It was another early start for the group as we all finished packing our backpacks and sleeping bags ready for the long walk and overnight stay at the vigil in Brzegi. The day started with one last trip into Krakow’s central square where we celebrated mass with his Grace Archbishop Stack. We celebrated the mass alone as a group and this gave us time to reflect upon what we had already experienced and his Grace spoke about our difficult journey ahead before blessing us with a pilgrims blessing.
Following mass we said our final goodbyes to the Archbishop and two Cannons and began the long a gruelling walk towards the vigil site. However, we did decide to shorten our walk slightly from 15km to 8km by travelling the first part by tram and bus. When we eventually reached the end stop for public transport it was finally time to start walking. By this time it was midday and temperatures were souring. We had to take a number of stops in the shade to refresh and rehydrate before we eventually reached the campsite. Relived, and rather sweaty, the group quickly found space on the campsite before everyone collapsed to the ground for a well – earned rest. The walk was long, hot and difficult but the sight of the other pilgrims was a revitalizing one. Everyone was hot and tiered but this didn’t stop all pilgrims interacting and talking to everyone who surrounded them. It was a tight space with little personal room, so it wasn’t long before we got to know our neighbours, ours were a group of seminarians from Boston, USA. We spent the next few hours talking to our new friends and others spent the time exchanging and trading items and gifts.
After some recovery time the prayers and vigil began. It started with the arrival of his Holiness the Pope, who arrived with a representative from each continent who rode with him in the pope mobile and then walked to the stage. Once the Holy Father was seated the vigil began with reflection and prayers for sufferers in the world. This was done through a number of dance routines and testimonies. It included prayers for those who are hurt in the world, those who cause pain, those who are indifferent, forgiveness for those who have done wrong and joy to those who are unhappy. Each dance reflected an action or scenario that reflected each prayer. It provided a sense of perspective which can often be lost in such a large crowd and such a joyful atmosphere. It reminded us that there are still problems in the world and people who still need our help and prayers.
Next Pope Francis took to the mic to deliver his message for the young pilgrims that night. His speech mirrored the messages from the prayers already delivered. He spoke about the broken and war torn world and about the need to continue to pray for and help those who live in countries like this. He continued on the theme of needing to engage and notice these people to remember everyone deserves help and everyone deserves a safe life, “once and for all, may we realize that nothing justifies shedding the blood of a brother or sister; that nothing is more precious than the person next to us.” He spoke about the closeness of the world through the internet and news channels meaning there are no more lost nations and because we can see these disasters we should now help. In addition to this message, his Holiness also continued on his theme from the previous night about laziness and a ‘comfy sofa’ society. We can become too relaxed and complacent with our lives and settle. His Holiness encouraged us to continue to challenge ourselves, our faith and to leave a lasting mark on this world. His theme of mercy was prevalent but the message of engagement and community as well as the need to not live a lazy life was obvious and a constant in all his messages. To conclude his speech we were all asked to hold hands with our neighbours, to shake each other’s hands and to not forget the importance of community and different nations working together.
Following this was a special adoration with the Pope, the gathered crowds were silent and reflective, remembering the Lords presence with us at that moment. Then the crowd lit candles and the orange glow lit the field and the faces standing in it. The evening then consisted of music, dancing, singing, laughing and talking as a group and with other pilgrims around us. Everyone was joined in song, prayer and discussions, which resulted in not much sleep for anyone!
That night our group’s supervisors took the decision that our group would leave early in the morning and miss the mass the following day, due to the swelling of the crowd. So Saturday night was our final event at this year’s WYD and it was certainly a memorable event to finish with. We had been able to see at least two events in the presence of the Pope and as a group experienced the atmosphere of the pilgrimage. We had the opportunity to meet all the other pilgrims from across the world, experience Poland’s deep history, hear copious amounts of ‘Papa Francisco’ chants and enjoy the company and new found friends within our own Cardiff pilgrims group.
As we all tried to sleep that night it was a time to reflect upon all the experiences we have had, the theme of mercy and what exactly we have learnt and gained from this WYD.