The WYD are officially over. Most of the young people from all over the world left Cracow already on Sunday. Some groups plan to stay few more days and visit some other places in Poland, the country they just started to discover. For all of the pilgrims the WYD was an unforgettable event and everyone takes back home some seeds – especially those planted in their hearts by words of Pope Francis – in order to let it grow and bring fruits in the future.
As usual, after the big gatherings like that one, after physically and spiritually intensive days as the WYD were, there is a natural tendency to sum up the event, to speak about reflections and conclusions. Many of them will still appear with the time but some of the fruits of the WYD can be seen already.
Gathered in the name of Jesus
The WYD took a lot of months to prepare and involved many resources, so are the gatherings like that worthy and needed? Pilgrims asked about it gave only one answer: yes, very much! They are essential! Why? Not only because the pilgrims could meet their peers from other countries and exchange culturally, not only because they had fun and participated in different concerts and events offered by the Youth Festival, or because they bounded new friendships and learned more about the Church in the world but most of all – because they knew that they gathered in one name - in the name of Jesus. Jesus was the one who called them to come to Cracow and let them feel the unity of the Church, and particularly of the youth in the Church.
"For me, even if it sounds strange, the main impressive was the opening ceremony – says Valerie from France – the moment I realised how many we are. That was an immense experience". Mario from Portugal shared this opinion "Sometimes I feel so lonely and ask myself if the values I am following are the true ones, because I see the world is acting opposite. So having the sense of community of the Church was extremely important for me".
Some of pilgrims brought strong testimonies of the obstacles they had to overcome in order to get to Cracow, of how God moved the mountains of impossibilities so that they could participate in the WYD. Jose Leonardo from Caracas, Venezuela, came to Cracow alone but only thanks to some friends from Spain who collected the money to cover his trip and stay in Cracow. "I am so thankful – he says – and I tried to pay it back by working as a volunteer and pass the goodness I received to others".
Strengthening of faith
To some of them it was of immense importance to see Catholics from different countries speaking and giving testimonies of their faith freely. That is not the case in all the countries, however we often take it for granted – going to the mass, daily access to the sacraments, freedom of faith.
"It was great for me to see other people proclaiming their faith freely, on the streets, through prayer, singing and dancing – says Ida from Philippines who lives in Dubai – There, were I live I cannot do that so openly, I may pray but only in the church, as praying outside can be seen as an offence and can lead to consequences like penalty. Also I need to be careful with showing the symbols of faith as for example wearing a cross. Therefore for me being in Cracow it feels like a freedom, like I can breathe in and out my faith. I feel strengthed by being here and seeing others living the same faith".
Polish Combonian missionary, Magda, who is working and living in Ethiopia since almost 2 years, came here with the group of youth. She confirms that also for Ethiopians this is a great and strengthening experience to be able to meet other believers, as in Ethiopia only around 1% of population is Catholic. Ethiopia has two main religions – Christian Copts and Muslims and not a lot of space is created for the Catholic Church so very often even the Catholic holy mass is celebrated in the Coptic rite. "I see how important it is for my group to be among other Christians and in such amount of people of the same faith. My group is really impressed and lifted" – she said.
Discover diversity and richness of the Church
Although we believe in the same God and proclaim the same faith the culture still influences us a lot – especially our way of expressing our faith. "Seeing how people can live their faith on different ways showed me that I belong to the Church which is rich and diverse – says Ewelina from Podkarpacie, Poland – I was amazed by looking at those colours and flags and people on the streets. Watching how different we are but at the same time to feel that we belong to the same God, that we are His children".
"This meeting was breaking the stereotypes in my head – adds Patricia from Philippines - I met people from the countries where I thought there are no believers. And then I saw them kneeling and praying and I needed to revise my convictions, so I can say that the WYD changed a lot my perspective".
But was such diversity not disturbing? How to communicate with so many cultures and people speaking so many languages? "Even if we do not speak the same language we can communicate – smiles Jose Leonardo – look at me! I connected with people with my heart and my smile. We served and were friendly and kind with each other but also through observing we could learn how different we live all over the world but then we can still stay united in our faith".
Following the example
"Blessed be the merciful" was a theme of this WYD. The youth knows it is not easy to be merciful but they feel encouraged to try further. How? By watching the examples of the Saints and Blessed ones who were patrons of the WYD. Pier Giorgio Frassati seemed to gain a lot of new friends over the last week of July. "He was just like us, his way was simple, he loved God, other people and mountains, paid attention to others and … look, he smoked pipe and still he became blessed! – said Tomek with smile – however… - he adds quickly - he probably did not know that smoking is not so healthy as he smoked probably because it was fashionable at that times. I guess he would not smoke anymore today. Well, it does not matter, but he simply seems "normal", just like each one of us and that's why I like him so much and want to follow his example".
Being witnesses of Jesus
Ewelina came here because she was called to join the choir at the evangelisation centre. She was not actively walking on the streets and telling others about Jesus herself but by watching other evangelisers and listening to their testimonies she felt she is called to be witness of Jesus in everyday life in many more ways than she did till now - in her family, friend's circle but also to those she does not know, to those being perceived as "difficult" by society. "I got this courage by watching the evangelisers – she says – and I wish I can do the same and proclaim Jesus to others, not only those who I feel safe with because I know them but also at the university, at my home, to unknown groups".
Pope that demands
Starting from the opening mass with Cardinal Dziwisz, than participating in welcoming of pope Francis, the Way of Cross, Vigil and holy mass in Brzegi up to the final meeting with volunteers at Tauron Arena young people proved that they knew what they come for. They wanted to listen to the Peter of our times and to take his words back to their home countries, like the seeds that are about to bring fruits in the future. Notwithstanding lack of sleep, changing weather, rain and heat, they were very focused and silent when Pope Francis talked to them.
"I liked Pope Francis for being direct but also very concrete – said Maria Angelica from Colombia – and that he believes in us, that we can change the world. I like that he reminded me that living the live with Jesus is not looking for a comfort, that the faith is an adventure. He made me think how I live and how I spend my time – is it at the sofa? How can I live more and be more? We should not be comforted and closed in our little world we create artificially but we shall put on our shoes and walk with Jesus, be active and even be tired of being active for Jesus. We shall not close ourselves in our little worlds but go outside to other people".
Costs of faith
"I was very much moved by the testimony of the girl from Aleppo during the Vigil who was saying about her daily live in Syria, that when waking up in the morning she is not sure if she will meet all of her friends and family in the evening – says Maria from Lebanon who came here with Saint Rafqa Choir – that made me think about how others live and to appreciate more what I have. Also, I found the experience of tiredness and discomfort in Brzegi, of not sleeping at comfortable bed as an act of solidarity with people living in poverty every day. This is also what Pope Francis said to us Sunday morning – that this hunger and tiredness we experienced over those days is daily reality of many people. That moved me a lot! I realised I shall be more thankful for having home and family, for the things in my life I just take for granted".
Marching and awaiting the ceremony in Brzegi seemed not to be a problem, even if tiredness of walking and being exposed to the sun was visible on pilgrims' faces.
"I really believe that God has planned the timing of the sun and the rain – says Patricia – because during the Vigil the weather was so good! And if it would have rained we would have had really hard time. When we were leaving Brzegi it started to rain so I read it as a kindness of God telling us 'You are so tired, you need to cool down now, my children'" – she finished laughing.
"It does not matter – adds Maria Angelica - believe me! It was the thing I thought less about. I am here because I am searching for God and because I believe He has a message for me. I know why I am here and discomfort was not a big price to pay".
Starting change now, starting from myself
"If you don't give the best of yourself the world will not change – those words hit me really and I take it personally. I want to be that difference – says Patricia– I hope that once I am back in Philippines I can inspire young people like me to be more active in helping others". And Patricia is not the only one who felt to have a mission in the world and in the place she lives.
Pilgrims headed back to their home countries but what left after them in Poland? People asked at the streets of Cracow admitted to be surprised with the joy and atmosphere that was brought to the city by this international crowd. "There were some difficulties in the transport – said Grazyna, age 56, nurse from Cracow – as I am a nurse and I need to move around Cracow to reach all my patients but I really did not mind to leave home a bit earlier. Not only because I wanted to be on time but also because I wanted to experience this atmosphere too. Those young people in their colourful coats reminded me of butterflies that are flying over the meadow – lightly and joyful. I always wanted to travel and see the world. Now the world came to my city so how could I be upset?!"
But Cracow was not the only city in Poland that experienced the invasion of international butterflies. Diocese days that preceded ceremonies in Cracow gave the opportunity to people from different cities in Poland to host international guests. "When taking two pilgrims from Tobago and Trinidad I did not expected that my family will be so blessed with them – says Olga from Warsaw – we are practicing family but still those two guests opened us and encouraged to pray more together as a family. I did not expect that."
"Poland? I adore! – says Jose Manuel – people are a bit more serious than in South America, but I experienced a lot of kindness! "
Kindness and hospitality were top two most listed descriptions of Polish people, and Diocese days built up the bonds that were over language and cultural barriers. For the Ethiopian group Cracow could not cover the charm of Szamotuly, where they left their hearts during days spent with "their" families.
So being Christian is not seating on the sofa, is being active. It is about moving forward, giving the best of ourselves and believing that God is on our side. He sees us with His merciful eyes and always cheers us. But He also calls us to be merciful to others, to take responsibilities and shape our future.
The spark of mercy went out in the world. The seeds of those days were planted in the hearts. The plants out of it are already sprouting. The fruits they bring to us and to the world will depend of our faithfulness and responsibility. But we have the meeting in Panama in three years in order to get reminded about all of that.
So let's meet there. It surely will be worth it!
Text Luiza Chrzanowska