To all Holy Family Parish parishioners:
As many of you probably know, our parish was able to send 21 pilgrims to Poland for a two-week experience that none of us will likely forget. We wanted to take this opportunity to share with you some of the highlights of our pilgrimage and formally thank you all for your support.
Our group started the pilgrimage in different ways. Of those of us who left for Europe early, some of us travelled to Rome first and then went to Poland, others who went straight to Poland were able to visit some of the famous Polish sites such as the Wieliczka salt mines, Auschwitz-Birkenau, St. John Paul II’s hometown of Wadowice and the site of the 1991 WYD, Czestochowa.
The entire group met for the first time in Wrocław for the start of Days in the Diocese. The families we would be staying with for the week met us at the airport and train station. They were waving Canadian flags and very excited to meet us. Once we arrived at our host parish of St. Hedwig of Silesia, we were quickly separated from each other and brought to our host families’ houses. This was certainly unexpected, we believed that similar to past WYD, we would be staying in our group, but it was clear that this WYD would be focused on people welcoming us into their families.
We did spend a lot of time as a group however, we toured the town, we waited our turn to file through the Gate of Mercy at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist and obtain the plenary indulgence associated with the year of mercy, we participated in different works of mercy ranging from making and giving out cookies to promote an organization that works to find employment for those with mental disabilities to planting a garden at the parish.
We took part in a lot of faith formation activities as well. There were more formal things like having the opportunity to go to confession, take part in Catechesis talks with Bishop Bittman, and celebrate mass. And more informal activities such as praying the rosary with Fr. Kris when the train we were waiting for seemed to never show up.
We visited the soccer stadium where we got to see Sister Cristina, the nun who won the Voice Italy, perform multiple songs such as her rendition of Like a Virgin. That song choice might leave you feeling concerned, but trust us, look her up on YouTube and you’ll be impressed by the rendition.
Perhaps the biggest thing we took away from the Days in the Diocese experience was the understanding that these families made real sacrifices to host us. Bishop Bittman emphasized this point by saying that we should use their showings of mercy as an example for how we can show mercy in our own lives.
The week of World Youth Day was a whole new ballgame compared to Days in the Diocese. From the moment we arrived in Krakow the place was packed. Our host parish was just inside the northernmost limits of the city and we were there with a few other parishes from the Archdiocese and some from Italy and the Philippines.
Every day in Krakow consisted firstly of Catechesis sessions with different English-speaking bishops from around the world and then daily mass. In the afternoons our days were very different. We took the opportunity early in the week to go to the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy and the chapel and in which Saint Faustina talked with Jesus and wrote her now world-famous diary. Later in the week we travelled with hundreds of thousands to Błonia park for events such as the opening mass with the Archbishop of Krakow (who was St. John Paul II’s personal assistant during his papacy) the papal welcome and stations of the cross.
On Saturday we set out on our final pilgrimage to the site of the vigil and final mass. The organizers of World Youth Day had set out a path of about twelve kilometers for this walk. We instead decided to walk from the train station near our parish, making our twelve-kilometer walk nearly twenty-seven kilometers. To make the walk more bearable, considering the temperature was in the thirties almost everyday, we walked in the shade of the buildings throughout the city. Our pilgrimage became real in the last few kilometers however when we were shoulder to shoulder with now more than a million other pilgrims. Our pace slowed and we had no more shade to help us out. When we finally got to our assigned place for the vigil we all collapsed into the field full of stinging nettle and relaxed before the start of the vigil.
The vigil with Pope Francis was amazing. Using the light from over a million candles we prayed, we sang and we celebrated the amazing experience we had had over the last two weeks. At the end of the night we fell asleep to the sounds of people from all over the world singing. The morning of the final mass was interesting to say the least. We were all sleep deprived and we had to wear our clothes that were really damp from the dew that had fallen overnight and the sweat that was already forming at 8 in the morning. During his homily, Pope Francis told us that World Youth Day does not end at the end of the pilgrimage. It must continue when we return home, because like Zacchaeus when Jesus asked to stay in his house, Jesus wants to “dwell in our daily lives”.
We want to thank you all for your support of our group, especially through an economic downturn, to send us on this pilgrimage where we each grew in our faith and came home wanting to share the amazing experience we had had. For many of us, this will be the last World Youth Day we attend, but others will go again so that they can lead the next group. The biggest benefit of World Youth Day is strengthening the future of the church and so we hope that you will continue to support the youth of our parish for the many World Youth Days to come. In 2019 a group from our parish will again go to World Youth Day, this time in Panama City. We ask that you support them with as much fervor as you did for us so that they can benefit as much as we have.
Holy Family Parish World Youth Day Team, 2016.