After three hours of sleep, two bags of luggage, two bags of airplane starbursts, one screaming baby, and 1,230 miles travelling from my parents’ front door to John Paul II Krakow international airport, my World Youth Day pilgrimage had officially begun!
We had arrived a week early for ‘days in diocese’, which we spent two miles out of Krakow in a town called Jaworzno. The first week was hectic. It was filled with thousands of people and crammed schedules and began with the most charismatic mass I’ve ever seen. We followed that with a walking pilgrimage to the Jasna Gora Miraculous Black Madonna Chapel, an indescribable visit to Auschwitz – Birkenau, a trip to Pope Square in Sosnowiec, time spent with our families and an England vs Poland football competition. Finally we said a very sad farewell and embarked on our second coach to Krakow.
Week two in Krakow began with a three hour sleep in my comfy hotel bed. We spent our week traveling to the Tauron arena where we had catechesis, the Papal welcome mass (where we managed to get on the front row to see the Pope(, and an overnight vigil celebrating mass with the Pope the next morning. My personal favourite was Mercy Night – including adoration, Matt Maher, Audrey Assad, Robert Barron and so many great people.
Despite the fun and hectic timetable, all the sleepless nights under the stars, and millions of young people, we still found time as a group to reflect, pray and discern about what we’ve done, what we’ve been surprised at, what we’ve learnt and what we’re going to take back home with us.
I returned home nearly three weeks ago, my tan has started to fade and my two weeks in Poland are starting to blur. I have to question what I did on what days. There are a few things though, that I don’t think I’ll ever forget:
- The incredible welcome of my host family. We laughed together, especially as my 12-year-old host sister taught me Polish, played together and grew together. They welcomed me not only into their home and their lives, but also into their family. On my departure to Krakow on the last day, my host dad said, “You may have left my house, but you’ll always be in my family now.”
- How much food we ate…I don’t think I ever ate a 5 course breakfast before!
- And finally, Pope Francis, who during his homily said something so true to my heart, and something I’d argue is what many of us would also agree with:
“It is gratifying to hear how young people share their dreams, their questions and their desire to oppose all those who say nothing can change. Some people do not want to change but young people have the strength to resist them…my heart rejoices, the church today looks to you. I would add, the world looks to you and wants to learn from you.
I dare say, mercy is forever a young face. A merciful heart can go out to meet others, it can embrace all. A merciful heart can be a refuge…can create an atmosphere of home and family for those who had to emigrate. A merciful heart is able to share bread with the hungry, is open to accept refugees and immigrants. It saddens me when young people throw in the towel before the fight for change…young people like this are not only bored, but boring.”
Written by Sarah Derbyshire. Sarah is a second year student in Philosophy, Ethics and Religion at the University of Leeds and originally hails from Manchester.. She is currently President of SCM Leeds, has previously volunteered as a youth leader at Savio House, a Salesian Retreat Centre, and likes to make people smile.