitz, there was along many picture from the time the camp was open.
The whole experience of both camps was one that moved the whole group when they began to understand fully the extent of what had taken place there during the war. As we moved around both camps people remained silent as they read the signs and looked at the pictures. Overall the young people got to know something of the history of these camps and to walk around and to see what took place is something that I think will never leave them.
On Tuesday we travelled 2.5 hours to visit The Black Madonna. The Black Madonna is a painting of our Lady and the Christ Child which legend states was painted by St. Luke the Evangelist. St. Luke is believed to have used a table top from a one built by the carpenter Jesus. It was while Luke was painting Mary that she told him about the events in the life of Jesus that he eventually used in his Gospel. This same legend states that that when St. Helen went to Jerusalem to search for the true cross in 326 AD, she happened upon this portrait of Our Lady. She gave it to her son, The Emperor Constantine, who had a shrine built to house it.
In a critical battle with the Saracens, the portrait was displayed from the walls of Constantinople and the Saracens were subsequently routed. The portrait was credited with saving the city. The painting was eventually owned by Charlemagne who subsequently presented the painting to Prince Leo of Ruthenia (northwest Hungary). It remained at the royal palace in Ruthenia until an invasion occurred in the eleventh century. The king prayed to Our Lady to aid his small army and as a result of this prayer darkness overcame the enemy troops who, in their confusion, began attacking one another. Ruthenia was saved as a result of this intervention by Our Lady. In the fourteenth century, it was transferred to the Mount of Light (Jasna Gora) in Poland in response to a request made in a dream of Prince Ladislaus of Opola.
After visiting the shrine at Czestochowa the group was given time to visit the rest of the complex and also to visit the small town, after this we made our way back to the hotel.
From the Young People
Laura: Despite being raised as a catholic all my life in recent years I have faced many challenges which have made me question my faith. I have been on a few religious trips but I saw world youth day 2016 as an opportunity to reconnect with the Catholic world, whilst in Kraków i have had many amazing experiences including seeing the pope speak on several occasions and seeing the birth place of Saint John Paul II which I would not have been able to do without coming on this pilgrimage. Coming on this pilgrimage has really reopened my eyes my faith and I have found being in such large crowds surrounded by young people of the same faith really spiritually enlightening. Everyone has been on the journey together and have all been so friendly and welcoming towards everyone. This experience has been truly amazing and I am very grateful to have had the chance to be apart of it.
Nisha: World Youth Day has been an incredible experience so far. It is amazing to see millions of young Catholics all gathered together in the name of Jesus. It makes me feel so happy and proud to be a Catholic.
Rachel: world youth day has been the most amazing experience being able to meet all the new people who have something in common with es. They make es all feel that everyone is easy to communicate with even if we can't speak the same language.
Isabel: WYD has been so fun and i love travelling, seeing new places and meeting all these new people from around the world and most importantly making loads of new friends from within our group.
Hannah: had amazing experience and finally seen the pope. So glad I came, everyone is so nice and shares the same faith
Heather: WYD has been an opportunity to communicate with other young Catholics, learn more about their individual cultures and personal religious life's. This trip has truly tested our relationships and patience with each other but most importantly with God. I am