Throwback Thursday!!! See 5 Young & Catholic Nigerians who journeyed for the 31st World Youth Day last year share their experiences on their pilgrimage to Poland, the land of mercy. The World Youth Day (WYD) is a worldwide encounter with the Pope which is typically celebrated every three years in a different country. The most recent WYD was celebrated in Krakow, Poland from July 26th to 31st, 2016 and the next World Youth Day will be held in Panama City, Panama from January 22nd to 27th, 2019.
WYD is open to all young people who want to take part in a festive encounter with their contemporaries centered on Jesus Christ. This event is an opportunity to experience in first person the universality of the Church; to share with the whole world the hope of many young people who want to commit themselves to Christ and others.
What was your motivation for going for World Youth Day and how did you hear about it?
Ebitimi: Going for the World Youth Day was something that was very new to me. Being part of a group of friends called ‘Young and Catholic Nigeria’, it was something we heard about late in 2015 and thought it would be nice to go for. In addition, I had heard it was instituted by my favourite Saint, St. John Paul II, so I was intrigued by it as it was odd to hear of young Catholics coming together…as the website describes, “World Youth Day is an international meeting of youth from all over the world who gather together in one place with their catechists, priests, bishops, and the pope in order to profess their faith in Jesus Christ.” I was indeed very curious to see what it was like.
In a small group of 5, we went with open minds as we really didn’t know what to expect. While our flight was landing into Krakow, Poland, my excitement started to build at the thought that this was the land that John Paul grew up, loved and was formed to become a saint. A few days before the trip, I had bought a book called ‘With Saint John Paul the Great in Poland, a pilgrim’s companion’ and realised that this trip was going to be very unique as it was a spiritual journey to increase my closeness to God through sacrifice and lots of reflection.
What were your first impressions when arriving Poland?
Ifeanyi: My first thought was ‘Mehn, Catholics are plenty!’ From Amsterdam we started to identify other pilgrims in the airport. And finally at our departure gate for Kraków, Poland, we saw them all. Teenagers, young adults, priests. We even learned that the blessings from the church transcends language barriers from a French Priest. Unable to communicate, just revealing religious articles in our hands for His blessing got Him into action. Hmm, I wonder what a confession would be like if the Priest and confessor speak different languages .
Poland is so beautiful . From the air it was such a sight to behold. The grass plains, the forests, the green! We landed in St. John Paul II Airport, which seemed to be a sort of military airfield with all the choppers and planes in standby positions. Unlike the often brash and intimidating effect security in Nigeria offer, a great calm welcomed us. The airport had a Catholic takeover. Pilgrims from so many nations. Smiles all over. Religious all over. Volunteers engaging with everyone.
At the registration centre, we met people from all over. A reverend sister from Bolivia, a group from Miami, a group from Australia and New Zealand, another Nigerian group. It is actually amazing how happy everyone is and cheerful. Lots of chants and singing. Oh yes, how could we forget the Portuguese group. They reminded us all of being European champions.
Then, we attended our first ever Polish mass. Alleluia and Amen where the two words we knew. Very interesting observances. At consecration, 3 different bells were used, each giving a different tone when struck by the hammer. Very cool. There were lots of old people. And very friendly.
And the Church… Well, the pictures will speak for themselves. Nigerian Churches have a looooong way to go in its use of imagery to explain the Love of God to its people. This Church, the Parish of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Krakow Prokocim, is so beautiful.
What were the events of the WYD like?
Day 1: Divine Mercy
Nnenna: Every WYD has had a theme and this year was, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” The main events lasted a week and every day was a different spiritual experience. The photos below provide a glimpse of what was a deeply spiritual first day as words cannot capture the atmosphere, the joy and the spiritual depth of being in Krakow for the World Youth Day pilgrimage.
We headed to the St John Paul II Sanctuary to begin our pilgrimage of mercy. Excited to see several Bishops in front of the Sanctuary, we approached one, who happen to be the Bishop of Rotterdam in Holland, Johannes H.J. van den Hende. He gave us a brief narrative of the contents of the Sanctuary, how it begins with the attack of John Paul II and ends with the vestment he was wearing at the time of the attack. The Sanctuary is a journey of the history of God’s Mercy to us Humans. From the parting of the red sea to the freeing of Paul and Silas (setting captives free).
Many times I have heard the words Divine Mercy and it’s accompanying phrase, “Jesus I trust in you”. During the WYD I was able to view the life of a person who had lived this phrase and what a privilege it was! St. Faustina kept a diary, which I recommend everyone reads, about the many visits Jesus made to her and how He presented himself as the “King of Divine Mercy”.
As we walked to the Divine Mercy Sanctuary we started to realise just how huge this pilgrimage was in terms of sheer numbers. People from all over the world, flying the flags of their countries, stopped to ask where we are from and shared a gift or two with us. At the Sanctuary we sat in silence using the guide provided in our prayer book to examine our conscience. Up until that moment, I did not know I had a duty to love my country (or countries as the case maybe) which was one of the points in the book. The reflections were deep and great preparation for the next step, confession.
Above is the field of reconciliation – it was basically a huge field with priests offering confessions in different languages. The key pointers I got from my session with the Priest are:
1) Sin is not a physical breaking of a rule(s), it is the breaking of hearts – our hearts, our neighbours’ hearts, God’s heart.
2) When we feel reluctant to pray, we should offer up the act of prayer to God and say I will do it anyway.
The day ended with Holy Mass at Błonia park to welcome the youth of the world to Krakow, Poland. This was the moment when the international nature of the event was stressed with about 1 million people. It was a truly special mass, as it had been cloudy all day, but during the consecration, the sun came out to shine! The mass was presided by the diocesan bishop – Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, the long-time personal secretary of St. John Paul II. We prayed for the gifts of the Holy Spirit and good fruits for our pilgrimage. At the end of mass, it was truly a joy to dance with the sisters, priests and many others in happiness of receiving the Jesus in body and blood.
What was it like to see Pope Francis?
Isioma: Seeing “Papa Francesco” was nothing short of magical! The joy I experienced at seeing this person who is an emblem of holiness and love, made me feel holy in a sense. The feeling is truly indescribable but one thing that stuck out to me was that if I had this much joy in my heart on meeting a human being, I truly cannot wait to meet Jesus in heaven. You know in Luke 2:21, where Simeon said to the Lord after he saw baby Jesus, “now master, you may let your servant go in peace for my eyes have seen your salvation”, well this is the feeling I got, not because Pope Francis is Jesus or anything like that, but I had truly seen the mercy of God and his plans for his people made manifest in the entire experience of WYD.
What was most difficult during the pilgrimage?
Blondie: Most difficult had to be the looooong 6 hour pilgrimage walk to and from Campus Misericordia. As lagosians who are not used to walking anywhere, the entire pilgrimage was a struggle. The physical demands on the body were really tough but as usual, God will turn any negative or tasking situation into a positive and at random times when we felt we couldn’t go on, we would find strength in each other and burst out in songs.
What is your advice for young Christians seeking God?
- Blondie: Ask God to increase your faith and to show himself to you in ways you can understand and see…he truly answers prayers. Also take your journey one day at a time and know that God knows and likes where you are, but he also wants to bring you to a better place and he can only do that if you are open and you let him.
We hope you can join us for the next world youth day which is in 2019 in Panama!! Click here for more details.