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