To summarise WYD in a word, sentence of even a paragraph is impossible. As our Cardiff pilgrims arrived back into a rain soaked Wales it was evident to see the change in each and every one of them. Every pilgrim had clearly been affected by their WYD experience and each for different reasons. It was obvious to see the physical exhaustion caused by WYD with pilgrims bandaged and other limping with the soreness of their feet. However, the emotional effects of WYD were also evident, people were reflective, open to discussion and filled with joy and song. Despite the long coach journey home the pilgrims were still jovial and continued to chant and sing keeping spirits high.
The impact and atmosphere of WYD was present in our young pilgrims, and how could they not have been affected by what they had experienced. Numerous reports gave varying scales of how many pilgrims were present (at last count over 1.5 million at the final mass) and each talked about the vastness of the event. It was always clear just how large scale this event was. Beginning with the day in the diocese in Bialostocka, the group were surrounded by other pilgrims from across the world. Sharing stories and faith, reminding everyone present of how multi – national this event was. Although the first week was nothing close to the size and scale of the week in Krakow.
The second week in Krakow was an intense test for all pilgrims and certainly came with challenges. It was both a physical and mental challenging as well as a challenge of faith and commitment. However, this was continually eased when chants and songs booming from other nations, pray and worship and the smiles and greeting from volunteers and pilgrims alike.
The presence of Pope Francis was also an uplifting and enhancing experience for everyone in Poland. His presence was constantly felt and the words from his speeches and homilies ringing in the ears of all pilgrims. Each speech centred on a different topic, saint or gospel passage but the continuous theme and message of mercy was ever present. Pope Francis talked about the mercy we need to show those who have hurt us, show mercy to those who need our help and to continue to show mercy even when it seems violence is the only answer. He spoke movingly about the refugee crisis and the movement of migrants, the wars and conflicts in the Middle East and the persecution of religious and oppressed minorities. He spoke about all these issues with great grace and dignity, never persecuting or blaming sections of society but instead talking about our need to unity and for all races, nationalities and religions to join together in one bond to emit mercy and love. Another prevalent message of his Papal talks was that of the power and joyfulness of the young. He spoke about the joy it gave him to see so many young people engaging with faith and just enjoying life. He spoke about the greatness of hope and excitement shown by all young pilgrims. His message for the young was simple; stay joyful, continue to engage with world issues and to challenge any form of injustice. He spoke about the shame in seeing young people “retire early” in life and lead lives that are filled with boredom. He challenged everyone there to continue to have faith, don’t stray to dark short term thrills, speak up and talk about causes and to continue to live a life full of joy, faith and purpose.
“Jesus can give you true passion for life. Jesus can inspire us not to settle for less, but to give the very best of ourselves. Jesus challenges us, spurs us on and helps us keep trying whenever we are tempted to give up. Jesus pushes us to keep our sights high and to dream of great things” (Pope’s opening address).
He spoke about seeing nothing more beautiful than the enthusiasm, dedication and energy with which so many young people live their lives and encouraged everyone to continue to live like this. His speeches were simple with key messages of mercy, engagement, grace, faith, commitment and compassion. Whenever Pope Francis spoke more than a million pilgrims fell silent and listened, hooked on every word he said. He was engaging and passionate with every talk he gave, smiling, joking and encouraging audience participation and response. The effect his words had on all pilgrims was evident with constant discussions about his talks taking place and the renewed vigour and energy he had instilled.
The two weeks consisted of a variety of different activities all challenging and educational in different ways. The trip was filled with adventures centring around the various Polish saints, Poland’s religious history and about the Catholic Church itself and the messages we are called to follow. Whatever the activity was there was a constant reminder of faith and the message of mercy.
The scale of this event was beyond comprehension, however the effect it has had on our Cardiff pilgrims is noticeable and life – long. Everyone left Wales slightly apprehensive, with numerous questions and expectations. Weather these exact expectations were met, each pilgrim was challenged and gained from their time in Poland. The atmosphere and size of the event was incredible and the opportunity to meet and learn from so many people, from some many parts of the world is life changing. Experiencing WYD is a privilege and one that is hard for any pilgrim to forget. Over the two weeks each pilgrim had the opportunity to talk to new people and share their stories and to trade gifts and mementos by which to remember each other.
The pilgrimage to Poland was challenging mentally and physically. There were moments when people’s faiths were tested, but seeing the mass number of like – minded young people all sharing in joy and excitement made the memory of any kind of pain soon disappear. The two weeks we shared in Poland will be one’s that won’t be forgotten easily. The trip enhanced people faith, encouraged conversations with a global audience and also built lasting friendship amongst our own pilgrims. As everyone begins to return to normality, the messages of Pope Francis and the interactions with others will live in the memories of our pilgrims and hopefully aid in future decision making and in shaping everyone’s lives.
It’s been an enhancing trip with life long memories and hopefully these types of encounters can be experienced by all pilgrims travelling to WYD in Panama in 2019!