The second half of the World Youth Day week saw our group attend two Catechesis sessions together with over 1500+ other English-speaking pilgrims from around the world. These sessions offered us the opportunity to listen to powerful teaching and testimonies from bishops and young people on topics that were relevant to our faith lives.
On the first day, we had the privilege of hearing from Cardinal Soane Mafi, the Archbishop of Tonga and the next day we heard from one of our very own, Archbishop Christopher Prowse of Canberra-Goulburn (who is also member of the ACU Senate). Both bishops challenged us to think quite practically on how we are to be instruments of mercy in our world today.
On Thursday afternoon we headed back to Blonia Park to await the arrival of Pope Francis. The park was packed, and although it was pouring rain, this did not dampen our spirits as we listened to him address the gathered crowd with such simplicity and authenticity. Hearing him for the first time, some of us did not know what to expect – but he certainly left a deep impression when he encouraged us to think about why were were meeting in Krakow: “We are gathered here to help one another, because we do not want to be robbed of the best of ourselves. We don’t want to be robbed of our energy, our joy, our dreams by false hopes.” We went back to our accommodation, hearts full, ready for the rest of the week.
The next major event with Pope Francis was the Stations of the Cross, and this interpretation was creative, aesthetically stunning and spiritually challenging. The scene was set with an artist creating images of Christ with sepia tinted sand on glass. The choir and orchestra added background to the readings which invoked in the pilgrims the solemnity of the sacrifice of Christ. Even though the weather was again challenging Blonia Park was packed to overflowing. We exchanged greetings and conversations with pilgrims from many nations and our flags fluttered proudly in the wind and rain!
Saturday was the beginning of the culmination of the gathering in Krakow as we rose at 5am to leave our accommodation for the 15km journey to Campus Misericordiae where we joined with 2.7 million other pilgrims from all corners of the globe. We walked the majority of the way and set up camp in our designated area. No rain this time just scorching sun! Pope Francis arrived later in the afternoon to lead the evening Vigil which coupled with millions of candles and the resounding singing of the pilgrims gave witness to the message of mercy. The Pope challenged us to not become ‘couch potatoes’! A testimony by a young Syrian pilgrim spoke to the gathering of the plight of her people. Pope Francis acknowledged her challenges and pointed out to the pilgrims that this was not a scene from a media screen that this human crisis was in their midst and that it could no longer be ignored. After the formal prayers were over, the evening continued with singing and dancing from many pilgrims including Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity. As the hours passed, we eventually settled down in our sleeping bags for an ‘interesting’ nights sleep(?).