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World Youth Day: The Pilgrimage of a Lifetime

Kaitlyn Bross

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Millions of people, hundreds of nations, dozens of languages, all worshiping one God. This past summer, I had the opportunity to travel to Kraków, Poland, for World Youth Day. Three million young people gathered in one community to sing, struggle and pray together. This pilgrimage taught me an incredible amount about myself, and even more about our great and awesome God. From laying eyes on the Holy Father to dancing with people that don’t speak English, this was certainly the trip of a lifetime.

My fantastic journey began as soon as the airplane’s wheels lifted off the runway at Lambert–St. Louis International Airport. An approximated 24 hours of traveling quickly turned into 48 hours because we missed the first connection, but God was with us every second. Even with this little misfortune, we arrived at Kraków a day late with hopeful hearts and tired eyes.

Poland held so much beauty with three million young Catholics all living and breathing in one city. Being in the presence of this holiness can change a person. When I laid eyes on Pope Francis, I had this sudden understanding that I was loved, and that the Father was madly in love with every one of us. Pope Francis spoke to the young people with such wisdom and knowledge. He discussed how young adults always want what is easiest and most comfortable. Directly translated from Italian, he said young people today are “couch-potatoes.” He explained that humans are not meant to live comfortably. Great saints such as St. Faustina or St. Pope John Paul II are perfect examples that the greatest moments to praise God come from our deepest struggles.

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Through this pilgrimage, I experienced difficulties that helped me grow closer to Christ. For example, every pilgrim hiked to the Field of Mercy, where we to spent the night with three million other Catholics. This amazing experience brought to my attention the troubles that are unknown to most of us in our cushy, “couch-potato” lives. For instance, the World Youth Day association was running low on food to give the pilgrims. A friend and I had to beg for food to feed our group of 24 pilgrims. This was the closet experience I have had to being hungry, or trying to feed a family.

I believe that I truly discovered Jesus through the kind and loving people I encountered in Kraków. From a Puerto Rican girl giving me a bracelet as a sign of friendship to Irish teenagers inviting us into their room to lay eyes on the Pope, I felt so much love from all around the world. All of the people were wonderfully generous and participating in the exact same faith experience that I was. They shared the most enlightening stories of hope and showed great strength and joy. We heard the testimony of a Syrian girl who lost her best friends in the wa, and met a German boy who came to World Youth day by himself just for the experience. In each and every one of these beautiful beating hearts, I saw Jesus Christ at work.

If people say that Catholicism is dying in this world, I can respond without hesitation that it is alive and stronger than ever before. Three million young people gathering together under one God is not the death of something; it is the life of it. It is true that today’s society can be painfully secular, but it is our mission as Catholics to share our belief with everyone in the world. I am now well aware that this mission is possible, and I have been forever changed by my pilgrimage to World Youth Day.

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World Youth Day: The Pilgrimage of a Lifetime