I’ve been back from my Salvatorian pilgrimage to World Youth Day for just over three weeks now… and not a single day has gone by where I have not thought of our journey to the City of Mercy. We prepared for months - some of us years – but I think none of us knew just quite what to expect… or how important this journey would become for us.
On the 13th of July, I left home with 32 other pilgrims from Salvatorian parishes around Australia, to travel in the footsteps of St Paul. Our voyage took us to Athens and the Greek Islands. On Patmos beside the Cave of St John (where Revelation was written) we celebrated mass under the branches of a tree looking out into the most beautiful Cathedral I have ever seen: God’s Cathedral of nature. It was such a humbling experience. There was a small rickety table left for us in a corner by Providence which we adapted as an altar. Later we stood where St Paul was persecuted for his faith in Corinth. We held mass there in the ruins on a 2000 year old rock. Nearby church bells began chiming during the consecration.
Then Poland. Bagno - a small village in the south-west of the beautiful Polish countryside - became our home for three days. We were lucky enough to stay here with the singing and dancing Salvatorian Seminarians! And it was here that a young seminarian ЕВГЕНИЙ taught us ‘the dance’ (Such a happy day) which caught on like wildfire. We met with a thousand or so Salvatorian youth from around the world, competing in a Salvatorian mini Olympics, celebrating mass, listening to the Polish Salvatorian Superior General and continuing to exchange dance routines with the seminarians. Bagno was also a time of personal reflection and preparation for our Catechesis sessions we later hosted in Krakow. For me, it was very special to be present with young people devoting their lives to God. The Chaplet of Divine Mercy became quite important to me here and I will never forget venturing out each night with a friend to pray the Chaplet at a small shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes. Mother Mary was illuminated in the darkness of the night.
WYD. W o w.
In Krakow, the streets were filled with the chants of ‘Papa Francesco!’ ##### (claps) and ‘Esta es la juventud del papa!’ Krakow was flooded with rainbows of red, yellow and blue WYD raincoats and backpacks. Groups were dancing, waving at each other and hi-fiving each other. You’d see someone across the street and go ‘heeeey!’and they’d go ‘heeey!’back, and you had no idea who they were. It was here that we were lucky enough to lead Catechesis with around 2/3000 young people. This opportunity was such an amazing experience for us, and we grew so much closer because of it. At the vigil, Papa Francesco spoke to us of the importance of being protagonists of history, of not getting roped into the trap of couch happiness. Pope Francis said that ‘we came not to sit on a couch… but to make a mark.’ He said “Jesus is the Lord of risk, not comfort, security or convenience. You need a good dose of courage to follow Jesus. You need good shoes.’
That night we had adoration of the Blessed Sacrament with 2.3 million young people kneeling before our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
As we walked back to our section we realised hundreds of thousands of candles had been lit and were shining out into the night as far as the eye could see. That night, everywhere you looked, there was an endless supply of people dancing and singing and talking with people they had never met before. I went to bed at 2.30. with 2.3 million people under the stars.
The next morning 2.3 million people awoke to celebrate mass with the Pope. These are just some of the many many incredible, unforgettable - life-changing I think I can say - experiences we had on our journey with the Salvatorians to WYD!