World Youth Day pilgrimage to Poland, July 2016Print
Thursday afternoon brought the pilgrims’ first encounter with the Pope Francis during the Papal Welcome.
He talked to the pilgrims about renewing friendship with Jesus by building friendships among themselves.
Jesus calls us to this Thirty-first World Youth Day and tells us: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall find mercy (Mt 5:7).
Blessed indeed are they who can forgive, who show heartfelt compassion, who are capable of offering the very best of themselves to others. This is because a merciful heart is motivated to move beyond its comfort zone.
The Pope spoke of meeting young people who seem to have opted for “early retirement”- young people who have “thrown in the towel,” who are defeated even before they begin to play, who walk around glumly as if life has no meaning.
It is hard and troubling, to see young people who waste their lives looking for thrills or a feeling of being alive by taking dark paths and in the end having to pay for it…and pay dearly. Pope Francis talked of Jesus giving passion for life!
We had our third catechesis on Friday 29 July with Archbishop Christopher Powse from Canberra-Goulburn.
He was excellent in his delivery and the young people really loved his clarity and the way we asked them to repeat things.
He spoke about Mary and her qualities -listener, woman of compassion, woman of the Holy Spirit…. these made her a person of mercy. He told the young people prayer was about three Ss…silence, stillness and simplicity. He said seven days without prayer makes one weak! On Friday afternoon we gathered for the Way of the Cross.
These were portrayed in the arena before the Pope. The taking of Jesus from the cross and being given to his mother was very moving.
In his Papal address following the Way of the Cross the Pope took the words of Matthew:
I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
I was naked and you gave me clothing,
I was sick and you took care of me,
I was in prison and you visited me (Mt 25:35-36)…and explored with the young people how this answers the question that arises so often in our minds and hearts: “Where is God?” Where is God, if evil is present in our world…
On Saturday 30 July we set out on our pilgrimage to Campus Misericordiae for the vigil and final mass. It was to be 14 kms but we were able to get a tram and hence only walked 8 kms – but it was not easy because of the crowds, a narrow roadway and emergency vehicles trying to get access…Finally arriving at the ground we managed to peg out our camping site, collect food for three meals and set up for the night.
The Pope arrived by helicopter to greet an estimated 1.6 million people. Hearing brave pilgrims speak of their own stories and the Papal address where the Pope said ‘Jesus is calling you to leave a mark on history’ were both uplifting and moving. It was particularly encouraging to hear the Pope call all young people of the world into action. Each person present was given a candle. As all held their candles aloft it was a moving experience as darkness fell. During the Vigil, the fond chant of Papa Francesco echoed around the camp site. The Pope prayed with the pilgrims and benediction was given.
The final Mass did not begin until 10 am, by then it was very hot – many Australians fainted- it was not good in the blazing heat!
The Pope told the pilgrims that they had come to Krakow to meet Jesus. The Gospel for the Mass was the story of Zacchaeus and his meeting with Jesus. The Pope said, just like Jesus wanted to draw near to Zacchaeus so he wants to draw near to us personally so that his life and our life can truly meet. The Pope talked about obstacles that Zacchaeus faced and each of us faces in drawing near to Jesus.
We were given a white stole to write our baptismal date on and wore it at the creed.
After Mass we walked back in the heat – crowds …just walking…it started to rain…we were eventually lucky to catch a tram – some so tired they went to sleep on it!
Then there was a thunder storm- about the fourth in the week and we were indeed grateful that the torrential rain came after our sleep out!!
The final days of our World Youth Day pilgrimage…
Leaving Krakow on August 1 we travelled into the mountainous area of southern Poland, heading for the town of Zakopane. Here we would spend a few days on retreat – reflecting particularly on our WYD experiences. On route to Zakopane we visited Pope John Paul 11’s hometown of Wadowice where we saw the house in which he was born and raised. We also visited the church of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary which was important in his life. Sampling kremówka was a delicious experience! It was a favourite of John Paul 11 and is now known as the Papal Cream Cake.
Zakopane is a beautiful town situated at the foothills of the majestic Tatra Mountains. This is the ski holiday area where many Poles retreat for winter sports. One afternoon we managed a 20 km walking trip through the Koscieliska Valley. Here we were able to enjoy the beautiful and spectacular views of the Tatra Mountains. It was interesting on our walk to see many horses and carriages offering the opportunity for people to have rides in the Tatra Mountains – very quaint!
We also enjoyed a cable car ride and experienced at the top the wonderful panorama of the southern Polish Mountains, with a view of Zakopane below. There is also a beach and a slide with various cafes and souvenir stalls! After this we visited Krupowski Street, lined with a wide selection of shops, restaurants and hotels which attracts thousands of visitors all year round. Later at Church of Our Lady of Fatima in Zakapane all the Sydney pilgrims gathered for a final mass celebrated by Bishop elect Umbers.
We left Zakopane and travelled through Slovakia. We could imagine how cold winters were and many areas were also quite stark and bore evidence of the communist period. When we arrived in Budapest, Hungary we were able to have a 3 hour tour. Budapest is described as ‘the Paris of the East’ – what a magnificent and cultured city!
We drove up Gellert (Gerald) Hill to see a panoramic and breathtaking view of Budapest. You can see the structure of the city and the difference between the hilly Buda side and the flat Pest side, with the Danube dividing the two and the 19th-century Chain Bridge connects the two parts.
We visited Heroes’ Square which is a historic statue complex, representing venerated national leaders and Hungary’s Seven Chieftains alongside the elegant pavement in front of the memorial. We then walked through the beautiful City Park. Here we found Vajdahunyad Castle, which is surrounded by an artificial lake that is used for boating in the summer and turns into an ice skating rink in the winter. Also there are the legendary Gundel Restaurant and the famous Széchenyi Baths.
As we drove again through Budapest heading for the Castle we saw fashionable shops, restaurants, cafes and the famous Herend Porcelain shop. The BeerBike was an amusing sight. These carry 14 and 16 people (with 8 active pedalling and 6 idler seats) and a trained driver.
We saw the House of Terror which is a museum commemorating the victims of both the Communist and the Nazi regimes in Hungary. Buda Castle is an amazing and spectacular historic landmark. We looked from there across at the magnificent and commanding Hungarian Parliament building- third largest in Europe.
The next morning we headed out to the airport for our 23 hour trip home via Doha. We arrived into Sydney half an hour early – safe and very grateful for such an experience!