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!