Lessons from World Youth Day 2016

I know it's been quite a while since World Youth Day in Krakow but I want to reflect here about it because it was an incredible experience. I had the chance to attend WYD last July with an amazing group of young adults, mostly from St. Paul's Parish, Richmond. Before heading to Krakow we spend a week being hosted by parishioners of Our Lady of La Salette Parish in the Diocese of Sandomierz who were incredibly welcoming and generous. From there we made our way down to Krakow. This two week experience was very powerful for me and I learned a lot. Here are a few of the lessons I take with me.

1) As a global Church we face very similar challenges
Before heading to Poland I had heard much about how strong the Catholic faith is in Poland. The way some people had described it, it seemed like some oasis of belief somehow buffered from the difficulties we encounter in Vancouver. During the week we spent in Sandomierz, I had the opportunity to stay in a local parish rectory with the four priests serving the community there. It was wonderful to share about what parish life is like in our countries. From these priests I learned that there is much that is wonderful and positive about the local Church in Poland. On the other hand, they also spoke of their struggles. The pastor explained to me that since the fall of communism, Church attendance has been steadily declining, particularly among young people. The number of people entering seminary and religious communities is also going down. Though this was somewhat disheartening at first to hear, it was good lesson to learn. There is no perfect Church situation in the world. There are struggles everywhere. Being with the priests in Sandomierz, I felt a bond with them. We face similar challenges, but we are in this together. We are here to support each other.

2) Our response to these challenges is the same
For me the talks by Pope Francis at World Youth Day were inspiring and gave us concrete direction forward in response to the challenges we face. Pope Francis' message to us in Krakow had two main points, both of which are found already in his first document he presented as Pope, The Joy of the Gospel: 1) Embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ and share it with others and 2) accompany and serve the suffering, especially those most abandoned and on the margins of society. To the first point, Pope Francis spoke strongly about how precious to God each one of us personally is, about the joy of having a relationship with Jesus our Saviour and about the importance of inviting those around us to come to know Jesus as well. To the second point, Pope Francis called on the over one million young people at WYD to build a more just and loving society. He reminded us that true happiness is not found sitting on the couch but rather in service to those who are suffering. As just one concrete example, he repeatedly pointed to the plight of Syrian refugees and the necessity for us to welcome and care for them. Considering that the current Polish government has refused to accept any Syrian refugees into the country, his message was particularly challenging.

3) God intervenes directly in our lives
One of the best parts about going to the WYD as part of a group was seeing how those around me experienced God is a very personal and strong way. God spoke to them through the talks they heard, interactions with others, the hospitality of our hosts in Poland, and witnessing the various events playing out around them. In my opinion, one of the most powerful and perhaps unexpected ways God worked was through difficulties: lost luggage, injuries, fatigue and other struggles. In all these ways, God spoke a personal message to each of us. Some He filled with a sense of how much they are loved by Him and how important they are to Him personally. Others were guided into making important decisions. Many were willed with a greater sense of hope and courage to continue following Jesus. I don't think that there was anyone in our group who was not impacted in some personal way during WYD. I hope that all of us can return in prayer to these experience and draw greater clarity and strength from what we experienced in Krakow.

A huge blessing for me was very unexpectedly running into Fr. Eliecer, a friend of mine who is a priest with the Missionaries of Charity. We spent five years together when I was in formation with this community.
4) Bonus lesson: Perogies are delicious!

Nuggets of carbohydrate goodness!

I was very happy to participate in this past World Youth Day in Krakow. It was a very rich and powerful experience for me. I am grateful to have lived this with my fellow pilgrims!

Our great group after the closing Mass just before walking 15 km back to our accommodations.
The morning after the closing Mass with Pope Francis I took a train from Krakow to Warsaw. From there I flew Tel Aviv and took a bus to Jerusalem. I will be staying in Jerusalem for the next six months as part of my studies. That, however, is something a will have to share in another post!