– Ciara Ferry:
“People say World Youth Day is like a Catholic Woodstock. I spent two weeks in Poland thinking about that definition, and in my estimation it falls well short of the mark. WYD was one of the most joyful experiences of my life – and yet by constrast also the impotus for some extremely profound and even sobering lessons. The full extent of what it means to be Christian today has never been so apparent to me.
The death of Fr Jacques Hemel, murdered the day we arrived, brought our persecuted brothers and sisters into the forefront of of the collective consciousness but it was clear that everyone, from the Holy Father to the organisers wanted them to be with us, as they were constantly spoken about – and it was clear that we all understood what they were trying to tell us – the cheer for an Iraqi bishop speaking about his people was only rivalled by that for Pope Francis himself. He spoke about the struggles Syrians are facing but said they would never give it up – it is life for them.
This life-giving joy was evident everywhere we went. Young people from all continents walked around singing, high-fiving each other and asking where everyone hailed from – we were certainly proud to be Irish as it made us very popular among other nations! There was a real undercurrent of freedom, and a happiness felt but normally suppressed at home. We sang and played music in the streets with an abandon that must have been something to see. Several of us expressed a wish to sing Blessed be the Name of the Lord on the Luas in Dublin, which may yet happen.
Pope Francis encouraged us to share the happiness we discovered in meeting Jesus and feeling His love for us. Don’t be couch potatoes, bored and boring all your lives, the Pope said. Part of the reason that World Youth Day is so important is that it allowed us to share our joy freely, with the whole world. To see the Africans dancing, knowing that others from South Sudan were stopped at the border and not allowed to come to Poland was incredible. We spoke to Malaysians who admitted that in a Muslim country, their Catholic faith must not be shared too openly for fear of reprisal. We spoke to heartbroken French pilgrims for whom the realities of persecution grow ever closer. We spoke to Polish who remember the grey days of Communism, and for whom the colour of WYD is like paradise. We learned of saints like Jerzy Popielusko, martyred for his faith, and Pier Giorgio Frassati, a young engineering student who died of polio contracted from a poverty stricken family he was helping.
These stories don’t match up with a fluffy ideal of faith as making you feel good. The burning hot sun wasn’t comfortable; neither was the miles long trek to get to the Vigil, or the thunderstorm we got caught in afterwards! But it was all worth it, to pray with the Pope for the world, to hear his words of love and encouragement, and to participate in the very real brotherhood that he asks for so fervently. It was worth it to realise that while the hard parts about being Christian are very real, the Lord is always with us and will never abandon us – and there lies the source of the happiness we saw and shared with the French, the Poles, the Africans and the Syrians.
The joy of gathering with brothers and sisters, being able to freely celebrate our faith in the Lord Jesus isn’t just about singing and dancing. It is a necessity, a great gift of grace from the Holy Spirit, that will allow us to return home and bring some of the joy to those who have no idea where it comes from- encounter with Christ, in his Church, in his Word, and in his Eucharistic Body.
The reality of being Christian today, World Youth Day has taught me, is always going to be both – joy and sorrow, hope and persecution, brotherhood and sometimes isolation. Christianity is never either/or, it is always encompassing the depth and breadth of human experience. That is what makes it challenging, alive, grace-filled, and for me ultimately necessary for happiness in this world and the next”.
– Eithne Nic Giolla Cathain:
“It’s hard to believe it’s all over. My muscles are aching and I could sleep for a week, but in spirit I feel so refreshed and blessed with joy. It has been a wonderful 2 weeks in Poland for WYD.
Our team was made up of approximately 60 young people including 4 religious sisters, 2 Friars and Fr Bart Parys SVD, a Polish priest living and ministering in Ireland, who led our group. We were blessed to have someone with such inside knowledge of Poland to help us find the best places to visit and of course to help with translation along the way. The group were constantly cheerful, patiently waiting when there were any delays, singing and dancing while waiting around and also on the bus on our way to other events.
We were blessed to spend our first week in the diocese of Plock. The crowds were so big in Kraków that we were unable to visit the Divine Mercy shrine there, so it was a real blessing to be able to spend so much time at the Divine Mercy shrine in Plock, were Our Lord first appeared to St Faustina and asked her to paint the image of the Divine Mercy. We were privileged to have time for quiet prayer away from the big crowds, to meet the Sisters and venerate Sr Faustina’s relics.
The host families were unbelievably generous to us in the many ways they went out of their way for us and showed us such love despite hardly knowing us. We celebrated mass at St James’ parish, which we were pleasantly surprised to find housed the relics of St Gianna Beretta Molla. We had the opportunity to venerate her relics after Sunday mass and were given a lovely souvenir to mark the occasion. It was also very special when all the pilgrims from many countries hosted by the diocese joined together to celebrate mass and enjoy the entertainment, some of which we contributed to ourselves.
Other significant moments were when we visited the shrine of Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko. The museum was so impressive in the way that it represented his faith in creative ways: for example, the stones around his grave were arranged in a way to represent the rosary, with his grave in the place of the crucifix. It was lovely to learn of someone with such a simple faith who remained faithful to God no matter what the cost. It is wonderful to have great saints like Pope St John Paul II but it’s also encouraging to learn of others whose example can be followed by the average person.
Seeing the spot in Warsaw where Pope John Paul II consecrated Poland to the Holy Spirit was also very special. I know he was so touched to visit Clonmacnois in Ireland because he was so grateful for the monks from there evangelising his ancestors. He referred to a passage in St Faustina’s diary of the spark going from Poland to set the world on fire. Although it is understood he didn’t see that as referring to himself but rather the Divine Mercy shrine, I believe his visit to Ireland was the beginning of something new for Ireland, which was later built on by the creation of Youth 2000 as a response to his call at WYD for youth to evangelise youth. Many youth have discovered or rediscovered their faith through Youth 2000 and many priestly and religious vocations as well as Godly marriages have resulted. The presence of many Polish in Ireland have also helped reinvigorate the faith in Ireland.
In Kraków we were blessed to have 3 Irish Pallotine priests join our group as well as some more pilgrims. It was a special privilege that Youth 2000 internationally had the use of the spectacular St Mary’s Basilica in the main square in Kraków to host Eucharistic Adoration. Youth 2000 Ireland led one of the holy hours as well as joining in the celebration of Mass there on a few occasions.
The English Catechesis at the Mercy Centre in Tauron Arena was very special. Particularly striking was the Catechesis given by Sr Gaudia Skass of the same congregation to which Sr Faustina belonged. What remains with me most of all from what she shared was what she said about the cross. She invited us to look at the back of our crucifix and see there the empty space. This is where we are when we are suffering, but if we turn it around, we see Jesus is right there. He never leaves us in our suffering but is so close beside us all the time.
We also heard Archbishop Warda of Erbil, Iraq speak powerfully of the religious persecution there and how the Christians remained faithful despite the persecution they experienced.
The evening of Eucharistic adoration there was truly anointed by the Holy Spirit as Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament was processed through the crowd. Audrey Assad and Matt Maher led us in our worship which truly was a taste of heaven. Many hearts were touched, especially by the song “You’re a good, good Father, it’s who you are, it’s who you are, and I’m loved by you, it’s who I am, it’s who I am.” I only wish the time of worship could have gone on longer.
Of course the highlight was gathering to hear the Holy Father speak in Blonia Park and then in Campus Misericordiae, surrounded by so many nationalities and experiencing the beautiful liturgy with Gregorian chant as well as the hymns in many other languages.
We heard that our group left an impression on those we visited, in our prayerfulness and our joy. The group also certainly spread joy singing and dancing on the streets, in the buses and trams and in our many miles of walking. Pope Francis very aptly exhorted us at the vigil in Campus Misericordiae to: “blaze trails that open up new horizons capable of spreading joy, the joy that is born of God’s love and wells up in your hearts with every act of mercy.” Let’s hope we can continue that as we carry on our Christian journey in our daily lives.”