I arrived in Wroclaw, Poland at the end of June 2016 from Toronto, Canada with the purpose of teaching English at the University of Economics. Upon arrival, I realized that Krakow was fairly close to Wroclaw; about a three hour ride away by bus and train. I felt incredibly blessed to be so near the WYD venue, and was fortunate to make a friend, Anna, who was also planning on attending the event.
On the weekend and days off from work, my roommates and I travel to various Polish cities and surrounding countries. Our first weekend trip was three weeks ago to the beautiful city, Krakow where thousands of Catholic youth would soon gather to celebrate their faith and catch a glimpse of the Holy Father. I was awe-struck by the city’s splendour and visible anticipation for WYD 2016. As my weekend travels went on, I came to realize that it was not just Krakow that patiently awaited the arrival of Pope Francis and WYD, but also the remainder of Poland which was shining with pride as the host country of WYD 2016.
Last weekend we travelled to Gdansk, Gdynia and Sopot, three cities in the south of Poland, bordering the Baltic Sea. On Sunday morning we awoke to a mass of people parading down the street outside our hostel proudly and loudly singing hymns in various languages, cheering, and waving their WYD and national flags.
With all the anticipation, I was excited to finally arrive in Bochnia, near Krakow with Anna on Friday July 29. At each stop nearing our final destination, there were hundreds of spirited youth, singing and waiting to pile on the train which only added to my excitement. We were warmly welcomed by Anna’s friend, Kasia and her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Dźwigaj into their home for the weekend.
The day we had been awaiting greeted us on Saturday with the sun shining brightly and scorching hot temperatures. One of the reoccurring feelings I had throughout the day was admiration for the sense of community that formed as a result of our common faith.
As my friends and I walked the 7km path from the train station to the main stage along with thousands of other pilgrims; we saw almost every house turn on their sprinklers, and offer drinking water, juice, and apples for people to cool down and stay energized. It was simply amazing to see the love, caring and kindness of everyone.
After the long trek, we were glad to sit down and enjoy the performances of various music groups prior to the Pope’s arrival. When the Pope’s presence became known, there was a noticeable shift in the crowd’s mood; the cheer, “Papa Francesco!” could be heard from all sections of the crowd, and individuals were winding their way through the masses of people to get a good view of Pope Francis on the Popemobile.
My favourite moment of the day was when everyone in the crowd held hands and prayed together for a moment with the Pope, while the sun set in the background giving a breathtaking view and serene feeling. Despite the fact that I could not understand much of the spoken language, I felt as though we were linking the world together and sealing this global community of faith.
WYD Krakow 2016 will stay in my heart forever just as my last WYD Toronto 2002 experience with Pope John Paul II has remained. I would like to say a special thank you to the Dźwigaj family for opening their home to Anna and me; for their warmth, hospitality and support in making this once in a lifetime WYD experience extra special.