Michelle Braden said it is difficult to describe a single highlight of the Krakow, Poland, World Youth Day (WYD) held July 25-31. “I think it was the growth of the group. You could physically almost watch it day to day; growth in many ways, spiritually, emotionally and in the growing of the community. It was a really neat group to work with,” said Braden.
She led a group of 29 young people from the Regina Archdiocese that included three priests; Reverends Mieczyslaw Burdzy of St. Henry Parish, Melville, Rene Mangahas of St. Joseph Parish Whitewood and Paul Mau Nguyen from Holy Rosary Cathedral, Regina. It was a three-week trip that took in WYD as well as a mountain retreat and a visit to the notorious death camp Auschwitz.
“The most impressive thing for me and a lot of the group was seeing all those different countries coming together for one purpose. Just to see that demonstration of peace and joy was very powerful for a majority of our group,” said Mary Polk, a 20-year-old University of Regina student. She said there were challenges at times. “Being in a group for three weeks was challenging in itself and getting along with everyone and the crowds and getting around but it was so worth it just to see everyone engage in their faith and growing in their faith.” Polk said it renewed a sense of motivation in her faith. “And seeing all the other young people around me it just gave me a renewed sense of community on a global scale.”
The group also walked through the Auschwitz death camp. It was closed to the general public to allow WYD pilgrims a chance to visit the site so they just walked a route through the camp and could not visit any of the buildings. “It’s hard to talk about it. We decided just to walk it as prayer experience. It’s pretty overwhelming; surreal is the word I would use. Hard to believe because it’s quite beautiful in the summer, I’m sure it looks different in the winter but in summer it is a park; beautiful weeping willow trees. It’s hard to believe the atrocities that went on there,” said Braden. Polk said it was a very good learning experience walking through it. “A lot of my group felt very heavy when we were walking through. You can just sense the death there. Emotionally, kind of a heavy wearing on your soul.”
Following WYD the group attended a 3-day retreat in a mountain resort, Zakopane. “It reminded me of Banff, a touristy place,” said Braden. “It is where John Paull II used to go hiking.”
It’s estimated that about 1.5-million attended youth day but the final mass attracted about 2.5 million.
Please pray for our pilgrims as they begin their preparations for the journey to Krakow, Poland for World Youth Day 2016!
There have been 10 International World Youth Day celebrations, where the youth continue to answer the invitation of the Holy Father in staggering numbers and carry home the message received there to be Christ's light to the world. While these events are organized by the clergy and laity of the Catholic Church, youth of all faiths are invited to attend and encounter Christ, making this gathering truly universal. John Paul II left a legacy for the youth in his institution of World Youth Day, which Pope Francis has faithfully continued, carrying on the hope of His predecessors for the youth of the world, inviting them and commissioning them as Christ's disciples to be faithful living witnesses.
In his message to the the young people, this year, Pope Francis says "Thirty years ago Saint john Paul II instituted World Youth Days in the Church. This pilgrimage of young people from every continent under the guidance of the Successor of Peter has truly been a providential and prophetic initiative. Together let us thank the Lord for the precious fruits which these World Youth Days have produced in the lives of countless young people in every part of the globe! How many amazing discoveries have been made, especially in the discovery that Crist is the Way, the Truth, and the Life! How many people have realized that the Church is a big and welcoming family! How many conversions, how many vocations have these gatherings produced! May the saintly Pope, the Patron of World Youth Day, intercede on behalf of our pilgrimage toward his beloved Krakow. And may the maternal gaze of the Blessed Virgin Mary, full of grace, all-beautiful and all-pure, accompany us at every step along the way."