Most nights we all participated in prayer, but some additional reflections shared on two nights in particular had the most impact on me. The first was when Mr. Conrad relayed the news of the Catholic priest in France who had just become a martyr during an attack in his own church. We had all had a joyful and busy day, and upon hearing this news, the bus became completely silent. I’m sure we all felt saddened and frustrated at yet another tragic and senseless act of violence, but we also had to consider that our current situation of being among several million people gathered into a small space, each wearing crosses on our backs. While numerous Poland police and military were in plain sight at all times, including helicopters constantly flying overhead in circles, I think this is when we first felt the true weight of being a Pilgrim in these uncertain times. Later, while in Prague, we heard the bells of St. Mary ring out in the priest’s honor at the time of his funeral, and even saw the Infant of Prague dressed in red for the mass for the martyr.
As for those “crosses on our backs”, I did mean that somewhat literally. All of the millions of attendees received a World Youth Day backpack with their registration. They were bright red, blue or yellow, and included a matching poncho, bracelet, towel and headband. A portion of the WYD logo of a cross overlaid on an outline of Poland was emblazoned on the backback, making us Pilgrims very obvious. Krakow was covered in these colors and the logo was everywhere. Each building, church, historic site, and meeting place was given its own icon using the design theme for the event. Krakow and the surrounding villages all had banners and flags all in keeping with the design theme. Regardless of the language you spoke, the familiar colors and graphic designs let you know you were at the right place and were welcome. I was very impressed by the incredible job done with the overall branding and graphic design. You could teach an entire graduate-level marketing class using the work produced for this event.
During another one of our bus rides home, Mr. Prykosz offered a reflection using a message from the Pope on the great talent behind this design effort. One of the artists selected to work on the graphic design was a 22-year old, Polish volunteer named Maciej Szymon Ciesla. The Pope had told a story about how this young man was unsure about working on this event because he had distanced himself from the church as a young adult. However, as he began research into the various places that would be a part of World Youth Day, their history, and the people involved, he found the work gave him a new appreciation for the Church and helped him regain his faith. He even quit his job so he could spend more time volunteering. Unfortunately, he was later diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, fought the battle hard with the support of his fellow volunteers, and ultimately lost his life just a couple of weeks just before WYD. He was to have travelled with Pope Francis aboard a city tram along with a group of disabled youngsters and their families, but did not survive to see that day.
After telling this story, the Pope grinned and said, "Some of you might be thinking, this pope has ruined the evening! But we must become accustomed that we experience good and evil. Such is life, my dear young people. But we cannot doubt one thing. The faith of this boy, our friend, who devotedly worked for the World Youth Day, led him to heaven, and now he is with Jesus and looks at us. It is a great mercy. Let us applaud our friend.”
“One day we will also meet him,” Pope Francis added. “And we will say, ‘It is you. Nice to meet you.’” He said Ciesla was an example of courage and urged the pilgrims not to be afraid. Before closing with a prayer, the pope urged the crowd to “make yourself heard during the night, that is, show your Christian joy, the joy of community who follows Jesus.”
I thought this was a great story to tell as I hoped that our young people (and fellow adults), might also find a new spark for their faith as part of this journey. I think it is normal for children to question their faith and belief as they become young adults, and hopefully in attending WYD, we were all able to find a new appreciation for our Church and a new purpose for our lives.
- Sally Duffy