Along the way, we visited some amazing Basilicas and Cathedrals, shared beautiful Masses and reflective time as the group ventured through Venice, Padua, Milan, Sienna, Assisi and Rome on the way to Krakow.
Each of these experiences had its own specialness, whether it was in the beauty of the setting for Mass, the quality of the singing and reflection times, the making and sharing of new friendships and the opportunity to be part of the incredible experience that is World Youth Day.
There were so many highlights for me and to highlight a few does not do justice to the whole experience. However witnessing approximately 1.6 million people participating in a candlelight Vigil with Pope Francis during the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in total and reverent silence would be hard to beat.
The sight of this same number of young (and vintaged) people rising the next morning from their overnight vigil was also something to experience. With the colours of red, blue and yellow ponchos and sleeping bags dominating the horizon it was evident that the Sunday Mass with Pope Francis was going to be special, as it turned out to be.
Throughout WYD the catechesis program that our pilgrims attended featured some very impressive talks by Cardinals and Archbishops with ample opportunity for a Q&A session afterwards. In one of the English speaking areas that the Australians dominated, we were privileged to hear from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Soane Patita Paini Mafi from Tonga and our own Archbishop Christopher Prowse, from the Canberra-Goulburn diocese.
I found these sessions so fulfilling with challenging and relevant questions being put by the speakers in attendance. I was delighted to witness, during Archbishop Prowse’s presentation, the attentiveness and participation of the students from our diocese.
Similarly each of the homilies and addresses given by Pope Francis were challenging and so full of hope and mercy. Our young people and the Church as a whole are so privileged to have him as our spiritual leader at this time in a world crying out for mercy.
WYD has presented it problems, particularly the access to and the departure from the two main venues but despite the heat, the thirst and the crush of massive crowds, there was a wonderful sense that “We are all in this together” and the spontaneity of the interactions was something to behold.
My lasting reflections focus on the people of Poland, who took us into their hearts in ways that can only be imagined. There was great joy in their outreach to the pilgrims. My great fear was that some terrible act of terrorism might eventuate at this WYD but the outstanding security provided by the Polish police, military and emergency service groups was simply outstanding. To be in some of the huge human crushes that took place but with an overwhelming sense of safety, was a tribute to these fine men and women who engaged with the pilgrims with the same sense of joy that pervaded the gatherings.
Whilst I am firmly planted in that category of “vintage”, allocated to us by our tour director in Italy, Salvatore, I have truly found the WYD Krakow to be a wonderful spiritual experience, one to be remembered for years to come.
I particularly want to thank Brian and Sue Lacey who developed and led the concept of the Intergenerational Pilgrimage, the members of the Leadership Team, Bishop Bill who was with his pilgrims virtually everyday from the start to the finish, our Chaplain Fr Greg Barker, and priests, Frs Peter, and Camillus and Deacon James, the young adults and students who made the trip so enjoyable, the many school and CSO staff members whose contribution to the pilgrimage was outstanding and my fellow “vintage” members who, I am sure, gained as much as I did from WYD Krakow.