It is interesting to note that the Gospels place Jesus on different levels as He made those initial remarks in the Beatitudes. One placed him on a mountain, another on a plain–both sharing the encounter they witnessed and both equally sharing the significance of Christ’s proclamation. For Pope Francis, he brought us to BOTH at the same time. A physical field yes, “Campus Misericordiae” or in English, the “Field of Mercy”–but just as true were we on the Mountain of Tranfiguration, and Kristin’s words of “I wish we could stay!” were ringing truer by the hour. Yet, while we will return to that moment of joy, it is often cut out of the fuller experience, as if the long hike UP the mountain and the powerful descent were irrelevant at best.
On the contrary! When Mary Whitfill and Kim Abell got on that bus for the designated area for handicap accommodations, we had no way of knowing when or how we would see them again. We couldn’t have known the simple and carefree sojourn we took to Campus Misericordiae would be eclipsed so dramatically with the rescue mission of a lifetime! For the nine of us who got on the bus last around 10am, all we had to do was get off and walk the quick EIGHT MILES to our section in C2, set aside specifically for the handicapped.
Only, when Mary S found her fury and raced to the front of the group to stop me in my tracks, I knew I had messed up. Walking so quickly without looking back often enough had spread the group out significantly enough to cause some major tension. But we were on a mission weren’t we? We had to find Kim and Mary’s spot, for they surely would have made it ahead of us to save our spot right? Oh, if only it had been that simple, and I thank Mary for getting my attention on that important matter.
So, after stopping briefly to finally use the bathroom and get our overnight food (terrible mineral water, more apple-mint letdowns, and a whole gamut of scrumptious sustenance…ha!)–we finished our hike to the Field of Mercy without any more fuss or rush. There was plenty of room in our section, we were right next to one of the big megatrons, and we were even right next to the stage…making a sighting of Pope Francis very likely! There was only one problem. Kim and Mary were nowhere to be seen, and I just knew Kim’s knee was really starting to get to her.
“Yes, we’re at the entrance to sector C now.”
“Cool. We have no food or any idea where we are.”
“We are at our spot now! Any idea of where you are now?”
“No! Still no food. Still walking. Very frustrated and in pain.”
“Do you see the signs for Campus Misericordiae? Or for any of the sections??”
“We think we’re at the food stop. We still don’t know exactly where we are, except far away from C2…we are still 5km away, and I know I can’t do that”
After several texts back and forth, I found myself growing antsy. While they continued their agonizing journey, I took advantage of the opportunity to interview Sr. Caryn Crush about her incredible journey to World Youth Day…all while we awaited Kim and Mary’s progress towards the Field of Mercy. And so, let me finally enlighten you as to the details surrounding this incredible moment of Divine Mercy working in our lives, for it’s quite relevant for the present reflection!
At the Ignite Your Torch youth conference at Bellarmine University on July 8, I casually joked with Sr. Caryn, “You know–you could always just raise $2,000 and come with us to World Youth Day in 10 days. It’s never too late!”
“Ok, John. Maybe we can pray to Mother Angelica and help her with her first financial miracle. Haha, very funny.”
Then Sister Caryn actually took that to prayer.
In Eucharistic Adoration that evening, she cracked open her book of Divine Intimacy and posed the question to Jesus. “Lord, if I am meant to go to World Youth Day, as you know how much I would like, then please show me.”
Immediately, He began to reveal to this amazing young religious sister the glory of His Plan for her over this next month. For truly, in those beautifully inspired paragraphs of her spiritual reading, Christ revealed how important it would be for her to take a leap of faith in the coming weeks and months! He poured out upon her His overwhelming torrent of mercy and grace, in a way none of us had ever encountered. That evening she was almost crying with joy that she was meant to go, and I had to give her the practical advice to get permission and start scrambling to raise the necessary funds to make it happen.
But I knew something had clicked in all our hearts. When Sr. Caryn gave her YES to the Lord, she showed us the POWER of raw and innocent faith. Without knowing how, when, or where the money and details would manifest themselves, we absolutely trusted WITHOUT ANY DOUBT that Sr. Caryn was coming to World Youth Day with us. And wouldn’t you know it, God’s generosity came back 100 fold!
When she gave Michael his medal of the Fiat that evening, it’s value was priced at $20, and within just 48 hours, before the conference organizers had gone home at the end of it all on Sunday night, she had raised exactly $2,000. Not only that, our travel agent Kaelin Ryback from Knight’s Travel (yes, connecting us to the “Knights” of the Immaculata indeed), was able to book Sr. Caryn on the exact same flight itinerary as us! In just 10 days, everything was completely in order for Sr. Caryn to make this dramatic pilgrimage with us to Poland for World Youth Day during the Jubilee Year of Mercy!
And here she was, awake and aware of a dire situation for a young woman with a disability on the very field of battle to which God had called her! While I fell asleep from my own inadequate exhaustion, Kim’s incomparable agony was the first priority for this young sister. So, with Rosa Luna’s help, they borrowed my phone and went out in search of our fellow pilgrims! With the beautiful faith of a child at play, Sister met a priest from the parish of “St. Maximilian Kolbe” from Florida who just happened to be in a wheelchair. Instead of waiting for a World Youth Day organizer to provide such assistance, she relied on the heavenly Communion of Saints to bring us the transportation we needed. Our new priest-friend let us BORROW HIS WHEELCHAIR, and suddenly, the rescue mission had a chance at success!
After carrying the wheelchair through the dozens of sections separating us, they had made it at last. While Kim thought she was texting me the whole time, she finally looked up from her phone and saw Rosa standing in the crowds! The Agony was still very real, and the Way of the Cross was still very much alive within her, but the MERCY OF GOD brought forth the relief of their reunion with us. It truly was a moment of victory for everyone, and when I awoke from my slumber without having a clue as to where I put my phone, I was shocked to see the sight that lay before me as they arrived triumphantly!
Kim’s first thought as I ran to give her a hug was akin to Christ’s own agony in the garden. “You could not watch one hour with me?” And, though she didn’t actually say it to me, I felt the pang of guilt and inaction subtlely creep into my joyful interactions. Ah, but the joy of the Resurrection was too strong to maintain such an unnecessary feeling! Kim and Mary had made it, and it was time for Pope Francis to arrive! Sister Caryn arrived just in time to notice the security officials lining up outside the main building behind the stage, and we immediately took the short walk to the barricade to wait for his entrance!
And oh, what a powerful entrance it was! Driving at a snail’s pace, the Vicar of Christ blessed us with his presence. As we all waved in awe, the footage we received is unmatched by any I have taken before, save perhaps for Eucharistic Adoration and the high points of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass itself! As Pope Francis drove by, his body was engulfed in the rays of Divine Mercy. Yes, he literally disappeared into the sun that was setting directly behind him, and my camera caught that blessed moment for us all to share forever! Our very conversations in the midst of such a moment felt blessed and sacred, for we knew God’s holy presence was preventing the lies and anxiety of Satan from flooding our hearts. NO! Jesus Christ was preparing us for His Final Coming, and the lies of Satan were being banished from every crevice of this sacred encounter. For surely, the powerful intercession of Pope Francis’ predecessor in JPII was also aiding us in acquiring more receptive hearts!
Ah, and how much more resolved we then became as the sun set from the hot day that had baked us into near-oblivion! Our umbrellas were our only reprieve, and our naps were merely because of the weakness we felt from its merciless gaze. And yet, it all in fact proved to be merciFUL, for the heat had purged away our imperfect motives. It brought us to spiritual reflection and a deeper appreciation of each other’s presence–especially as we awaited Kim & Mary’s return. Oh and yes, it made that’s night’s VIGIL experience all the more incredible, for we knew we were about to witness Polish culture at its finest, most glorious moment of Victory in perhaps 1,000 years!
And that my friends is what took us from the field to the highest peak of the MOUNTAIN of Mercy.
Part TWO then will pick up as we took our first glances toward eternity.
In Christ, for Love & Life!
– John Sohl & the WYD 2016 Contingency