Thanks for the Dreams!
Thank you, Young People of Krakow!
I’m home after nearly three weeks in India and Poland, physically tired but emotionally and spiritually exhilarated.
World Youth Days – – and these were my seventh – – do that to me. You don’t hear or see too much about them in the media – – except when the Pope trips while incensing the altar – – but these days are news indeed: over a million young people, from every continent, last week in Krakow, who accepted the invitation of Pope Francis to come together in faith, prayer, joy, study, the sacraments, and mutual encouragement.
The cobbled streets of Krakow were packed with them, singing, embracing, laughing. There they were, walking miles to the sites of the events; standing in line as hundreds of priests in every language heard confessions; on their knees in Eucharistic adoration; listening attentively to other young people witness to their faith; and, of course, straining to see the Holy Father.
There they were, always on the move, – – unless they collapsed for awhile in the shade – – making new friends, or reuniting with ones from past World Youth Days.
For three mornings, I had the privilege of leading a four hour catechetical session at different locales – – one of them about an hour outside of Krakow. There I met youth from all over the world as we sang, heard testimonies, celebrated the sacrament of penance, pondered the lesson selected by Pope Francis from the Bible for the given day, and prayed at Mass.
We had almost 200 young people from the archdiocese, led by our director of Youth Ministry Ela Milewska, and accompanied by generous adult leaders and priests – – Fathers Joe Espaillat, George Sears, Adaly Rosado, Freddy Washington, Jim Cruz, Benjamin Palacios, James Ferreira, Dominican Fathers, – – and two bishops – – Peter Byrne and yours truly! I was so proud of them, our Sisters of Life, Franciscans Sisters of the Renewal, and other religious women and men.
When Pope Saint John Paul II – – whom Pope Francis has named patron of World Youth Days – – began the event, many scoffed. “Hasn’t he gotten the memo?” they asked. “Young people are turned off by religion! They find it repressive, stale and useless . . . These so–called ‘Youth Days’ are doomed!”
Saint John Paul ignored the doom and took the dare. He had been accompanying young people since he was a young parish priest as Saint Florian’s in Krakow, (by the way, a highlight for me was to spend an evening with these “youth” of Father Wojtyla, whom they still lovingly call “uncle”, now all in their mid-seventies), and saw their souls, not the press releases. He knew they were intrigued by God, Jesus, truth, meaning, and purpose.
Young people of Krakow: it was a lot of work, walking, waiting, sweating, and time! Take it from this “old man”: it was all worth it, because you are worth it! Thanks for the memories! Thanks for the dreams!