Nothing could have prepared us for the sights of Campus Misericordiae, the quarry on the outskirts of Kraków where 2 million young people gathered for the culmination of the World Youth Day festivities, an all night vigil and party, and Holy Mass with Pope Francis the following morning.
The vast migration of young pilgrims from their different abodes was more reminiscent of a music festival: think Glastonbury x10! Pilgrims carrying their sleeping bags, pilgrims bags and food bags along the roads to the campus conjured up images more of people fleeing homes than people coming to pray and celebrate their faith.
Our own pilgrims included in that, as we swapped our ‘comfortable’ school gym floor for the open air grass, leaving our abode at a bright and early 6am. The atmosphere, like the temperatures soared as the day wore on, where once was rough green grass transformed into a sea of sleeping mats, tarpaulin and WYD ponchos being staked as tents, to provide shade from the sun. Ours was a prime corner location in Section A, where we could watch the huge numbers continue to gather throughout the day, while also providing the necessary frame to construct a canopy to shield us from the baking sun.
Pope Francis arrived in the Pope mobile not far from our section to begin the prayer vigil, which began with testimonies of young people who fought the good fight in their lives; the most moving was a young woman from Syria describing her work in an school not knowing if the pupils would be alive to come to school the next day. Pope Francis, in a beautiful and challenging homily, told the young people about the paralysis of the couch, become trapped by comfort and we as young pilgrims are to swap the couch for shoes, or even better runners for the Lord. In an hour of Adoration we prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy before Pope Francis gave Benediction to the sound of 2million voice singing “Tantum Ergo”.
Praise and worship music filled the night sky, as the concert continued until 11pm, and people set up their sleeping bags for the night. The music didn’t stop as tunes from different countries and cultures enlivened the different sections, with conversation and laughter continuing all night.
We were awoken with the booming voice of the presenter “Goooooood Morning Pilgrims” and it really was a good morning! We had reached the highlight of all our World Youth Day preparations that began months ago, the celebration of Mass with millions of other young Catholics and Pope Francis. In a beautifully celebrated Mass, enriched by the music of the World Youth Day Choir, Pope Francis told us, young pilgrims to ‘“download” the best “link” of all, that of a heart which sees and transmits goodness without growing weary. The joy that you have freely received from God, freely give away”‘.
At the end of Mass, Pope Francis announced to very eager listeners that the next WYD will be held in Panama in 2019 to great applause from us. And then for the final time, the WYD anthem was played. Emotionally we sang along, ready to make its message live in our hearts as we return home “Błogosławieni Miłosierni…Blessed are the Merciful for they shall receive mercy”.
(Fr Kevin Heery)