Pilgrims seek to encounter Christ, each other and Pope
Madera pilgrims to World Youth Day hike Friday to the shrine of Czestochowa, Poland. Today they will visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps. (Courtesy of Br. Stephen Spencer, OSJ)
Ten young Maderans will visit Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps in Poland today. They and an estimated 2 million other Catholics of 187 nations are making their way to the triennial World Youth Day.
The spiritual yet festive encounter of Catholic youths with each other and the Pope will be in the southern Polish city of Krakow from Monday through July 31. But Madera’s pilgrims arrived Monday in eastern Europe. Their journey has already taken them to the Royal Castle, Old Town and Willanow Palace of Warsaw, the birthplace of composer Frederic Chopin in Zelazowa Wola, and more.
But they’re on pilgrimage, not vacation. Their lodgings are in the homes of Polish families, not hotels, and their daily stops include places of prayer and reflection. After visiting concentration camps during the day today, they will attend Mass and an “Agape feast” concert in Sosnowiec tonight.
“I know I’m going to get an anxiety attack once I’m on the plane and stuff. But right now it’s a little bit of everything,” said 18-year-old Jessica Reyes before they left Madera. “I feel happy. I feel a little unworthy ‘cause I see this pilgrimage as we’re all called to be here (on this trip). Yeah, (there’s) a little bit of nervousness (and) a little bit of the Holy Spirit calling me.”
“Honestly there’s a lot of nervousness that comes with it,” said Theresa Uribe before her departure. “It’s my first time leaving the country. I barely turned 18. So … the fact that there’s this huge unknown in front of me is just kind of getting to me. But I’m aware that it’s a huge blessing and not a lot of people get to go to this. So, at the same time, I’m really grateful for being able to go. And I hope that I get a lot out of it.”
“I don’t feel like I chose to go. I was called to go. I never thought I’d be going but here I am,” said Armando Gutierrez, who has some knowledge of the Polish language. “I don’t think I’m considered (a) youth anymore … But anyway I feel a strong desire to go because just the fact that it’s the Year of Mercy and so many people who have been a great influence in my life came from Poland (such as) our past Pope (John Paul II), St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Faustina (Kowalska), St. Stanislaus. ... I really don’t want to come back the same.”
Gutierrez and those with him are each leaders or recent former leaders of five youth groups at St. Joachim Church in Madera. Two young adults from each group were nominated and spent a year preparing for the pilgrimage, both by praying and raising funds. Others from St. Joachim Church, students of San Joaquin Memorial High School, organized a trip of their own to World Youth Day as well.
The Madera pilgrims look forward to meeting the global pastor of their church, Pope Francis, and having opportunities to grow in their faith as Christians.
“The reason I’m going? For me it’s spiritual growth,” said Reyes. “But not only that. I want to go hear the message that the pope has for us and come back and show it to my youth group, show it to my parish. I want to go and come back a different person. I want to be a different example to people, a better example of our Catholic faith, of being a Christian Catholic. I want to represent when I get back.”
Uribe agreed. “Pope Francis in particular has been showing … that we need to be joyful and spread the word of God not through words so much as by actions,” she said. “And we need to be more humble and caring to those around us and act as Christian as possible in that way.”
Sunday will be Family Day for them at their host parish in Poland and a Tibi Dabo concert, games, entertainment, prayer, singing and testimonies are planned. Monday will begin with Mass and a small breakfast and then, around midday, the pilgrims will leave at last for Krakow and the official opening of World Youth Day.
For information on World Youth Day, visit www.worldyouthday.com.