On Friday, our pilgrimage group dispersed in different directions. A number of people went to the catechesis session and Mass. Another group visited the Divine Mercy Shrine and the St John Paul II Shrine in Lagiewniki, just out of Krakow.
I was amongst the group that visited the Shrines. The St John Paul II Shrine was built on the premises of a former soda factory where Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope, worked during WWII. There is a museum, lodge and conference centre on site but we only went inside the beautiful, light-filled church. The walls are covered in glorious mosaic tiles that form scenes from the gospels. A relic of John Paul II’s blood resides on the high altar. As you make your way around the various side chapels, you eventually come to the cassock Pope John II was wearing on 13 May 1981, during the attempted assassination, the multiple blood stains visible.
As always, there were large groups of pilgrims on the grounds playing music and singing. Some of our pilgrims joined in, dancing and clapping around the musicians in an ever-moving circle. The uniqueness of this journey struck me again, as it has so many times during WYD Week. Where else can you be just walking one minute and dancing the next with people from all around the world? Where else can you communicate so easily with people who don’t speak the same language? It’s the faith that unites people and the spontaneous displays are too many to recount.
After we visited the JPII Shrine we crossed a large meadow to the Divine Mercy Shrine which includes the Basilica as well as a 19th century convent and chapel, which is home to the most well-known painting of the Image of the Merciful Jesus (as requested by Jesus via St Faustina). This place is normally visited by 2 million pilgrims every year, although because of WYD that number will probably double this year. The Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy work at the Shrine with 100 living there.
Since St Faustina, along with St John Paul II, is patron of this WYD and the theme centres on mercy, it was really interesting to find out more about Divine Mercy and the Saints behind this devotion. While preparing for our pilgrimage, and throughout WYD, we have been singing the Divine Mercy Chaplet and listening to Pope Francis and the Cardinals and Archbishops talk to us about mercy so it was important to visit this place to give context to all that we had heard.
The Basilica is shaped like a ship, or the Ark of the Covenant, and can accommodate a congregation of 5000 people. A copy of the image of Divine Mercy is behind the altar.
I spoke to Michael and Robbie Turton about the catechesis and they filled me in on what we missed, which was a very special talk by Archbishop Christopher Prowse from Canberra-Goulburn.
“Archbishop Prowse, without being ‘over the top’, was really charismatic. He spoke about why Mary is so important; how she’s the way to Jesus. She was the first pilgrim. He used a number of analogies to describe Mary’s relationship to Jesus. He’s the sun and she’s the moon; she reflects his light to us. Another analogy was Mary as the eagle, pushing Jesus out of the nest to commence his work on earth.
“Archbishop Prowse encouraged us to be silent witnesses when we return home to everything that has happened during WYD. He said that if we let people notice the change in us through our attitude and actions, then they will come to us and ask about the change. Then we can talk about it.
“He also encouraged us to read the gospels, saying it’s our ticket to spiritual health,” said Michael and Robbie.
In the early evening the Way of the Cross took place in Blonia Park. Many of our pilgrims were there, including Amber Parker, who was able to sit only two rows from the stage and altar. These Stations of the Cross were very artistic and beautiful with a girl on stage creating a design drawn in sand that eventually revealed the face of Christ. Different groups of young people carried the World Youth Day Cross to each station, including a group of refugees from Syria. Dancing and acrobatics were also incorporated into the stations. At the 12th station those present fell silent.
The Pope addressed the evil in the world and pondered where God is when people suffer.
“We can only look to Jesus and ask him and Jesus’ answer is this: ‘God is in them’. Jesus is in them; he suffers in them and deeply identifies with each of them,” Pope Francis said.
He reminded everyone of the joy of the resurrection and what that means for us.
“The Way of the Cross alone defeats sin, evil and death, for it leads to the radiant light of Christ’s resurrection and opens horizons of a newer and fuller life,” said the Pope.
It’s been lovely to see clergy positioned in various places, at catechesis and at the Divine Mercy Shrine, hearing confessions. It’s very relaxed and non-threatening and many have taken the opportunity to receive this gift.
The trams and buses in Krakow are like Mary Poppins’ magical bag; they can always fit more pilgrims on! It doesn’t seem to matter that people are almost spilling out onto the street when the doors open, more can always get on. Although today, coming back from the Shrine, Sinead Brady was literally plastered to the glass for about 10 stops. Luckily her awesome sense of humour got her through and we laughed about it for ages afterwards. “I’m a broken woman,” she said when we finally fell out.
Why does it always rain in the afternoon? We stopped for supplies for our overnight stay at the Vigil at a shopping centre near our hotel and emerged just as the heavens opened. We were caught without our WYD ponchos and arrived back at the hotel in fits of laughter at the state we were in and our trip through the car park to the bus stop. It’s all part of the adventure!
We all miss Salvatore and Silvio. We became lazy through Italy, being ferried around and having our guides arrange everything for us. Here in Poland we have been on our own to work out bus and tram routes. Thankfully Baden, James and Robert were onto it and many of us followed them around like children because we simply didn’t have the brain capacity to work things out for ourselves (or download the app)! Personally, I am so confused with directions because everything is back to front – driving on the right side as opposed to the left has done my head in!
“Archbishop Prowse said, ‘Seven days without prayer makes one weak’. I thought this was really smart and funny. I feel like I’ve had an epiphany in the last couple of days. What the Pope said to the young people at the welcome yesterday was really special.”
OBSERVATIONS: Way of the Cross
“The best part for me was at the end of the Way of the Cross I got to go up on the stage and see what the Pope had seen. It was like seeing God in the crowd; over a million people full of love and unity as far as the eye could see.”