We are making our return journey to England at the moment. My mobile phone network has stopped working which means we have been unable to post anything for the last few days. All this means that I have plenty of opportunity (and few excuses) to write a few words. I'm sure Chloe and Stephen will fill you in on what happened so I'll offer a little reflection on the experience.
It has been an honour and a joy to accompany the group of pilgrims. Over the course of the two weeks the priest chaplains have listened to their experiences, helped them to understand the life that the Lord is calling them to live, discerning vocations, hearing confessions and celebrating the liturgy. Our young people are earnest in their love for the Lord, and have a deep desire to serve Him even though culture, peer pressure, relativism, and so many other things prevent that relationship growing. Jesus's call is always stronger and we give thanks to God for seeing those signs in their lives.
One line from the Gospel that has been in my thoughts these last few days is, 'For the Lord has done great things for me'. Bringing almost 2 million young people from every corner of the world together in prayer around the Holy Father is truly a great thing. There is more to this greatness. This line from the Magnificat, Mary's hymn of joy, proclaims the mercy of God who has truly done great things in her life. In that proclamation she reveals the greatness that the Lord can do in our lives once we open ourselves to receive and accept His mercy and allow that mercy to be a transformative power.
During the days of mission, the main events of World Youth Day and the countless encounters with pilgrims has made me reflect on the 'great things' the Lord has done for me. It has been a real privilege to accompany our group of pilgrims and beautifully renewed and strengthened my own priestly vocation. World Youth Day is a great thing for priests. Our ministry also lets us see the 'great things' the Lord is doing in our young people. He really has done great things as they have encountered His mercy in a powerful way over these days.
The Holy Father commented that World Youth Day was not the end of an encounter but the beginning of something great. Pray for our young people that as they go back to their homes, studies, communities, this experience of the 'great things' the Lord has done, and will do, for them will grow always stronger in their lives. Pray that all of us who took part in this pilgrimage together with those who have taken part from the comfort of their homes will be come the 'protagonists' of a new world.
See you all when we're home! Thanks for journeying with us!
After a gruelling 34 hour coach journey from Salford Cathedral, we eventually arrived at our hotel in Kraków around 7pm on Monday evening. Our first night consisted of getting into our groups and going out to find some food. We then decided that it was best to get an early night so we where ready to start our pilgrimage the next day.
Day 1 - The Sanctuary of Divine Mercy
Our first full day in Kraków involved an early start - breakfast and then out by 8am. We took a tram down to the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy. Here we visited the Be Not Afraid! Centre of Saint John Paul the Great. (above). We all entered through the door of mercy to this stunning Cathedral filled throughout with beautiful mosaics. On display within for World Youth Day was the cassock that Pope John Paul II (below) wore when he got shot in Saint Peter's Square on the 13th May 1981.
Following this we tried to see the tomb of Saint Faustina but the queue at 10:00am was already over 2 hours long and the temperature was in the late twenties so we decided to head over to the Shrine of Divine Mercy. (below) Here we spent some time in silent individual prayer in front of the famous painting of the Divine Mercy.
Lunch followed before all hopped on a very crowded tram over to Blonia Park for the afternoon. As with any movement within World Youth Day the journey was an opportunity to converse with our fellow pilgrims. French, Germans, Chinese, Indians, Americans, Italians, Dutch and Slovakians were just a few of the nationalities we encountered and brightened up our journey.
The opening mass of World Youth Day was celebrated by Cardinal Dziwisz. During the Cardinals opening speech he started by reminding us that the clock of St Mary's Basilica in the heart of Kraków had been counting down every second for this moment for the last 3 years, from when Pope Francis told us the next World Youth Day was going to be held in Kraków. He said this time had been used for us to register our thoughts and feelings in our hearts and spiritually prepare us to meet other young disciples of Jesus. He then welcomed us all to World Youth Day 2016 and especially to the city of Kraków the home of the Divine Mercy, telling us to go out and experience the mystery and gift of it. Cardinal gave a special shout out to the Australians saying that they had travelled for 24 hours on a plane to be here with us at mass, this made our group chuckle as we would quite happily have taken the 24 hour journey!!
Cardinal opened mass with the following statement:
"Brothers and sisters, let us open our hearts to receive the word of God and the gift of the Eucharist. May the crucified and risen Lord, the saviour of the world, stand among us. Let us commend to Him all our thoughts and feelings, hopes and expectations regarding the festival of faith of the young church that is beginning.
But because we are aware of our sins and our disloyalty to the ideals of the Gospel, let us apologise to God so that we could jointly celebrate the Most Holy Sacrifice of this Mass with pure hearts."
In his homily Cardinal Dziwisz posed and helped us look for the answers to 3 questions: Where do we come from? Where are we today? Finally where are we going to and what are we going to take with us? Summed up we are gathered here from all over the world because Christ has gathered us here. He will be asking us to love like he asked Simon Peter. Afterwards we will return to our homes, families, schools, universities and to our places of employment where we must share our faith our experiences and our hope. We must carry the good news about Jesus Christ to the world.
Over 500,000 young Catholics from all over the world were present at mass. With this many people in the congregation there really was a special feeling and it was the perfect way to open our World Youth Day celebrations. The atmosphere and hope of the young people was summed up perfectly after communion when we sang Jesus Christ You Are My Life- which produced an incredible response. World Youth Day has begun!
We're on the bus heading towards Wadowice, the birth place of St John Paul II, and then to Auschwitz later this afternoon. It is a long journey so I have a little time to offer a little reflection about yesterday.
Sunday was the culmination of our time in Łomianki and it ended in celebration! First was the celebration of Mass, the first Mass to be celebrated in a brand new church that has been 20 years in the making! After lunch the whole group, along with our host families, visited the gardens that were made to be blessed by Bishop William. Finally, there was a parish barbecue that lasted long into the night. That may be the reason why the coach has been blissfully quiet this morning!
One thing that struck me about the day was the profound love for the priesthood the people have. Fr Chris, who was ordained a week ago, presided at Mass and offered his first blessing to the parishioners. There was such joy, even to tears, at the grace of another priest. The people had a profound gratitude to a priest they barely knew because of his 'yes' to the invitation to the priesthood.
In the evening, the young people who had been looking after our group, preformed a dance depicting the life of Christ. At the Last Supper scene, they explained that this was the moment Jesus instituted the priesthood and the Eucharist. Later on, the person playing Jesus stood behind the priest guiding his hands as he baptised people into the life of Christ.
In the priesthood, through the hands of the priest the saving work of Jesus continues in the Church. The people here really understood that as they kissed Fr Chris's hands after receiving his first blessing.
Both the Mass and the dance left me feeling a little emotional. Recalling my own call and sharing the priesthood of Jesus. It is a high and noble calling, one that none of us are worthy of. But in our brokenness and unworthiness we are, nonetheless, called and used by the Lord to be His hands in the world.
Please pray for the priests on the pilgrimage, Archbishop Bernard, Bishop William, Fr Jan, Fr Allen MSC, Fr Chris and myself. We will be part of some 20,000 priests serving the few million young people. Pray for us all and all priests! Thank God for each 'yes' to the priesthood! Pray for the young men on our pilgrimage, I'm convinced there are few vocations to the priesthood among us. Pray that they'll be courageous in offering their 'yes' to Jesus.
After 7:30am mass this morning at St John the Evangelist Cathedral in Salford. I eventually started my journey to Kraków. Above you can see a picture of the official logo for World Youth Day next to a picture of myself and Clare Stewart my sister as we boarded the coach.
Both of us are very excited and looking forward to the journey ahead.
As our coach approached the port of Dover we passed several land marks like the Castle (above) and the White Cliffs (below).
The ferry has been spotted and no sign of the dreaded queues that had been mentioned over the last few days. God is good and has been looking after us.
As part of my final post in England before our ferry crossing I ask you to join us in prayer over the next week by saying the World Youth Day prayer below.
During our first few days on pilgrimage we have been working in a couple of mission groups. Our group has been making a rosary garden in an old people's home. Here is the the completed garden.
Below is a picture of Michael or resident artist signing his completed masterpiece.
Bishop Kenny came to visit and see all the hardwork we had been doing. Tomorrow he will visit again and we will have a blessing of the rosary garden.
In other news there was some experimenting with Fr Michael's camera while he was elsewhere.
Today we have celebrated Mass in Warsaw with 5000 other pilgrims from all over the world. An amazing show of the catholic youth from all over the world. There was singing and dancing throughout and it was fantastic to see our very own Fr Michael, Fr Chris and Fr Jan up on the altar.
As Stephen and Chloe have already posted twice, I thought I had better take a turn!
We're somewhere in the middle of Germany at the moment about another 10 hours away from our final destination in Poland. It's quiet on the coach, a few people chatting, a few people drifting in and out of sleep. It seems a good time to let you know how we're getting on.
Once we got on our coaches yesterday it was a race down to Dover to the parish of Our Lady of Dover to officially begin out pilgrimage with Holy Mass.
It has been three years since Pope Francis announced World Youth Day (WYD) in Kraków. Two years since the planning group began working on the diocesan pilgrimage. A year since the young people started meeting together each month for prayer and catechesis. After all of that preparation it is great to finally begin.
Our starting point was around the altar for Mass. It is on the altar that we encounter Jesus in the Eucharist, truly present with us. This is the image of our pilgrimage. We begin with Jesus. Jesus is our constant companion on the journey. It is Jesus who we will have a renewed encounter with through the mission projects and the World Youth Day events.
The first reading from Micah had the line in 'let us see wonders'. It is a great prayer for us and all WYD pilgrims. A prayer to marvel at the great things the Lord will do in each of. A prayer to marvel at the wonder of such a gathering of young people of faith. A prayer to marvel at the wonder of the witness we will give to the world and to go out from WYD and share that joy.
Our pilgrimage has begun!
Chloe and Fr Michael begin their journey to Poland
Fr Michael and Fr Chris knew exactly how to handle the 30 hour coach journey and started to dish out the supplies to there fellow pilgrims. As approaching Dover Chloe let me know that the mood on the coach was still upbeat with excitement and that Fr Michael had arrange with the priest at Our Lady of Dover to say mass for the Birmingham group before heading to board the Ferry.
Below you can see a picture from the mass courtesy of BCYS Facebook account.
The Birmingham diocese are due to arrive at there first stop for World Youth Day this evening. They will spend the first week in a diocese outside of Kraków helping out with families and getting to know some of the local culture.
From Cathsoc + to Kraków -