Walking. Praying. Beholding.
Thousands of words could be written that would give a detailed account of the week-long pilgrimage to Krakow, Poland for World Youth Day. Instead, I want to offer some brief vignettes under the thematic words I have provided above. My reflections will relate to how I experienced World Youth Day from the perspective of a seminarian discerning his vocation to the priesthood. Let’s begin…
On average, we walked 7-10 miles each day. On the pilgrimage walk out to Campus Misericordiae (Field of Mercy), we walked about 12-15 miles. We walked to train stations, to churches, to religious Shrines. We walked in the daytime and at night. We walked in the blistering sun and in heavy rains. There was as lot of choices made in our walking: What do we carry with us? What paths should we take? When do we stop and begin again? Who do we walk alongside?
In this walking, I was reminded that as Christians we are meant to live lives as pilgrims on the way to the heavenly Jerusalem. We are sojourners here and are invited by Christ to join Him on His pilgrimage to the Cross and Resurrection. It’s a life of daily dying to self and longing for the fulfillment of our hope: which is full and eternal communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! As a seminarian, I was aware that there were a lot of Spiritual connections to our daily walks. I realize I am being asked to walk alongside Jesus and rely upon Him each day for guidance (Scripture/Spiritual reading), nourishment (the Eucharist), fellowship (prayer), and healing (confession/reconciliation). When we walk with Jesus, we find that He brings all kinds of people into our lives to walk with us.
As a seminarian on the pilgrimage I found times of prayer both difficult and deeply intimate. I noticed that prayers of gratitude increased. When visiting a place where the relics of Saints are or praying with millions of people at the Mass, I often felt compelled to cry out in prayer: “Thank you Jesus for these moments to encounter you and your people!” There were also communal times of prayer where we gathered for the Liturgy of the Hours. We pray these hours regularly as seminarians and future priests, but having the chance to pray them regularly outside of that context was deeply moving and encouraging.
There was such a variety of prayer experiences. Praying at each Mass, praying the Rosary or Divine Mercy chaplet as we walked, offering prayers for an intention at a Church or in the presence of the relics of a Saint. Stopping and praying as a group was a regular occurrence when we were experiencing a struggle or when a fellow pilgrim was facing a trial. I witnessed prayers offered in many different languages. I can say that the whole trip was a pilgrimage of prayer. It was a natural and frequent experience and this is one of the most important experiences I have brought back with me from World Youth Day. As a priest, I want to be a man of prayer that brings prayer into every part of my life. I want to be in constant dialogue with God and be attentive to His voice. That is my prayer going forward as I continue this path toward the vocation of the priesthood.
Krakow is often called the Rome of the North because the number of Saints who have come from there is second only to the city of Rome. One of the more surreal experiences was encountering the relics and places of these Saints. Whether it was praying at the tombs of St. Faustina or St. John Cantius, or praying in the room where St. John Paul II was born and touching the baptismal font where he was baptized; these are the kinds of experiences that never leave us.
The other experience that we beheld was the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and in the people from all around the world that gathered to worship the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! On our visit to the relics of Blessed Giorgio Frassati, we encountered the youth of Austria in Adoration, singing both Austrian and English songs of praise to Jesus. Hearing this praise reminded me that God’s promises are coming to pass in our very midst; that peoples from every tongue, tribe, and nation are being gathered by God to bring praise to the risen Christ!
The quieter moment of beholding came on the Friday of our pilgrimage. We traveled to a town called Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, which is near Wadowice, the hometown of Saint John Paul II. It was in Kalawaria that we climbed into the foothills and prayed the Way of the Cross. This was a place that Saint John Paul II would often come to pray. It was an experience so different from the rest of the pilgrimage, as we were away from the large crowds of pilgrims. It felt as if time had crept away and we were making contact with eternity.
This experience connects well with the image of a sun clock that is painted on the Church back in Wadowice that Karol Woltiya would see every morning. Above the sun clock there is an inscription that reads: Time is running out; eternity awaits! We were told that Saint John Paul II would see this clock every morning at the breakfast table, since he lived in the house next to the Church. He recounts that it was the inscription that had a part in his vocational call to the priesthood. I found a miniature version of this sun clock and brought it back with me from World Youth Day. Like St. John Paul II, seeing my call to the priesthood and the entirety of my life in light of eternity is the reality that I want to remain in focus for the rest of my days. Each day is a gift God gives us to more deeply encounter Him and to be a light that draws others to behold the face of Christ!!!
If you would like to experience a video/photo chronicle of the World Youth Day pilgrimage, you may visit the album here: World Youth Day Album