World Youth Day 2016

Follow all of the action of World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, Poland as Luke Garrett '19 posts blogs and photos from his pilgrimage.

July 22, 2016

Upon arriving in Kraków, I was met by my Polish friend, Andrzej. We went straight from the airport to an Albertan Convent. We met the wonderful nuns who showed us our dorms for our time Kraków. They only spoke Polish so it was a lot of smiles and head nods, but their welcoming us was so loving. We then went to the city center, filled with WYD volunteers. All volunteers and the few early pilgrims were all so friendly, welcoming anyone they saw to walk with them and have a conversation. We all ended up at the sanctuary of divine mercy for stations of the cross. It was so beautiful. Each station was in a different language. All smiled warmly and laughed heartily on our way back to the city center, where there was a concert of hilarious dancing Franciscan priests. Joy was in the air and love in the hearts of all here in Kraków. I can't wait to see what the rest of the week holds and am definitely ready!!!
Luke Garrett Luke Garrett '19 First-Year Student Retreat Leader

July 24, 2016

Late last night the nuns invited Andrzej and I to ride with them to Czestecowa. This was such a blessing because it was a free and much quicker ride. We rolled out of bed at 5:30am and arrived at Czestecowa around 8am. It was incredible getting there so early because no one was there. The museums, chapel, and cathedrals were for the most part empty. As the day progressed the entire place was filled.
I knew the name Czestecowa, but other than that I knew very little.  I did some quick Google searches the night before, but upon arrival I was underwhelmed. I had heard such amazing things about this Black Madonna painting and chapel, but it seemed very museum-like upon first look.  This all changed quickly when we went to the noon Mass, where about thirty clergymen were present. Among them was a bishop from Minnesota and two bishops from Australia.
The Cathedral was overflowing with people as well as the Holy Spirit. People from the UK, Australia, and United States all celebrated Sunday Mass together. At the end of the Mass Andrzej rightly said in his broken English, “These people are free. They choose. This is beauty.” After this Mass we went back through the whole property and it became alive.
We got back to Krakow where I tried to upload my posts to no avail, but then went to a couple concerts throughout the city with a hometown friend of mine and some new polish friends. I still can’t get over the fact that a beer is four złt (a bit above one dollar). We got back to the convent and waiting for me was my pilgrim package, which the nuns got for me from the airport thirty minutes away. I have received so much love from the sisters here it brings me such joy.

July 25, 2016

Our plan was to go to Auschwitz, but as we got to the bus station in the morning we were told it was sold out for the next two weeks. Instead we spent the entire day in Kraków. We went to museums, but mostly churches, which there seems to be an endless supply of in Kraków. The Franciscan Basilica was by far my favorite. Saint John Paul II used to often pray there when he was bishop of Kraków. A beautiful stained glass window of God the Father lies above the entrance. It was influenced by Michelangelo's depiction of a strong and creative figure.

It seems as He was calling all pilgrims into Kraków. For as we left the Basilica in the morning the city's crowds grew thicker and thicker. All different languages could be heard in long cheers and songs as the pilgrims entered the city center. Smiles and waves were hard to escape and the pulse of the grew stronger and stronger and stronger as the day went by.

For lunch I had my first pierogi, a traditional polish meal. It was incredible. Andrzej said his mother cooked better but I was very satisfied with the hearty polish dish. Soon after we found wifi. I was able to connect with Father Martin and other friends from USD. It was great to hear the familiar voices and I hope to meet them all during my time in Kraków.

Today was a day of a growing anticipation of what's to come. The city is full of pilgrims who are ready for all the incredible events the organization has set up. I am beyond thrilled to see what the Lord has in store for these upcoming days.r

July 26, 2016

The first event of the day was the pilgrimage of mercy. Tons of pilgrims squeezed into tram 8 and headed to the St. John Paul II Sanctuary. I joined a larger group from Wisconsin and walked with them from St. John Paul II Sanctuary to the Divine Mercy Sanctuary. In seeing St. John Paul II’s bloody vestments from the attempted assassination, I was over powered by a thankfulness for St. John Paul II life and time on earth.  

Almost providentially I bumped into my friend/mentor and connection to Andrzej, Mr. O’Connell. He was leading a group of high school kids, many of which I knew. It was a great moment of feeling at home, after traveling without a group for so long. I stuck with them for the rest of the day. We all went straight to Błonia for the opening Mass of World Youth Day.

Crammed into a tram with other pilgrims, we belted Disney and American classics with Irish pilgrims, trying to distract ourselves from the intense heat and claustrophobia. Surprisingly effective, we arrived to the main walkway to the Mass with high energy and were met by a sea of just as highly energized pilgrims. One could hardly hear over the cheers of patriotism and faith. This walk to the opening Mass is the closest experience I have had to what I imagine heaven being like. All nations filled with joy walking towards Christ.

The Mass itself was interesting because of all the languages being used and during the sign of peace the stormy skies opened up and rays of sun came streaming over the crowd. It was a beautiful moment. Many headed back to the city center, including our group, for a concert and food. We scored some triple X hotdogs on French baguettes for dinner, which were surprisingly tasty.  I split with the group soon after and headed back to the convent. I was once again so lovingly welcomed home with a huge cup of soup, bread, and a smile.

July 27, 2016

All pilgrims went to different locations around Krakow for their respective country's/language’s catechesis. USA pilgrims gather into a huge arena for our catechesis. The program started with great speakers: Jason Evert, a Sister of Life, and the Bishops of Boston. The topics were vocation, sexuality, and mercy. Mass was given to the 20,000 present with a beautiful homily on the power of mercy, the theme of World Youth Day, through the Caught Adulterer passage.

After Mass, there were breakout sessions throughout the arena, focusing on saints, mercy, and sexuality. I, myself, headed to the Copa Catolica. It was a hike and a half to get there, but it was so worth it. There were a soccer and street ball tournaments between countries from around the world. But I spent most of my time at the breakdancing competition. These guys and gals were absolutely incredible to watch. It was such a unique experience to see the different ways of faith expression. Some use their words and others their body.

I returned to the arena with some new friends who were Texas A&M grads. The night events were phenomenal. The Holy Spirit was working so well with the crowd. Confession lines seemed endless, adoration was packed, and the communal voice of 20,000 rang strong as worship song after worship song was played. The night culminated with adoration for the entire arena. Bishop Father Robert Baron spoke on the power of the cross. He quoted St. John Paul II, “Do not be afraid!” He mentioned the recent martyrdom of the French priest, Father Jacques Hamel, and focused on the strength Christ has given us through the cross. We have the strength to endure any danger with faith in Jesus, as St. Maximilian showed us all in Auschwitz.

Many times talks on Saints and martyrs can seem distant and historical, but this was not the case, at least for myself. The fear was real, in being in Krakow amidst the recent events, but the strength of Christ through 20,000 strong worship was also just as real and certainly more powerful.  

July 28, 2016

I left for the Catechesis in the early morning and on the way met an awesome Czech pilgrim. Finding Mr. O’Connell and his students, we all listened to a great talk from a Cardinal Tagle at Catechesis. He has such energy and zeal when he spoke about the faith and honestly told the youth how hard keeping the faith is, but not with out mentioning the life altering joy that also comes with faith in Christ. I had never heard him speak before, but now understand why he is heavily favored to be the next pope.

The actual pope, Pope Francis, arrived the night before and would hold an opening ceremony. We started heading that way, but then a police officer told us where Pope Francis would be driving by. The whole group sprinted to the spot where he told us to go, but it was already packed. We did not give up. One of us saw a tiny bit of space between trees and bushes that lined the right side of the street. Myself and a Canadian pilgrim, Alex, did some landscape re-designing, making room for most of our group and others.

Around an hour later Pope Francis came through on a tram with the physically disabled. We were about ten feet from Pope Francis and all of us in the bush think he smiled at seeing about twenty pilgrims in a huge bush waving at him.The city was so crowded that they didn’t let anymore pilgrims go to the Pope’s welcoming ceremony, so we just hung out it the city then all turned in early from a high energy day.

July 29, 2016

After the best night sleep I had all trip, Andrjez and I headed to the Polish catechesis. It was so great to see that other countries’ catecheses were just as energized and loud the American one was. In the lower level of the stadium, there was a vocation center for religious, family, and job life. I was able to explore this event. I learned about all these amazing organizations from around the world, trying to bring Christ to people through charity, fellowship, prayer, etc. I left with a couple pounds worth of flyers and some great conversations.

Vocation is a heavily focused on topic at World Youth Day, for which I am so thankful. WYD makes a perfect environment for discernment because there are so many religious and married pilgrims who are so eager to tell you about their testimony. Specifically, for those discerning the religious life, World Youth Day allows one to see all the different orders in the Catholic Church in one place. Personally my favorite part of WYD has been seeing how beautifully silly and joyful the religious are.

Andrzej and I left the stadium and went to meet up with Mr. O’Connell and his students. As a group we all went to stations of the cross with the Pope. I believe the head count was around a million to two million. Going through the Passion of Christ with this many people and the Holy Father was beyond words. Polish ballerinas, sand painters, and musicians put on a program making visible the journey Jesus made to the cross. It too, was indescribable beautiful and powerful. All I can say is this was another moment I can imagine heaven being like, that I pray I will never forget

July 30, 2016

One of my favorite parts of World Youth Day are the amount of providential “bump into’s” everyone seems to have. They are so great in number that one almost expects to reconnect with an old friend or connection everyday. Today Mr. O’Connell bumped into his former spiritual director from college, who is now Bishop Edward Burns. After some pictures and light conversation, the bishop gave us his extra VIP tickets for the vigil with the Holy Father, later that day. Then at the vigil itself, I bumped into my current spiritual director at USD, Father Martin. These unplanned interactions are such joys because they are so improbable and unexpected. Out of one point three million people, two can still spontaneously meet and share in each others joy. I see God in these moments.

Our group headed to the Vigil at Campus Misericordiae soon after morning mass. The hike was around nine miles, but seemed less because of all the people we met from different countries along the way. I brought out the ukulele and we sang some classics as we walked. Many of the previous events had a lot of people, but here at the vigil there was an endless sea of people. When we arrived Mr. O’Connell, a clan of his students, and I headed to get food. Mercy for one’s neighbor was truly tested here as we had to wait in lines in hot tents, as people desperately wiggled through to get the coveted sausages.

After literally bringing home the bacon, the few of us that scored the VIP tickets headed to our new section. We were still far back, but directly in front of the main altar. All were silent, as they listened to Pope Francis address the youth, through their radio’s translations. He spoke with strength and confidence about the effects of fear on the youth and the even worst effect of “couch happiness”. The effects of both are the same, fear and laziness restrict the freedom of the youth to stand against the violence, terror, and hatred of the world. During the speech, Pope Francis called on the youth, "Do you wish to be free?" The million present screamed, "Yes!", in the hundreds of different languages present. A concert followed and we all headed back to sleep under the stars, one point three million strong.