Called to Krakow

| Josephine von Dohlen | July 21, 2016 | 0 Comments
Young people from Brazil, left, pass on the World Youth Day cross to youths from Poland, right, at the conclusion of Pope Francis’ celebration of Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican April 13, 2014. The next international Catholic youth gathering will be July 25-31 in Krakow, Poland. CNS/Paul Haring

Young people from Brazil, left, pass on the World Youth Day cross to youths from Poland, right, at the conclusion of Pope Francis’ celebration of Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican April 13, 2014. The next international Catholic youth gathering will be July 25-31 in Krakow, Poland. CNS/Paul Haring

Local Catholics joining Pope Francis at World Youth Day

An estimated 2 million youth will gather in Krakow, Poland, July 25-31 for the 14th International World Youth Day with Pope Francis. Among them will be 49 pilgrims on a trip organized by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Dozens of other local Catholics traveling alone or with parish-organized groups are also making the 4,750-mile journey.

“As a young person, I was drawn to World Youth Day because it is really exciting to be surrounded by so many young people on fire for their faith, and to encounter Christ in that,” said Megan Healy, an 18-year-old parishioner of St. Anne in Hamel, who plans to attend World Youth Day for the first time.

That encounter will take place in what World Youth Day organizers are calling “the land of mercy.” There, in the 1930s, Polish nun and mystic St. Faustina Kowalska had a vision of Jesus as Divine Mercy, a devotion promoted by the Polish St. John Paul II. Pope Francis has linked World Youth Day to the Jubilee Year of Mercy underway, with Matthew 5:7 as the World Youth Day theme: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”

Inspiring youth

Founded by St. John Paul II in 1986, World Youth Day is an international event for young people ages 16-30 held every two or three years. It features prayer, confession, catechetical sessions and Mass, including a prayer vigil and final Mass with the pope. An estimated 3.7 million people attended World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Bishop Andrew Cozzens plans to attend World Youth Day 2016 with the archdiocesan group as their spiritual advisor. This will be his fourth World Youth Day, with his first being the 1993 event in Denver.

Bishop Cozzens believes it’s important for young people to attend the international event.

“Firstly, it allows the young to experience that the Church is universal, and this unites the Church from around the world. It is beautiful to experience that on our own,” he said. “Secondly, it is important to encounter Jesus as a young person because through that you discover his plan for your life.”

Archbishop Bernard Hebda will also attend the event in Poland and lead a prayer service hosted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for English-speaking pilgrims July 28. The 45-minute service will take place at Holy Trinity Dominican Church in Krakow, before the relics of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, a patron of young adults.

Grace Zangel, a 19-year-old parishioner of Our Lady of Grace in Edina, went to World Youth Day 2013.

“It was very inspiring to meet a variety of different people my own age that worshiped in the same way,” she said. “Going to an event and meeting people who lived in different countries, I felt a connection because we worshiped the same God and believed the same things.”

Justin Stroh, the director of faith formation at Divine Mercy in Faribault and leader of the archdiocesan pilgrimage, agreed that World Youth Day can be extremely influential upon the young people who attend. The 49-year-old has attended seven previous World Youth Days.

“I think Pope Benedict XVI said it well when he said that the Church is young, it is alive,” Stroh said. “The Lord himself approached the young, [such as] his apostle, John. The Blessed Virgin Mary was herself a teenager when the Lord descended upon her, and she is the image of the Church.”

Returning to its founder’s roots

This year’s event marks the second time the event has been held in its founder’s homeland; the fourth World Youth Day gathering was held in 1991 in Czestochowa, Poland.

“Poland is the land of the crucified people of both world wars, but their death is tied to a triumph because today it is the most Catholic nation,” Stroh said.

According to the U.S. State Department, more than 96 percent of Polish citizens identify as Roman Catholic.

Bishop Cozzens is looking forward to visiting Poland because of its connection to St. John Paul II.

“My first World Youth Day was with John Paul II and he had such a profound influence on my life, and now I am going to his home” he said.

Poland is also home to St. Maximilian Kolbe’s cell at the Auschwitz concentration camp, as well as the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa at the Jasna Gora Monastery in Czestochowa. Both sites are on the archdiocesan pilgrimage itinerary.

John Sondag, a parishioner of St. Helena in Minneapolis, is leading a group of 85 pilgrims with Bishop Paul Sirba of Duluth.

“Within Poland, there is a society that was devastated because of World War II, and yet saints like John Paul II, Faustina and Maximilian Kolbe were able to rise up,” Sondag said. “Beneath an awful natural history, there was a remarkable supernatural history.”

Like Stroh, Sondag hopes the event will impact the youth who attend and society as a whole.

“Seeing this culture that produced great saints can bring great hope to our culture, which can be considered hopeless,” he said.

Pilgrimage, not vacation

Before the official World Youth Day begins, pilgrims have the opportunity to participate in Days in the Diocese, days of mission work where groups collaborate with a parish in Poland. The archdiocesan group will be placed at a parish in the Polish capital of Warsaw, 180 miles northeast of Krakow.

“I am looking forward to meeting people that live there and immersing into the Polish culture, but most of all looking at parish life in another country,” Healy said.

Despite the intriguing cultural destination, Stroh emphasized the sacrificial aspect of the journey.

“It is a pilgrimage, a journey of faith; it is not a trip,” he said. “There are elements of a vacation, but it is not one. We go to encounter God, who, in turn, encounters us.”

The week will include catechetical classes with other English speakers, as well as a 9-mile walk to a vigil and final Mass with Pope Francis.

This pilgrimage, however, comes with a large sticker price. Each pilgrim will pay $3,725 to attend the 10-day trip, July 19-Aug. 4.

“They know that this is going to be the journey of a lifetime. They are willing to make real sacrifices because it is worth it,” Stroh said.

Not all preparations are financial. Healy is reading “City of Saints: A Pilgrimage to John Paul II’s Krakow” by the pope’s biographer, George Weigel (Image Books, 2015). Then Karol Wojtyla, St. John Paul II attended university in Krakow, was ordained a priest in 1946 for the Archdiocese of Krakow, and served as its auxiliary bishop and, later, as its archbishop.

“I really like learning how so many people from Poland who were in John Paul II’s life helped him grow in his faith,” Healy said.

Our group has arrived in Warsaw!


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Category: Featured, Travel and Pilgrimages