Your correspondent apologises for the delay in reporting back on WYD Week. Things have been seriously busy here in Krakow with some days stretching to fourteen hours away from our accommodation.
Day 12 saw the purple group fly from Naples Airport to Katowice, Poland. We then caught a bus to our accommodation in Krakow. As we drove into the parking lot pilgrims from the green group were standing out the front of the hotel waiting for us. John Leao was waving our Australian flag and it was a wonderful moment to be welcomed in such a way.
In the evening we went into Krakow’s Old Town and got our first taste of the mayhem that was about to ensue. There were pilgrims everywhere and there was such a buzz in the air. The large statue in the main square was heaving with pilgrims waving their flags and singing their country’s chant at the top of their lungs. We found a place on the square to eat however and discovered Pierogi – Polish dumplings. It was not going to be the last time we ate them!
Our first full day in Krakow saw us gather with the 3000 Australians in town to celebrate WYD at the Tauron Arena for the Australian Gathering. It was an incredible atmosphere from the moment we got there. Bishop Mark Edwards gave us some statistics about the Australian clergy and religious in Krakow – 19 bishops, 120 priests, 36 nuns and brothers.
The Australian Ambassador to Poland, Paul Wojciechowski, welcomed the Aussie pilgrims and said we were ‘making history’ as we were the largest group of Australians ever to gather in Poland.
We heard personal stories of mercy from some young Australians. These were moving accounts of a personal encounter with Jesus and the importance of seeing mercy in the day to day.
Sr Elizabeth Young rsj from the Diocese of Port Pirie spoke about what counts as an act of mercy and concluded that it was the little things.
“In experiencing mercy, showing mercy and observing mercy, we discover God,” Sr Elizabeth said.
Bishop Patrick O’Regan from the Diocese of Sale spoke about becoming what we love.
“When we follow Christ’s beatitudes we are able to become that which we love. It is radically counter-cultural to be merciful in a world obsessed with vengeance,” said Bishop O’Regan.
The band, including Fr Rob Galea, got us out of our seats at various times throughout the gathering with fantastic music and songs including the fantastic “I’m Trading My Sorrows (Yes Lord)”.
Bishop Peter Comensoli from the Diocese of Broken Bay reminded us that Jesus wants us to ‘have my mercy, give my mercy and be my mercy’.
“Jesus has our back,” Bishop Peter said.
At the conclusion of the gathering the relics of five Polish saints were brought into the arena – St Maximilian Kolbe, St Albert Chmielowski, Bl Jerzy Popieluszko, St Faustina Kowalska and St John Paul II.
During the gathering it was officially announced that the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has decided that 2018 will be the Year of Youth, which coincides with the 10th anniversary of WYD being held in Sydney.
After the gathering, Archbishop Prowse and Bishop Edwards spoke at a media conference about the Year of Youth.
Bishop Mark Edwards, Australian Catholic Bishops Delegate for Youth and an MC at the national gathering, said, “The years of preparation leading up to World Youth Day 2008 (WYD08) and its events have changed the landscape of youth ministry, leaving a lasting impression on the Church. Local youth ministries have grown and diversified. The number of youth ministers has increased along with diocesan support structures.”
Commencing the Year of Youth in Sydney, the Australian Catholic Youth Festival in December 2017 will be the largest national gathering of the Catholic Church in Australia with an expected attendance of 15,000.
“The challenge for a World Youth Day host city is how to make the event fruitful 10 years on. Australia could well be one of the countries that has leveraged World Youth Day … to the greatest potential,” Bishop Edwards said.
In the afternoon we gathered at Blonia Park for the Opening Mass of WYD Week. It was the first time that all the pilgrims (and many Polish people) were in the same place at the same time and it was quite overwhelming, to say the least. I’m sure that the photos included below will give you an idea of the sheer size and scale of the park and the number of people in it. There was a joyful atmosphere with colour, singing and flags everywhere you looked. Just prior to the Opening Mass there was a thunderstorm so the park was a sea of red, blue and yellow ponchos (which all pilgrims received when they arrived).
The Metropolitan of Krakow, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, presided at Mass and expressed his joy in pilgrims finally being together in Poland.
“You have come from all continents and nations, from the East and West, the North and South of our globe. You bring with you many experiences. You bring many desires. You speak numerous languages. But starting today, we are going to communicate with each other in the language of the gospel. This is a language of love, brotherhood, solidarity and peace.
“I welcome you all most cordially in the city of Karol Wojtyła – Saint John Paul II. It is here that he grew up to serve the Church, and it is from here that he set off to the ways of the world to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I welcome you in the city where we especially experience the mystery and gift of Divine Mercy,” said Cardinal Dziwisz.
The cardinal also set pilgrims a challenge.
“Krakow is alive with the mystery of Divine Mercy, also owing to humble Sister Faustina and John Paul II, who made the Church and the world sensitive to this specific trait of God. Returning to your countries, homes and communities, carry the spark of mercy, reminding everyone that “blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7). Carry the flame of your faith and ignite with it other flames, so that human hearts will beat to the rhythm of the Heart of Christ, which is “a flaming fire of love.” May the flame of love engulf our world and rid it of egoism, violence and injustice, so that a civilization of good, reconciliation, love and peace will be strengthened on our earth,” he said.
We arrived back at the hotel, exhausted, but excited by our first real WYD experience.
The spirit of pilgrims and their passion for their faith is on display at every moment. I just love being in a place where almost all nations are represented. There are people here from every continent on earth. We walk past large groups from Africa or South America or Asia and high five each other in a long procession of collegiality and respect. Everyone smiles at each other or engages in tentative conversation despite the fact we often don’t speak the same language. You feel like this is just how the world should be. It’s also fantastic to see so many different religious congregations represented in the streets. Everyone is so willing to share their stories.
“It was the vibe of the Aussie Gathering that made it so special. The energy in the stadium was electric with everyone having a great time. Singing the Divine Mercy Chaplet reaffirmed the faith of the young people. There was a duality between the fun aspect and the more reverent moments. Seeing the five relics of the saints at the end brought everything the speakers had talked about together in a special way.”
“One thing that blew me away were all the French flags in the crowd at the Opening Mass, given all the attacks that have happened in France recently. The French must feel a great solidarity here. I saw a young Polish couple shaking hands with a German couple at the Sign of Peace. It was great to see this, given the history of these two countries. After the thunderstorm the skies cleared and the sun was shining with rays of light breaking through the clouds like a spotlight at the exact moment of the Consecration Rite of the Eucharist.”
OBSERVATIONS: Looking forward
“Since this is my first WYD, I’m looking forward to the rest of WYD Week and what that has to offer. I’m also looking forward to our retreat after WYD when we will visit Auschwitz.”