After getting home from Auschwitz at 3am, we made the decision to sleep until 10am so we could actually function for the rest of the day! However, our families were only available to help transport us before 8am, and since we didn’t know Polish very well, it was quite uncertain how we were supposed to get to our parish that morning. Poor Michael just shut down, and Fermin and I were left speechless about how to overcome yet another confusing experience. Were we supposed to walk? Take a bus? Call a taxi? Wait for someone to pick us up? Google translate IS NOT AS EASY AS IT LOOKS!
So I called our parish and told them the situation, and when they said they’d just come get us, I relayed our delay and uncertainty to the rest of the group. Right at this moment, Kristin texted me back with, “We are eating ice cream and walking in the park with our family in front of the church”, and I just wanted to scream. Thank you Kristin for letting us know about how happy and wonderful it was going, and the negativity from the night before seemed to be all consuming as we continued our transition into Krakow. She didn’t know what we were going through of course, and this is in no way calling her out…just commenting on the amusing timing of God’s humor!
The bus finally showed up, and on the way back to the parish, a car of WYD organizers passed us on the way to come get us. Stopping and turning around, they followed us back to the parish, and we suddenly realized the communication barrier was NOT just because we spoke different languages. The bus driver and the WYD organizers apparently knew each other, and our anxiety about the coming week only worsened.
Can you tell what is missing in the midst of these initial moments on Day 9? Where is the peace, love, and joy? What is the point of this journey if it’s only going to be troublesome and confusing? Why even go if you can’t get where you’re trying to go anyway? Weren’t we there to see the beautiful churches and “walk in the footsteps of saints” so romantically as the anticipatory promo videos enticed us? What’s the point of a pilgrimage anyway?!
Not just the obligatory silence before the tomb of a famous saint or blessed. The wondrous Pier Giorgio Frassati lay before us in the first sanctuary we entered in Old Town Krakow, but the only thing we seemed to notice is how he wasn’t in a transparent case for us to see him. We were frustrated that we couldn’t find a bathroom anywhere in the populated area. We were hurried and rushed to walk through the display on Frassati’s life and see what else we could see before we had to go to the main celebration that evening…
I think Blessed Frassati was watching over us during those critical moments though, for the crowds of people we encountered in the old town square must have been similar in size for that same incredible man’s FUNERAL! He helped and served the poor in his community in courageous ways. Though he died at the young age of 24, he was known for his love for adventure and his compassion for the poor.
“To the heights” he called us to go, and to conquer such a mountainous aspiration, he got special permission to receive the Eucharist on a daily basis. This foundation gave him the courage to get involved in the political life of his Italian government! He joined the St. Vincent dePaul Society at the age of 17 and worked tirelessly for the poor, orphaned, and veterans of the first World War. On his death bed, it is said that he was more concerned about the well-being of others’ (“make sure this man gets money for these bus tickets, or medicine for her illness, etc.”) than he was about his untimely death! Polio didn’t have a cure in those days, but he wasn’t worried about where he was going, because he knew where he was going, and he had the joy that only faith and hope in Christ Jesus could grant him!
Thousands of the poor and destitute came to his funeral to pay tribute, and his family was completely amazed at the hidden life he had lived. They never knew how many people he had served and loved during his short life, and suddenly, our very UN-hidden frustrations were encountering a man whose intercessions were beginning to break through our hardened hearts of anxiety and conflict. Our pitiful attitudes amidst the crowds were enough to inspire a compassionate prayer from the “Man of the Beatitudes”.
At the foot of St. Anne’s Church a block or two outside of the main town square, we stopped to rest from sheer exhaustion. We had already attempted to go to KFC for crying out loud to get food, but the line was so long and the people so packed into those narrow alleyways that we just decided to walk in the direction of the Opening Ceremonies. It was nice to run into Fr. Joseph Mary Brown from Ignite Your Torch at this time, and he directed us on our way. So clearly, the floodgates of joy were cracking the dam of our stress, but when Kim needed to rest from the long walk, we knew what we had been missing…
The moment we said that prayer of thanksgiving to God for getting us back home–the moment we pleaded with him to bring us joy and peace in our hearts, to give us safe and efficient travel to the Welcoming Ceremonies, to find us food and shelter from the impending rainstorm–even the moment we said GRACE before our unknown future meal, that was when everything changed. That’s when our prayers became united to our intercessor in Heaven!
Immediately next to St. Anne’s was a t-shirt and umbrella stand where we joyfully purchased our memorabilia, and then without hesitation, we got directions for an organizer to a small little restaurant on the way to Blonia Park…that finally accepted our food tickets! Sure enough, as we rounded the corner, there it was in all its glory! I took a picture of the menu as we walked in, and within 20 minutes we were all seated at the only empty table in the entire restaurant that just happened to have 11 seats carefully reserved…as if waiting in joyful anticipation for our arrival!
It poured down rain the entire time we ate comfortably indoors, and when we were finally rested and fed, we got up to walk out, and the rain had cleared for the rest of the evening.
God cannot be outdone in generosity!
He then found us a great spot in a close section to the stage for the opening ceremonies with Archbishop of Krakow (a close friend of the late St. John Paul the Great!), Stanislaw Cardinal Dziwisz. The entire opening Mass and celebration beforehand was held in honor of our great Mercy Pope JPII, and the inspiration behind World Youth Day. When he established this spark at the close of the Year of the Redemption in 1983-84, it would renew the face of our Catholic identity for generations to come. Indeed, it has clarified our catechetical upbringing and has intensified our approach to evangelizing the faithful! Every young person has an opportunity and a calling to encounter this authentic Catholic environment, not just at the international World Youth Day, but in every conference, retreat, youth rally, and community gathering inspired from these providential days. In truth, it is meant to inspire the FAMILY to greater solidarity and deliberate love in action!
This is about encountering Christ and developing our relationship with Him! Only He can bring us to our vocations and desires for self-gift! How else can we live within the “beatific vision” of the Gospel message? The Beatitudes lead us on the Way, and He has called us to focus on MERCY during this time. In body and in spirit, we must be witnesses of merciful love, whether through the tangible witness of offering our bodies in service to the poor as Blessed Frassati showed us, or in bringing spiritual insight to the moral teachings of the Church as St. John Paul the Great inspired through his Theology of the Body!
Running into newly ordained Fr. Preston who I met at the Theology of the Body Institute at the end of May was a special treat then at this beautiful evening! Michael Schultz just became a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Louisville, and he demonstrated the beautiful mercy of the priesthood when he went out in search for the Eucharistic host he could take to Kim in the crowds just so she wouldn’t have to get up! I introduced him to Fr. Preston at the end of Mass, and we all received his first blessings as a new priest in joyful celebration!
The theme songs from past World Youth Days then began to emanate from the loud speaker, and our dance-off began! Abba Oche is one of the most popular songs in Poland, from the 1991 World Youth Day in Czestochowa, and so we channeled our energies from the Days in the Diocese in Warsaw and got busy with the jubilation all over again! This is what was brought about from our short prayer to God just a few hours before. Our relationship with God, and especially our deliberate communication with Him, is the very catalyst by which we encounter the peace, joy, and love for which we hunger!
THAT is the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in action, and to close–I think Mother Theresa’s quote most perfect articulates what we experienced on this day of Resurrection.
“I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that he will guide me to do whatever I’m supposed to do, what I can do. I used to pray for answers, but now I’m praying for strength. I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.” – Blessed Theresa of Calcutta
Amen Mother! Let the Jubilee World Youth Day of Mercy BEGIN!
In Christ, for Love and Life!
– John Sohl and the WYD 2016 Contingency