A few weeks ago Karen and I were talking about what it would be like to live north of the Arctic Circle. Karen is somewhat solar powered and the thought of the difficulties that months of darkness would cause her were pretty significant, but after a few moments of imagining the long winter night, the conversation turned to what the spring would be like. Each day getting a little longer, heading to the perpetual daylight of summer. We talked about how the summer would be amazing, but that it just wouldn't be the same as the building relief heading towards the days of the midnight sun.
That's what WYD has been like for me. Each day has been filled with blessings and experiences that in and of themselves are awesome. The cathedral carved into the salt mines, being blessed by relics of St. JPII, celebrating together with the other Canadians with relics of 5 Saints, including JPII, Sr. Faustina, and Maximilian Kolbe, a prayer service with 18000 Americans lead musically by Steve Angrisano, Sarah Hart, John Angotti, and Tony Melendez, adoration and an amazing talk by Bishop Robert Barron, seeing the blood stained cassock JPII was wearing when he was shot, praying before the original image of Divine Mercy and receiving reconciliation, welcoming Pope Francis to Kraków, the beautiful artistic meditations at the stations of the cross, praying before the relics of Pier Giorgio Frassati and receiving a relic from the Dominicans… and that list doesn't include Days in the Diocese!
As amazing as all these experiences have been, they have been separated by experiences of great difficulty. On Tuesday we spent hours trying to find food after the opening ceremonies. On Wednesday we were pressed, pushed, shoved, and overheated by throngs of pilgrims, and had to deal with the jarring mentality of ‘me first’ that seems inevitable of an uncontrolled mob trying to push their way to the front of a ‘line’ (I use that term very loosely) only moments after an hour and a half of peaceful meditation and reconciliation. On Thursday we waited for hours in the rain for the vigil, and of course today, during the vigil we've been hiding from the sun however we can along with 1,000,000+ others while we wait for the Pope.
Please don't get me wrong, these aren't complaints (and you WYD veterans, I know you have stories of what I'm sure were even more trials in other years). As difficult as much of this trip has been, especially for a not - really youth who likes solitude a lot more than crowds, the challenges and suffering have only increased the blessings. Having received mercy, I immediately had the chance to practice it in the mob at the Divine Mercy Sanctuary. The hour of peace and tranquility with the relics of Pier Giorgio were so much more peaceful because they were also an escape from the heat and the crowds. The waiting in the heat and rain has made the main events and national celebrations that much more exciting, kind of like how the waiting for Christmas morning is a defining part of the experience, or that first cold beer after a few days in the backcountry is the best and most refreshing one you've ever had.
So much as our discussion of how an experience of Arctic spring would be diminished without the darkness of the Arctic winter, the challenges frame, and ultimately add great meaning to the blessings. It seems especially fitting in this year of mercy to reflect on this. This year especially we are being called to be the rest at the end of the long walk, the tarp that shades the sunstroke, and the cold beer that relieves the weary traveller at the end of a hard journey.
- Ryan Fox
My second revelation on my WYD pilgrimage, as obvious as it is, given the theme, is that I came to Kraków to be healed. I don't mean any deep spiritual wounds, or hidden childhood traumas… I'm blessed enough not to have any, although I know there are many here who came to heal those deep wounds. No, I mean the little daily ones. The small sins, frustrations, and harms we give and take that build up over time. Sort of a spiritual death by 1000 cuts.
Yesterday Karen and I took part in the Pilgrimage of Mercy. We were blessed to pray before the relics of St. JPII, then we walked from his church to the sanctuary of the divine mercy, praying the chaplet along with 15 meditations on mercy. We finished by entering through the doors of mercy, praying before the original Divine Mercy image, then participating along with thousands of others in the sacrament of reconciliation.
In the evening we got to listen to Bishop Robert Barron speak about why the cross was needed to Christ to break through the heavy weight of sin and heal the world. He taught us that the hard work of forgiveness is to face our sins, attack them head on, and let Christ defeat them. Never have I experienced this more than at confession in the fields of reconciliation in front of St. Faustina's sanctuary. A wonderful priest heard my confession then spoke some of the most profound, but simple words I've ever heard. He told me that everything I confessed, he also confessed, and maybe even more seriously. He went on to pray my penance with me before absolution.
Never have I experienced a confession like it, but his actions lived out Bishop Barron's words so perfectly. We are broken people, but broken people possess the divine power, through the cross, to heal broken people. We only need the courage to share our brokenness and enter into mercy with one another.
Right now the world needs mercy so badly. We are dying a death by 1000 cuts. Today I listened to Archbishop Mafi of Tonga refer to the harm global warming is doing to the people his small nation. Two days ago we heard the tragic news of the murder of Fr. Jacques Hamel. Mass shootings are so common in the US we barely register all of them. Terrorism around the world continues. Young people are more disenfranchised than ever. The list goes on. It's hard not to despair. However, the truth Fr. Barron referred to gives us the power to do something, because as Jesus was broken on the cross to heal us, we are broken people who can heal broken people.
In his Hardcore History series, Dan Carlin refers to a time when the Roman Empire faced a nearly existential threat because soldiers who were converting to Christianity were refusing to fight. They believed so much in peace that they simply couldn't take up violence even against their enemies, and the army was falling apart because of only a handful of courageous and merciful peacemakers. There are over 1,000,000,000 Catholics in the world today, and countless more people of good will across the faiths and world views. As Pope Francis said today, change is possible. If a few hundred soldiers laying down their arms can shake one of the great empires, what can hundreds of thousands of merciful, broken, peacemakers do in our world today?
I'll finish with this thought. When Pope Francis car was stopped in a crowd and many were approaching, there was great fear of an attack, but he had the courage to be not afraid, to see into the crowd, and reach out to touch and bless a child among them (thank you Bishop Barron for the anecdote).
St. JPII, pray for us to have courage. St. Faustina pray for us to be people of mercy.
- Ryan Fox
I'm here at my first WYD, and up until about 3 days ago I couldn't have told you why. The best I can say about deciding to come to Kraków is that I was watching the closing Mass in Brazil and I kind of felt like I should go to Poland. When someone would ask why I was going (I don't even qualify as youth!) I couldn't really give an intelligent answer.
I think it's times like these, when we follow the whispers of our hearts, that we enter into a space for revelation. It just so happens that the revelation on Taber of the transfigured Christ was the theme of our Days in the Diocese that we spent in the city of Jaslo, in the diocese of Rzeszow (not by any planning on my part, it just all for together).
Now, before we left I had a little bit of a plan to lose a few pounds on this trip, thinking light meals, lots of walking, etc. It turns out our amazing host family, and the people of Jaslo had a different plan for us. Everyone we met greeted us with incredibly warm hospitality, almost always in the form of a meal. We feasted on their hospitality for the entire meal.
We all know the special feeling that comes along with being treated by someone else, but when the hospitality goes to the extent we received it, the feeling starts to change. Shy of them coming to visit us in Canada, and having a nonstop party for them that would rival the wedding at Cana or the celebration the father threw for the prodigal son, there is simply no way for us to repay our host family for their warm welcome and generosity. It's literally impossible to adequately do for them what they did for us. At the same time, it was their expression of kindness to us, and we learned very quickly that trying to reject it, or even just temper its extravagance, was an insult and a rejection to them.
It was their kindness that brought me to my first revelation, at my first WYD. This is exactly the mystery of God's mercy and love. I am fully incapable of adequately returning it, but still called to fully accept it, in all its human impossibility. Not only that, but I'm also called to pay on forward, and do my best, as imperfect as it is to share the same love and mercy with the world and people around me.
So, in the first of what are hopefully a few revelations of what I came to WYD for I came to be fed. Literally by the world class food (as a sign of Poland's world class hospitality), and spirituality by God's mercy, the joy of the pilgrims, the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and the abundant prayers of St. JPII, Sr. Faustina, Bl. Pier Giorgio, and the multitude of others in this city of saints.
- Ryan Fox
I’ve considered myself a pilgrim since I was 19. Why? Because in 2002 I went on my first pilgrimage to Toronto for WYD.
World Youth Day is a massive gathering of young people who desperately are searching for God and come to encounter him and celebrate with the Pope. My life has forever been changed because of these gatherings, and countless others have been as well.
I have followed that first trip by preparing for and going on mission or a pilgrimage of some sort for the last 14 years:
2002 - WYD in Toronto
2005 - WYD in Cologne, Germany
2006 - Mission in Peru
2008 - WYD in Sydney, Australia
2011 - WYD in Madrid, Spain
2013- WYD in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil / Mission in Maceio, Brazil
Brothers and sisters, we are pilgrims every day of our lives if we admit our brokenness and need for a healer. The question is simple. Can I be real, honest, and vulnerable to those I trust to seek help, forgiveness, healing and consolation? Will I simply allow God permission to work in my confusion, hurt, pain, and indifference?
Recently, the answer is I haven’t. It is just that simple. But, now upon reflection, I see God has taught me at least fourteen lessons for these 14 years:
I do not need to be away to be a pilgrim, as much as my heart yearns to be. A pilgrim is on a holy journey, seeking answers to questions they often don’t even know to ask. A pilgrim is someone who through challenges is cracked open to grace to nourish one's soul. A pilgrim is someone not at their destination, but intentionally drawing closer day by day.
What lesson is God teaching you on your journey this day?
- Colm Leyne