Once again, a very special day. A long, tiring and challenging day, but absolutely amazing.
We began again with catechesis and Mass at the same venue as yesterday. Today, it was Cardinal Soane Patita Paini Mafi from Tonga who would give the address to the thousands of pilgrims. I know how to spell his name thanks to our pilgrim John Leao from St Peter’s at Maitland. Cardinal Mafi is something of a hero to John, whose own heritage is Tongan. Brian Lacey decided that we needed to intercept the cardinal on his way to the humble green room I described in yesterday’s blog so that we could get a photo of him with John. Of course, John was totally up for this!
John told me all about him as we were waiting for the cardinal to make his way across the field, as well as teaching me how to say hello in Tongan. We waited patiently as a number of people spoke to him and finally Brian made the introductions. Without warning, John was overcome! He was so thrilled to meet this humble man from his homeland. It was a privileged moment for Brian and I to witness and an example of what is making this journey so special. The cardinal touched John on the shoulder to comfort him and John recovered, his wide grin reappearing in no time, ready for a photo.
The cardinal spoke about mercy, weaving personal anecdotes and humour throughout his address.
“We are in a critical time in our world, but Jesus’ message of mercy is the answer we need. We need to do the merciful acts now,” he said.
With joy, he described his meeting with John.
“This morning when I arrived I noticed a boy standing waiting for me. I realised he looked like a Tongan. When we met he became emotional; you must understand we love each other so much in Tonga. Afterwards, I thought to myself, ‘I’ve been touched by mercy already today’,” said Cardinal Mafi.
It was something special for John and our whole pilgrimage group.
He had many wonderful things to say about mercy and how we hold the key to open the door to it.
“Open your hearts and minds. You have the desire. The grace of mercy will make you strong. This is the acceptable time. We need you to become the ambassadors and instruments of mercy in this troubled world,” he said.
In the afternoon, as the skies opened once again, we gathered in Blonia Park to welcome Pope Francis. There were so many more people than at the Welcoming Mass so it took a long time to get into our designated section. Once there though, we quickly worked out, given the large contingent of police and security, that the Pope would most likely be arriving quite close to where were standing. We positioned ourselves at the front with our cameras ready.
We watched on the big screen as Pope Francis made his way out to a tram and got on. There were some passengers with disabilities and their carers on board and the Pope made his way through, greeting them all with love. At a certain point he got off the tram and into the Popemobile! And before we knew it he was driving right past us and waving at us (well in our general direction anyway)! The crowd went wild! I’ve never seen anything like it and it was a real buzz to be there.
The way the organisers wove together music, dance and saints from all the continents (including our own Saint Mary MacKillop) was inspired. The way they had actors playing a variety of saints who spoke through a screen and then appeared from behind the screen was also amazing. The ‘saints’ then greeted the Gospel and took it to the altar.
With our radios tuned in to the English translation channel,we listened to the gospel in both the Latin and Eastern rites and after Cardinal Dziwisz spoke, Pope Francis finally took to the microphone. His first words, “Dear young friends, good evening”, sent a cheer through the entire crowd.
He spoke of the enthusiasm and yearning of youth.
“Nothing is more beautiful than seeing the enthusiasm, dedication, zeal and energy with which so many young people live their lives. When Jesus touches a young person’s heart, he or she becomes capable of truly great things. Today the Church looks to you and wants to learn from you, to be reassured that the Father’s Mercy has an ever-youthful face, and constantly invites us to be part of his Kingdom,” said Pope Francis.
He encouraged the youth to choose the right path.
“So I ask you: Are you looking for empty thrills in life, or do you want to feel a power that can give you a lasting sense of life and fulfilment? Empty thrills or the power of grace? To find fulfilment, to gain new strength, there is a way. It is not a thing or an object, but a person, and he is alive. His name is Jesus Christ,” said the Pope.
His speech was powerful and inspiring. There was a real joy in the crowd with Italians around us dancing and singing, ‘Papa Francesco’ over and over again. The rain did nothing to dampen the spirits of the crowd.
After the Pope’s departure came the most challenging part of the day – getting home! There seemed to be only one exit and the more than one million people gathered all went there at the same time. Our group formed a human caterpillar, hanging on for dear life to one another’s back packs and becoming squeezed ever more tightly together. With Fr Greg, Robert Hyett and John Leao (and his flagpole) leading the way we eventually made it out, rattled and relieved.
This week, I am never sure what day of the week it is. The days are long and we have been moving from one event to the next. I have never seen so many people all in the same place but everyone is happy and smiling and friendly (lots of hi-fives as you pass groups in the street). The security in Krakow is unbelievable. There are police, army officers and security everywhere. Helicopters are constantly flying low in the sky. We have not felt in the least unsafe anywhere.
“I have found the speakers at the catechesis sessions very charismatic and inspiring. The overall experience, including Mass each day, has been very moving. It’s great to see all our pilgrims up and dancing and participating wholeheartedly.”
“The atmosphere at the catechesis was electric. It was very special in terms of reinvigoration of the youth. I loved Cardinal Mafi’s answer to the deaf boy about seeing his heart, how actions speak louder than words. We don’t acknowledge the sense of feeling and we should.”
OBSERVATIONS: Looking Forward
“I’m really looking forward to Auschwitz because it’s going to be a really moving experience. We’ve both studied WWII and the concentration camps and being there is going to bring it to life for us.”
Abby Caslick and Clare Melville