Our group visited several cities as part of our pilgrimage prior to beginning WYD; tracing through the history of Poland and the footsteps of St. John Paul II, we visited Częstochowa and Auschwitz before visiting the hometown of JPII, Wadowice, and spending a day in Zakopane on the Tatra Mountains. Reflecting back on the events of each day, I find the common thread of the resilience and strength of the Polish people in the face of conflict and persecution, but also their commitment to their faith and defending it.
Hiking through the Tatra Mountains was a particularly remarkable day. We walked on a trail for approximately 12 kilometres up towards Morskie Oko. St. John Paul II used to take students up these very mountains and celebrate Mass surrounded by the vastness of nature, and we did the same. Despite the day being rainy and it being a bit chilly, there was a certain beauty in praising the Lord while standing in the brilliance of His creation. The clear lake, the mist surrounding the mountain tops – me being a city girl, this was a poignant encounter with nature, and how it all points to the majesty of God.
Certainly, in the spirit of World Youth Day, some of the greatest experiences on my journey so far have been meeting people all over the world. When we were celebrating Mass in the mountains, a couple of WYD volunteers from Colombia and Mexico stopped by on their walk around the lake and joined us. It was a mark of the universality of the Church that, despite linguistic and cultural differences, we were able to recognize brothers and sisters in Christ and join in worship together. What a taste of the week to come!
We are now staying at a school in Kaszów, 30 minutes out of the city. Despite just arriving late in the night, we were warmly welcomed with dinner, complete with chauffeuring services by volunteers and the fire department. The immersion into Polish culture has been an exhilarating experience thus far, and I cannot wait for the start of World Youth Day – I just know it will be overflowing with grace. God bless!