At World Youth Day, youth encouraged to take 'path of craziness' toward God's mercy

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The sight of 1.6 million people, on their knees in silent prayer, overwhelmed Nick Lee.

Pope Francis led the evening candlelight prayer vigil and eucharistic adoration July 30 at Campus Misericordiae in Krakow, Poland .

"As Pope Francis was at adoration, there was a pink sunset behind his head," said Lee, director of the archdiocesan Young Adult Ministry. "The monstrance was (the shape) of the Blessed Mother, and the Eucharist was where the womb would be. Seeing 1.6 million silent people holding candles was just amazing. It gave you chills."

Eighty pilgrims returned to St. Louis after attending World Youth Day and visiting sites including the Divine Mercy Sanctuary, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum and the Icon of the Black Madonna at the Jasna Góra Monastery in Częstochowa.

The opening Mass July 26 set a positive tone for the rest of the pilgrimage, Lee said. "Seeing the waving flags and the beauty of Polish music — with its classical style — and the beauty of the liturgy just struck us all." After Mass, the crowds were treated to music from bands from all over the world, such as India, South America, France and Spain.

In Krakow, St. Louis pilgrims stayed at Promien House, a guest house within walking distance of the Divine Mercy Sanctuary, the place where St. Faustina received revelations from Christ and the instructions to paint the Divine Mercy image.

One of the group's last stops was at Auschwitz-Birkenau; just the day before, Pope Francis visited the Nazi death camp for silent prayer. Later, he told pilgrims that the cruelty of humans did not end with the Holocaust, but continues today through the suffering of those affected by war, homelessness and persecution.

Seeing the lush grass, the trees and rolling hills of the countryside at the site is evidence that the life will always be victorious, Father Brian Fallon said.

"God allowing nature to grow back there is a sign that even with the atrocities, new life will come," said Father Fallon, the assistant director of vocations for the archdiocese. "That's the hope of the Resurrection that we believe in. Anybody who would want to forget about Auschwitz is missing the point, that what can happen when humanity follows evil rather than the Lord, who wants to guide and shape our actions."

The modern-day atrocities Pope Francis mentioned are examples of why "we need a savior," he said.

Meeting the Polish people and learning what the country has been through via the rise and fall of Communism had an impact on Maura Weis. "Seeing how they have held on to their culture and faith was important," said the 26-year-old teacher at Sts. Joachim and Ann School in St. Charles. "Any bit of suffering we encountered this week was just a small reminder of what they have gone through."

The message of God's mercy was evident throughout the week. "Seeing people from all over the world coming together and supporting one another, after all the terrorist attacks. Pope Francis stressed the importance of supporting our fellow Christians through these times."

One of Clare Fults' highlights was meeting a group of young women from Ireland. They bonded over highlights from World Youth Day and their shared love for food.

"Seeing how universal our Church is and meeting people from all over the world was fun," said the senior at Ursuline Academy. "We all have the same beliefs and love for the Church."

Despite the sacrifices that come with making a pilgrimage — including a 10-mile hike to a site and getting little sleep — Fults said she was grateful for the opportunity and wants to visit Panama for the next World Youth Day in 2019.

"Through that suffering, I learned how to offer it up to Jesus and grow closer to that suffering," she said. 

Their Journey
To see more highlights from the St. Louis pilgrimage, follow @stlyoungadults on Twitter and @stlya on Instagram. Other pilgrims posting on Twitter include Father Brian Fallon (@ohfallon) and Brian Miller (@itsbrianmiller). St. Louis Young Adults also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/stlyoungadults. 

God's Mercy Abounds at World Youth Day

KRAKOW, Poland — Pope Francis told young people they are not called to be couch potatoes or live boring lives, but should leave their mark in history and not let others determine their future.

Like a soccer match, life "only takes players on the first string and has no room for benchwarmers," the pope young people at the World Youth Day prayer vigil July 30. "Today's world demands that you be a protagonist of history, because life is always beautiful when we choose to live it fully, when we choose to leave a mark."

Organizers said up to 1.6 million youths from around the world — many of whom walked more than four miles to the Field of Mercy — attended the prayer vigil with the pope.

Arriving in his popemobile, Pope Francis waved at the throngs of young people who stretched out their hands. Stopping at a wooden Door of Mercy inscribed with the words "Jesus, I trust in you" in five languages, he was greeted by several young men and women. Hand-in-hand with the pope, they entered through the door. The pope then surprised the youths by inviting them aboard the popemobile.

After taking his place on the stage, young people from Poland, Syria and Paraguay gave their experiences of finding hope in the midst of disbelief, war and addiction.

Natalia, a young Polish woman from Lodz, spoke of her experience of encountering the love of God through the sacrament of reconciliation after 20 years of "not having anything in common with the Church."

"Going to confession, I was convinced of having irredeemably lost eternal life. Instead, I had heard that God had made everything evil I had done disappear forever," she said.

Rand Mittri, a 26-year-old Syrian woman from Aleppo, shared the pain and sorrow that comes from seeing her city "destroyed, ruined and broken."

Despite the horror she faces daily, Mittri said she learned her faith in Jesus "supersedes the circumstances" and that with each passing day she believes "God exists despite all of our pain."

"Jesus, I trust in you," she concluded.

Miguel from Asuncion, Paraguay, gave the final testimony of the evening, recounting his 16-year struggle with drug addiction.

Beginning to experiment with drugs at age 11 and imprisoned for a crime by 15, Miguel said he continued committing crimes until he was imprisoned for six years.

A priest, he said, took him to a halfway house in Brazil, Fazenda de la Esperanza, where he learned to live as a family with his fellow companions.

After listening to their experiences, Pope Francis addressed the youths, calling on them first to not be absorbed by their cellphones and computers and to think about those, like Mittri, who live through violence and war daily.

"They have a name, they have a face, they have a story, they are close at hand," he said forcefully.

Recalling Natalia and Miguel's experiences, the pope thanked them for sharing their struggles and said they are a "living sign of what God's mercy wants to accomplish in us."

Pope Francis continued his address by warning the pilgrims to not fall into a "paralysis that comes from confusing happiness with a sofa." This sofa that promises comfort, safety and relaxation, he said, instead is an "insidious form of paralysis" that makes young men and women become "dull and drowsy."

Pope Francis encouraged the pilgrims, reminding them they are not called to "vegetate" in life but to leave a mark in the world.

He invited them to instead embark on the "path of 'craziness' of our God" that urges Christians to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

Way of the Cross through works of Mercy

KRAKOW, Poland — By embracing the hunger, thirst and loneliness of others, young people can touch Jesus' cross and experience the light of the resurrection, Pope Francis said.

It was Jesus who chose to identify with people who suffer pain and anguish, especially those fleeing violence and persecution, by "agreeing to tread the way of sorrows that led to Calvary," the pope told young men and women July 29 participating in the Way of the Cross at World Youth Day in Krakow.

Dancers, acrobats, painters and other artists performed interpretations of each key moment leading up to Christ's crucifixion, death and burial.

Each significant event of Jesus' crucifixion was linked to a corporal or spiritual work of mercy. A group of mimes dressed and painted completely in white acted out Simon of Cyrene helping Jesus carry His cross, while wall climbers seemed to stumble as they climbed and formed a cross on the wall, representing Jesus falling for the first time.

2019 World Youth Day in Panama

Panama, which will host World Youth Day in 2019, is a small country, but the head of its bishops' conference has no doubts the Church will be able to organize the event.

"Panama, with its canal, is a bridge between two continents, and we'll also make it a symbolic bridge between young people, especially in Latin America," said Cardinal Jose Lacunza Maestrojuan of David, Panama.

At a news conference in Krakow July 31, the cardinal said Panama was well-placed for air, road and sea communications with North and South America and would give the World Youth Day a distinctive character.

"We truly hope this will be a blessing for our country, placing it at the center of the whole world's attention," Cardinal Lacunza said.

'Hope of the future'

KRAKOW, Poland — Pope Francis thanked World Youth Day organizers and volunteers and urged them to be "the hope of the future."

"I had a speech of five pages — but it's boring," Pope Francis said in Spanish, setting aside his prepared remarks.

"Do you want to be the hope for the future? Well, there's no need to pay an entry fee — you just have to meet some conditions. The first is to preserve your memory: of your people, your family and where you come from, the memory of your journey and what you received from those closest to you. A young person without a memory isn't a hope for the future."

He thanked more than 15,000 organizers and volunteers and the estimated 50,000 priests and religious order members who accompanied pilgrims from around the world to the festival.

'Krakow in the Capital'

WASHINGTON — About 1,300 young adults gathered in the nation's capital for prayer, catechesis, fellowship, and a taste of Polish culture, an event designed for those who could not attend World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland.

Krakow in the Capital was celebrated on the campus of The Catholic University of America July 30, coinciding with Pope Francis's celebration of World Youth Day in Poland with more than 1 million pilgrims from around the world.

Evan Wescott, a recent Catholic University graduate who is now working as a campus minister at Duke University, said, "The fact that the archdiocese has made it available for everyone to participate in ... is a powerful way to connect in prayer."

The pilgrims gathered in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception prayed the Divine Mercy chaplet in five different languages: English, Spanish, Tagalog, Vietnamese and Polish. Following the prayer service, the pilgrims were able to choose from 10 different catechetical session options.

Catholic News Service's Jonathan Luxmoore and Kelly Seegers contributed to this report. 

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