A Merciful Pilgrimage

A World Youth Day Reflection by: Vania Dienzo


For the last few years, I’ve been trying to plan my vacation time with either a mission trip or a pilgrimage. 2016 was a pilgrimage year and I had the opportunity to attend World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, Poland. I’ve wanted to attend this large Church event since Sydney 2008 and I was blessed to be able to go! As excited as I’ve been since signing up to attend with the Archdiocese of Washington back in 2014, July 2016 came around and I didn’t feel spiritually prepared for the pilgrimage. Sure, I knew it’s currently the Jubilee Year of Mercy and frequented confession, but I haven’t reflected more on Christ’s mercy, on what the pilgrimage would mean for me or prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet enough. Realizing this, the week before leaving for the trip, I prayed that God be with me, protect me and open my heart to whatever he wants of me at World Youth Day.

This year’s theme was “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7). God’s mercy truly was present throughout the week and it spread throughout the hearts of attendees and residents of Krakow. I’ll share a few of the numerous examples of how I encountered mercy and learned what it is to be merciful.

St. Mary’s Basilica in Market Square

My group was blessed to have one of our Auxiliary Bishops of our Archdiocese, Bishop Martin Holley, travel with us. If we didn’t have a WYD event Mass, he celebrated Mass for us at a church or in the hotel. I wasn’t able to go to confession before leaving for the trip in the midst of wrapping up things at work, traffic and packing for the trip, therefore I refrained from receiving communion. After Sunday Mass with the entire group, I asked Bishop Holley if he had the time before tomorrow’s Mass together to hear my confession because I didn’t want to wait any longer to receive the Eucharist. At the time, our group was at a lounge in Krakow’s Market Square relaxing before our dinner reservations. When I asked, he happily agreed to do it right then on the side of the lounge. I didn’t expect him to do that right away because we were relaxing and he could have easily scheduled a later time. After he heard my confession, I felt God forgive me in His mercy and remind me that I’m in Krakow for a reason. The grace I received from that encounter changed my exhaustion from the long walking tour day to joy. I’m still grateful Bishop Holley was willing to share that encounter with me because it helped me throughout the rest of the week in preparation for more.

On Wednesday, official World Youth Day events had begun the evening before and everything became more overwhelming . We were at Tauron Arena known as the Mercy Centre for the week for the English Catechesis and gatherings for English speaking countries. There were thousands of people in the arena for Mass and talks, then more movement of thousands of people during the breakout sessions throughout the arena. For the second session, my friend and I wanted to attend the “Biology of the Theology of the Body” talk but by the time we got down to the conference room, it reached max capacity and it was closed off to more participants. God had different plans for us for that next hour and a half.

This gave us the opportunity to go into their large Adoration Chapel, pray in front of Christ and listen to a talk by a Sister from the same congregation of Saint Faustina-The Congregation of Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. I found this moment to be so profound and beautiful.The room was full of hundreds of people but everyone was in quiet in prayer, most sitting and kneeling on the ground. This time allowed me to pray for the intentions of my family and friends they requested before leaving on this pilgrimage. The talk on Divine Mercy reminded us to practice being merciful in deed, word and prayer and we must strive to live mercifully even in tough times. We must trust in Christ and know that mercy is the response of God to evil in the world. God was so good to let me spend that time right there when I had other plans that morning. For not thinking my heart was prepared enough for this pilgrimage, I had the time to open my heart here. He knew what I needed. Jezu, Ufam tobie. Jesus, I trust in You.

Adoration Chapel in the Mercy Centre in Tauron Arena

This pilgrimage was most definitely a journey. We drove to local cities by in the comfort of a coach bus such as Wadowice to see Saint Pope John Paul II’s hometown, Oświęcim to see walk through Auschwitz-Birkenau and Częstochowa to see the image of Our Lady of Częstochowa. Yet, in Krakow, we walked several miles everyday to get to our destinations and couldn’t always rely on trams and buses running. Honestly, I did not expect to walk as much as I did. I totaled approximately 70 miles by the end of the pilgrimage and averaged about 20,000 steps per day, way beyond my normal totals. I made the mistake of not bringing the best shoes to walk in with proper arch support. My feet were in pain every day. Everytime we walked to our section in Blonia Park, I rushed to pull out my parachute blanket and have a seat. The most challenging day walking was Friday afternoon to get to Campus Misericordiae, a meadow/field area 8 miles from City center and 6 miles from Tauron Arena where our group started. We walked in 81 degrees fahrenheit with a few breaks and drank large amounts of water to stay hydrated. There were also a million other pilgrims on their way there. Our group prayed a rosary, offered our suffering for those in purgatory and prayed for those we saw on the side who were getting medical attention. Finally, after 4.5 hours, we made it to our section in Campus Misericordiae. We later found out that we were supposed to receive the food packages on the way , so when some of our leaders checked, they already ran out. Thankfully we received free WYD lunches somewhere else. We had a few hours to rest and eat before Pope Francis would arrive to the campus lead us in Adoration.

The sun began to set and Pope Francis was with us. He said this to the pilgrims:

“My friends, Jesus is the Lord of risk, of the eternal “more”. Jesus is not the Lord of comfort, security and ease. Following Jesus demands a good dose of courage, a readiness to trade in the sofa for a pair of walking shoes and to set out on new and uncharted paths. To blaze trails that open up new horizons capable of spreading joy, the joy that is born of God’s love and wells up in your hearts with every act of mercy. To take the path of the “craziness” of our God, who teaches us to encounter him in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the friend in trouble, the prisoner, the refugee and the migrant, and our neighbours who feel abandoned. To take the path of our God, who encourages us to be politicians, thinkers, social activists. The God who asks us to devise an economy inspired by solidarity. In all the settings in which you find yourselves, God’s love invites you bring the Good News, making of your own lives a gift to him and to others.”

He summed up our reason for attending WYD. We are called to go out into the world, to be that gift of Christ’s mercy and love to others! This challenged me to reflect on what I can do beyond my comfort zone of youth ministry and catechesis and stop being the lazy person I am. As Christ was exposed in the Blessed Sacrament and everyone – more than a million pilgrims- lit candles, I forgot how much my feet ached and how exhausted I was. I looked around me and was astonished at the beauty of all the people present here for Jesus in our Catholic faith, to keep watch for the closing Mass the next morning.

Campus Misericordiae lit with candles

All the walking and sweat was well worth the pilgrimage. I hope to attend another year, God willing! The beauty of the universal and Catholic Church was apparent throughout the week in the streets and parks filled with pilgrims from all over the world, carrying their flags, exchanging hugs and high fives chanting country names and cheering for God and Pope Francis in multiple languages. Witnessing this, I am so hopeful for our Church that is constantly attacked and accused of not being merciful and compassionate. Our Church is full of young people who want to be the salt of the earth and light of the world. It strengthened my commitment as a Women Youth Apostle to “do the work of Your Kingdom here on earth” and to “proclaim Your truth and Your sacrificial love.” With the intercession of our Blessed Mother, the Mother of Mercy, and all the Polish Saints we were venerated in Poland, I pray I can be more of a merciful person back home, in my parish, community, work and wherever I go.

Closing Mass at Campus Misericordiae

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