Young People are Interested in Faith - Report back from World Youth Day
What’s the biggest crowd you’ve ever been in? Have a think…
The biggest football matches in this country draw about 90,000 people. Glastonbury this year drew almost twice as many. If you were at Festival 50 last July, you were probably one of around 11,000, and if you went to Big Church Day Out this year, you were in among 25,000.
As impressive as those numbers are though, a group of pilgrims from our Diocese were part of an event in last month which drew more than three million! That’s seventeen times larger than Glastonbury, and more than a hundred times bigger than Big Church Day Out. We’re talking, of course, about World Youth Day 2016. According to Wikipedia, one of the thirty-or-so largest gatherings of any kind ever!
World Youth Day started back in the mid 1980s, the brainchild of Pope Saint John Paul II. It takes place locally every year (in the UK, we mark it with ‘National Youth Sunday’ in the Autumn) but every two or three years, it’s marked with a huge international gathering. In 2011, it was in Madrid, in 2013 in Rio, and in 2016 it was the turn of the beautiful city of Krakow in Poland. 49 A&B pilgrims joined pilgrims from all over the world and, importantly, the Holy Father!
The choice of Krakow is an interesting one. Krakow, of course, is synonymous with Saint John Paul, the founder of World Youth Day. This festival gave us not only a chance to celebrate him, but also to focus on the city that produced him, together with its rich Catholic heritage.
The phrase ‘World Youth Day’ is actually a bit misleading. It all culminates in Sunday Mass with the Holy Father, but leading up to that is a week of events all focused on the host city.
For the A&B group, our journey to Krakow began on the previous Sunday, July 24th. After Fr Simon Dray said Mass for us at DABCEC, we piled into our coach and hit the road.
Our first obstacle was to clear Dover. This was the weekend where the media were reporting huge delays at Dover. Luckily, we cleared Dover with no delay at all. Proof, if proof were needed, that prayer works - we all got on the case, as did the people gathered for the Lourdes briefing back home!
The journey to Krakow was plain sailing until we hit the Polish border. The four-hour delay while the coach driver registered with the Polish authorities was an annoying setback, but it gave us a great chance to mix with thousands of other pilgrims who were in the same boat – our first taste of the crazy festival atmosphere of World Youth Day.
Ahead of the weekend, the events of WYD follow a simple format. There are three large events, attended by everyone, punctuated by a load of smaller ones.
The three large events are the Opening Mass, the welcome ceremony for the Pope, and the Stations of the Cross. The Opening Mass in particular, gave us our first taste of huge crowds, and our first chance to explore the themes of WYD. Ahead of the Pope’s arrival, it was celebrated by Cardinal Dsiwisz, the Archbishop of Krakow, and John Paul’s long time secretary.
From Wednesday onwards, our days followed a simple format: Catechesis in the morning and ‘Youth Festival’ activities in the afternoon and evening. The latter was all about exploring the events put on around the city, while the former was about exploring our faith and celebrating Mass in language groups. We went to a huge arena for a programme of events laid on the by Knights of Columbus. We were lucky enough to be led in catechesis by Cardinal O’Malley of Boston and Cardinal Tagle of Manila.
On the Saturday morning, all of this came together and all of those assembled in Krakow left their accommodation to head for Campus Misericordiae – a huge area outside the city designed to hold a few million pilgrims. Since it’s impossible to get that many people in to an area in the space of a few hours, the tradition has developed at WYD that we file in throughout the Saturday and sleep out overnight! It’s not the most comfortable night’s sleep in your life, but definitely one of the most memorable. The sleep is bookended by a vigil with the Holy Father on the Saturday evening and the Mass the next day.
We were led on our pilgrimage by Fr Aaron Spinelli, the Diocese’s Priest Adviser for Youth Ministry. He was helped out by four other chaplains, who helped to animate and explain what was going on within our group and who were on hand to hear confessions and celebrate Mass for us throughout the week. One of the key things they kept telling us was that we had come to Krakow at the invitation of the Pope, but we had really come to meet Christ!
By the end of the week, it was clear that the week had affected everyone. Before we left, we talked about how we are going to continue what we’ve started back home. During his homily on the Saturday night, Pope Francis challenged those present not to be stay “on the couch!” It’s tempting, he remarked, but in reality it limits our freedom and stifles who we really are. If we want to see a change in the world, we have to bring the best version of ourselves that we can. A great challenge for young people everywhere!
See more pictures on the A&B News Blog.