A group of Palestinian Catholics and a contingent of Hebrew-speaking Catholics from Israel found themselves in the same sector at the Field of Mercy for the closing programs of World Youth Day.
The two groups talked for a short time after arriving on the open fields the afternoon of July 30, members of both delegations said. The time together was cordial and offered a chance to meet people of the same faith living in neighboring communities who might not meet under ordinary circumstances.
"We can't really meet each other in our country," said Danielle Maman, 22, of Jerusalem, one of the Israeli Catholics. "We can't talk face-to-face because there are walls and checkpoints."
"We're all Christians. We always try for peace," said Asil Zarek, 17, of Beer Sheva, Israel.
Pilgrims in both groups said they were not sure how to overcome the political barriers that exist across the two communities, but they thought their faith could be a bridge.
"We should all, as Palestinians and Christians, be one together," said Michael Abusada, 26, a Palestinian living in Jerusalem. "All of us can bring home peace, love and the mercy of Jesus."
The theme of mercy ran throughout the six days of World Youth Day. Many participants, some of whom arrived as early as 10 a.m. for the evening vigil, reflected on their experiences in Poland, the new friends they made and the messages of mercy the emanated throughout liturgies and catechetical sessions of the festivities.
French-speaking pilgrims from Quebec said that on their trek from Krakow, more than four miles away, they thought about the people they met and how similar they all were.
"It's all about meeting people," said Benjamin LeCroix, a member of Assumption Parish in Saint-Georges, Quebec. "We all chose to be here. It's not like a school trip where some people don't want to be part of it. Everyone here wants to be a part of this great heaven."
Seeing so many people sharing the Catholic faith impressed Andria Saenz, 20, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Laredo, Texas. She said being at World Youth Day also was about being on a pilgrimage to better understand her faith and the people of the world.
"I've never been out of Laredo, and I wanted to see what people were talking about," she told Catholic News Service. "Poland is not the first place I thought of seeing. But the people and land are beautiful. I have a different perspective."
It also was the first significant journey for Jacqueline Ndecky, 32, of Guinea-Bissau, and the 14 others in her group. She said seeing so many people focused on the life of Christ was gratifying.
"The message is there is no limit to Jesus," she said. "He is the same to people in Asia, Africa, everywhere."
A small group from the Diocese of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, was resting while waiting for the Pope to arrive. Efrain Torres, one of 38 in the contingent, had been at previous World Youth Day celebrations, but never as a leader of a group, like this year. He said he was eager to hear what Pope Francis had to say.
"This is the presence and experience of the living Christ," he said. "We' re waiting for the vicar of Christ, who invites us to go out to the marginalized. We want to know what God wants to tell us through our vicar and take it home in our hearts to share."
Sister Catherine Holum, 36, an American Franciscan Sister of the Renewal ministering in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, England, was smiling as she talked with four other sisters from her order and three pilgrims from the archdiocese.
Sister Catherine described the week as a joy to experience. She also had been involved as an emcee at a catechetical session earlier in the week, keeping 150 young people engaged in the conversation through prayer, song and enthusiasm.
"This is where you meet the word, share the Lord, have a great encounter and make new friends. It's a very beautiful thing," she said.
"It's not about ourselves, but what we do with our brothers and sisters. We're a tool of our brother Jesus. Having heard about the mercy of God this week, we are called to be merciful ourselves. It's a beautiful thing."