Well, I finally have a chance to rehash Thursday for you. The hope was that it was going to be somewhat of a calmer day. We had been maintaining a fairly grueling pace to this point. In many cases, it really felt like we were rushing through things, and not getting a chance to really take them in. And then, of course, was the Auschwitz visit, which really is just soul-crushing and can leave you feeling quite defeated.
So the idea was to get off to a little bit of a later start, and then report to our assigned church for that day’s catechesis session. If you’re unfamiliar with how WYD works, basically it’s like this: The bishops of the world lead catechetical sessions for their respective language groups in the morning, all of which conclude with Mass. The afternoons are free to explore the city and vicinity and to interact with the rest of the world. So, on Thursday, we headed to the church of St. Nicholas, which, per the email I received, was to have an English catechesis.
It was French.
So…we must immediately divert to Plan B. Or, we must immediately formulate Plan B, and then divert to that. We pulled our our smartphones, fired up the WYD app, and found here the nearest Engish session was. “Just a little walk,” is what we told the group….and then we led them on a 30 minute walk through Kraków. We arrived just in time – we missed the pre-emptory music and pump-up session, and got there just as Archbishop Wenski, of Miami, was starting his talk. His theme was allowing ourselves to receive God’s mercy. I’m not going to say much about what he said – because, to be quite honest, I plan on stealing some of it for future use of my own – but it was FANTASTIC. And then we had Mass.
Following Mass, we grabbed a quick bite to it and one of the food tents along the Wista River, and then we decided to split up to see the city. We walked toward Wawel Castle, once home to the kings of Poland, and there the group split up. Some of us wanted to stand in the line to get into the old cathedral, to see the church where John Paul II was ordained birth priest and bishop. Others wanted to explore the Main Square of the city, which is so beautiful as to be a UNESCORTED World Heritage Site. I was in the cathedral line.
In 45 minutes, we moved about a hundred feet.
We abandoned that plan, and decided to head into the square ourselves. As we were walking through, I noticed a church that looked, well, rather epic. I said as much to the guys I was walking with, and we decided to stop in. It was run by the Dominicans – who me I owe some debt to, having studied under them for two years in Rome – and had a really neat display on some of the greatest Dominicans that have lived. (The Dominicans are celebrated their 800th anniversary. Yes, 800th.). And also in the church were the remains of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, a third-order Dominican. So we stopped and prayed before his casket, which gave us all kinds of Saint street cried with the larger group when we reconvened that night.
We reconnected with our larger group, and then it was time to hike back to Blonia Park, for the welcoming ceremony with Pope Francis. That walk took about 45 minutes in an intermittent rain. We arrived and got a good spot along the fence line at the end of our section, and then just watched the rest of the world arrive. So many different flags, and languages, and traditions, and songs…and so much joy. It looked like what God intended the Church to be.
Finally, the Pope arrived, and finally – after a lengthy welcoming ceremony – he began to preach. He preached on Martha and Mary and hospitality – a good topic, considering how Kraków is very graciously welcoming this massive horde of young people. His homily was amazing. He challenged us, he loved us, he joked with us….he was fatherly to us. His two main points were that we, as young people, have tremendous capacity to do – that we can affect change in the world, that we can model what we want to see from others, and that our voices can and must be heard. His second point was that we need to live – that the saddest thing are those people who are ready to retire at 24. They are, as the Popel said, both bored and boring. To think that you have exhausted your life at that point, to think you have nothing less to aspire to, to think that you’ve done it all and experienced it all – this is not right, not true, and is, in a way, sinful. So get out there, he said, and live.
That’s precisely why Jesus died on the Cross – so that we might have life, and have it more abundantly.
When the homily was over, after the Pope gave us his blessing, we took off to find something to eat for dinner, and then get back on the bus.
When I finally got back to the hotel, I wondered why my feet hurt so much. I checked the Fitbit – 11 miles (and change) of walking. Thankfully I packed ibuprofen…