Tyburn student: Faith, friendship shared at World Youth Day

August 23, 2016

World Youth Day, which was started by St. Pope John Paul II in 1985, is a six-day pilgrimage and celebration created to bring the youth of the world (Catholic or not) together in prayer with the pope to help strengthen and prepare them to spread Christ’s message to the world. I first heard about World Youth Day from my older sister, who went to the one held in Madrid, Spain in the year 2011. After hearing her stories and seeing how much it had changed her life, I then decided to attend World Youth Day when I was old enough. This year in Krakow, Poland, my dream was fulfilled.

Apart from my sister’s stories, I really had no idea of what to expect. Being in Poland, a country that has recently experienced some of the most extreme evils and hardships in history, I was amazed because instead of turning away from God, the people of Poland turned to Him in their suffering and they never lost their faith in him. When times grow hard we tend to blame it on God, but these people, who experienced unthinkable suffering, never lost their faith. That inspired me to deepen my faith and to never turn away from Him, especially in difficult times.

One of the things that I wasn’t prepared for was the large number of people who came together, but no one felt like a stranger. Everyone was there for the same reason, and we were all united in the same mission. It was the most joyous week a young person could experience. Everywhere I went, people were chanting and singing about God and their country, and the streets of Krakow never emptied, even through the late hours of the night.

One hardship that all of the pilgrims faced, due to the number of people in the city, was that there was absolutely no way to have public transportation running for everyone. We were left to walk to the events, which ended up being about 15 miles of walking per day, but everyone was so joyful and united in their suffering that we found there was no reason to complain.

One of my favorite memories was in the evening, my friends and I were in a restaurant having dinner and the table next to us was occupied by a group of six friendly, loud French pilgrims. Halfway through our dinner, both of our groups started talking, and we quickly invited them to sit and eat with us. They happily pulled up chairs and joined us, making our dinner stretch on for two more hours, all filled with laughter, jokes and the sharing of our faith with each other.

It was an experience that is common during World Youth Day because no one is held back by barriers of race, ethnicity or age, which allowed us to talk and make friends with people from as close as California to as far as Australia. Being in a city that is crammed with 2.5 million pilgrims, including Pope Francis, is something I will never forget. I was also impressed when Pope Francis called on the 2.5 million youth there to change the world with him, and everyone shouted “yes!” in their own language. Then, as the Pope had Adoration of the Eucharist with us, the massive field, filled with millions of people, was so silent that we could’ve heard a pin drop as we all prayed together.

Many memories that were made on this trip, and now that I am home, I will never stop growing and striving to be a better person. World Youth Day has made me much stronger in my faith, and I am humbled that God chose me to experience something so profound. I challenge our youth to plan on attending the next World Youth Day in Panama City in 2019. I guarantee a wonderful experience.