WYD 2016 / ITALY, Denise Campagna and Alessia Llull •
When you spontaneously decide to write an article post-trip, what you want to do is to complete the work soon after your return. This gives you the certainty of being able to tell everything perfectly, so that nothing can escape from what you lived! But if, because of various vicissitudes, you delay even a month from that time, will it ever get out? We can assure you that the initial security, clarity and perfection of the story, is unavoidably lessened.
However not all trips are equal and not all trips are simply just travel, and one such trip is World Youth Day–not your common pilgrimage or international gathering of young people, but a lot more. It is the chance the Lord gives to each of us to make a journey in the rediscovery of “self”. “Why am I here? What motivates me to keep going despite the fatigue? What is it that unites me with all the people who are close to me? Why do I feel so connected to them even though we have never met? “We are convinced that they do not exaggerate when we say that WYD is a catharsis, a purification, an awakening of conscience, or, as the Pope said, a ‘spiritual oxygen.’” Since going, alone or in groups, is an opportunity to reflect, meditate, and to try to make sense of each step we make. The Lord has shown us that every individual is equal before Him, and that we are important for what we are, and not for what we have. To God we are important, in His eyes we have worth and our value is priceless.
In such a significant year for Christendom, the year of Mercy, those who set themselves to follow Jesus to Krakow, in Poland, have certainly been pushed by curiosity to try this experience described by many as a very strong and important one for a young Christian. However, it is not enough; for each of us carries within themselves the hopes, desires, and needs to take (or take back) an inner journey, sharing needs and opening up to the world!
“Ask and you shall receive, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened!”
“Ask and you shall receive, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened!” (Mt. 7:7) These are the words of Jesus’ that we heard the day of our departure from Rome during Mass in the Baptistery of San Giovanni, words that proved to be beautifully true ! After a long journey that lasted more than twenty-four hours spent between prayers, songs, games, and naps, more or less restful, Krakow was waiting and ready to welcome thousands and thousands of young people from every nation.
A week of living life to the fullest
We headed towards the beautiful Basilica of SS. Trinity to find the remains of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. Who was he? An ordinary student , but extraordinary in his natural, joyful life, filled with faith and service to the weak, the marginalized, no stranger to strong doubts, or uncertainties and difficulties of those who want to find out what God has planned for them. To start our week alongside the ”man of the beatitudes “- a nickname given to him by St. John Paul II on the day of his beatification – was particularly significant because it somehow provided us with the guidelines of taking this experience to the fullest. So wrote the Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati: “To live without faith, without a patrimony to defend, without incurring in a constant struggle Truth, is not life … but just getting along. We should not just get along, but live.” These words were our compass: in those days we lived instead of just getting along! And it was as exhausting as it was immensely fulfilling.
The next day we headed to the Shrine of Czestochowa, the most important religious site in Poland and among the largest Marian shrines in the world. There we celebrated Mass under the watchful and tender gaze of the Black Madonna and Child, the pulsating heart of the sanctuary itself. In a country marked by those inhuman historical facts that everyone finds in history books, sees in movies, and on the occasion of a visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp, contemplated with our own eyes, she was a light and safe haven. She was Mother, and in praying, singing and clapping along, we entrusted ourselves to her. We opened our hearts, each in our own way, offering her something of ourselves or just thanking her.
Thus prepared, we prepared for another important moment that was planned in the program (because yes, every trip worthy of respect has one, unless different and unexpected “changes” during construction): the visit to the sanctuary of Jesus of the Divine Mercy on Łagiewniki hill that we voluntarily resolved to walk to, supporting one another and pushing us beyond fatigue. We believe that there, in that very important place in the life of Sister Faustina Kowalska and so dear to St. John Paul II, we called and sought one another, him and we. In the midst of the clamor and bustle of the faces, who has not looked Jesus in the eye if only for an instant? Who has not thought “Jesus, I trust in you?” Because of the large turnout of young people as we went to the Shrine, it was rather difficult to carve out a moment of intense prayer or just contemplation, even though fleetingly, we managed to lie prostrate at the foot of the altar under Your gaze, and that of two great Saints; it was sensational, inexplicable–a little of ‘how to say our “Here I am Lord”. We were there, and he greeted us, pushing us to move forward in that immense throng of people gathered in His name. What an incredible gift, that treasure, the Lord wanted us to find!
The realities of life and the Way of the Cross
We found His gaze particularly intense in the Via Crucis at Jordan Park Blonie, during which Pope Francis asked some questions that almost upset our days, and we did not have to wait, even when we had an opportunity to be carefree, when we learned of the killing of the priest in France and the disappearance of two of our young fellow adventurers: Maciej first, and, along the way back to Italy, Susanna. Are there adequate responses in the face of ugliness and pain? Yet, even in the concentration camps, we know Mercy flourished there that we had heard so much about: St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Benedicta of the Cross-, and our Father Kentenich. Their actions are for us strong responses. Probably as strong as those that each of us will be given, in hearing that will resonate in the words of the Pope at the close of his speech during the Way of the Cross: “As you return to your homes tonight, to your place of accommodation, to your tents, how do you want to return this evening to meet with yourself? The world is watching. To each of you is up to the challenge of this question.” We accepted this challenge and understood what a grace it was to have contemplated the Passion of Christ, that He is here, and later receive His Spirit to make flourish in us the Mercy received.
The gaze of Jesus was not missing even while we were awake on Saturday night and during the Sunday morning service at Campus Misericordiae: yet another demonstration that we have answered the call of God and the Blessed Mother, and that every single person at the Campus, and that the Lord, in every way, wanted us there, to show the greatness of His love for us. True, not everything went as well as we had imagined. We did not arrive in time for the moment of prayer with the Holy Father, and we could not reach our allocated sector, the means of transport, the climate, and the food all reserved unpleasant surprises; we struggled to get there, but it was worth it. An entire field of people fell asleep and awoke the next morning conscious of being part of the bigger picture, to be discovered by following the example of Blessed Pier Giorgio because humanity needs men and women, and especially young people like us, who do not want to live their lives “in the middle.”
Seeing the person instead of the flaws
Maybe it will take time, and each person will face constant obstacles before recognizing their vocation in the world, perhaps those who overcome by climbing a sycamore tree, like Zacchaeus (Lk. 19:1-10): “short in stature,” but crippled by the shame and murmuring crowd, reminded us of the Pope at the Campus in the same way that made us understand how Jesus is moving toward us. He goes beyond the flaws and sees the person. He does not stop with the evil of the past, but sees the good in the future. He does not resign in the face of closures, but seeks the path of unity and communion; in the midst of all, He does not stop at appearances, but looks at the heart. “For this reason, continued the Holy Father, “The joy that freely you have received from God, please, give it freely. (cf. Mt 10:8), because so many wait! And they expect [it] from you.”
No one will forget those last two days, and now I can really say it with a smile, full of satisfaction! “Backpacking and comfortable shoes because we have several kilometers to go! – How many? – Bah! will be 9, 10 or maybe 15 …” Several more actually, but we did it anyway, together, encouraging one another, singing, laughing! We synchronized the beating of our hearts, and we passed every test, demonstrating the fact that Jesus is our secret weapon in life! Thanks to Him and to His and our Mother, nothing is impossible!
“Nothing without you, nothing without us”
Not surprisingly, “Nothing without you, nothing without us” were the words that accompanied us during the kilometers covered and sealed the bond with our Mother, Queen Thrice Admirable and Victress of Schoenstatt who had not abandoned us, but was watching over us. In the midst of so many people, to meet and recognize groups of female (particularly from Chile) and male youths from Schoenstatt was great, because although we are not all born brothers and sisters, we have become so. The fraternity is not something that we have behind us, not our story, but rather a promise– our future. Just like blood brothers do not choose each other, but get together, so we too have been called to meet again in the name of Jesus and the Blessed Mother! During World Youth Day, in meeting with youths from other parts of the world, between songs, photos, smiles, and the feeling of being protected by you, we gave substance to the Covenant of Love that binds us to the Blessed Mother, and that has allowed us to overcome any obstacle with hearts full of joy, just like when we sang our song: “When the happiness comes from above, there are no boundaries, you just have to share it!”
Beginning today and continuing tomorrow…
Moreover, between all these moments of reflection, we did not miss the chance to also be a little like ‘tourists’ and we all agreed: we will return to Krakow– this small town that has managed to amaze us– to walk along the streets of the old town surrounded by green and visit what remains to be discovered, to eat pierogi and hang out in that pub that we have chosen as a meeting place at the end of our days. Different in age, ideas and life experiences, in short, perfect strangers, we were a small, boisterous family, and we grew up together day after day. During a time of sharing, exchanging impressions and feelings, we realized that we acquired a certainty that we will not remain just full of good intentions but what was reflected in the words of Pope Francis: “WYD, we could say, begins today and continues tomorrow. The Lord does not want to only stay in this beautiful city and recall the cherished memories, but wants to come to your house, live your everyday life: the study and the first years of work, friendships and affections, projects and dreams.” We decided to start from Krakow as a reality born in a unique setting like World Youth Day, and the desire to continue those days’ journey has enriched us immensely. And one step after another, who knows … if might be revisited in Panama in three years!
Original: Italian. Translation: Valerio Salvador, Johannesburg, South Africa. Edited: Melissa Peña-Janknegt, Elgin, TX USA