Father Martin Bennett Ofm Cap emailed us his last blog from Poland and it’s all about saying goodbye and taking a lot more than memories home:
4am came quickly this morning for our pilgrims heading home via Poznan. For the rest of us it’s a day of tending to sore limbs and blisters. I’ve a pedometer on my phone that must think I’m trying to trick it: 130 kilometers walked in six days!
It’s very difficult to find words to adequately describe what it’s like to experience something like the WYD Vigil. It’s like nothing else on earth.
Even the images of up to 3 million people gathered for the final Mass doesn’t come close to bringing to life the experience. The music, pageantry, commerardary, friendship, joy and hope can’t be felt from watching it on news reports.
At the Vigil, the Dublin Diocese pilgrims camped down next to a group of 900 volunteers and disabled people from the L’ Arche community. Watching how the volunteers cared for those in need was mercy in action. All week the Pope has called us to embody the Mercy of God; this was authentically lived right in front of us by the members of L’ Arche.
At one point during adoration with Pope Francis, Campus Misericordiae was a blaze with over 2 million candles. The silence was palpable, the experience ineffable and the simplicity was both moving and powerful.
I asked one pilgrim if she was enjoying the experience, her first response was silence… ‘I just don’t know what to say’, she told me. Another said ‘I expected it to be like Electric Picnic or something; but this is unreal’. Songs were sung and stories shared late into the night.
A spectacular sunrise at 5.30am invited the pilgrims to a new day accompanied by what seemed like the world’s biggest alarm call! As the sun, and temperature rose, haunting sounds of a Spanish guitar echoed throughout the campus. The day of the final Mass had arrived.
The heat was intense throughout the day and the first aid tents began to quickly fill up as dehydration and fatigue took its toll. The Pope was on message: ‘Go home from here, infected with couage; courage about your faith in Jesus Christ. Go home and be contagious in your faith.’
One young pilgrim reflecting on this said that ‘I now know I can go home and talk about my faith with confidence’. Asked about her highlights Aishwarya, from Beaumont Parish, said that the highlight for her was that ‘everyone was so kind and loving. There was so much unity’. So true.
Gerard Gallagher, Director of the Dublin Diocesan pilgrimage said that ‘every pilgrim here is a gold medal winner. Their stamina, endurance and commitment is akin to competing in any major sporting event. They are all champions. The London Olympics told us to inspire a genertion; these are the generation and they are truly inspirational. The key is to bring these qualities home; to their houses, parishes, colleges, friends and families. I’ve full confidence that the pilgrims will return home changed following their experiences’.
World Youth Day leaves a unique stamp on the pilgrims that attend. Some, like most of the Diocesan Team, come back again and again. However, as the Pope reminded all pilgrims yesterday: World Youth Day doesn’t end now…tomorrow is the beginning of World Youth Day. World Youth Day is less of an event and more of a framework for change. It’s experiential and that experince leads to transformation.
We pray in thanksgiving for all who have supported us by their prayers and good wishes. We pray for all pilgrims as they return home and we pray that good work begun in them may be brought to completion by the Grace of the Holy Spirit.