This weekend marks the culmination of World Youth Day celebrations, with the great finale of the vigil at Campus Misericordiae, as is the traditional custom for closing WYD.
Situated 10 miles out of the centre of Krakow, millions of pilgrims, including Westminster’s group of 220, set out on Saturday morning to make their pilgrimage to the vigil site. Despite the heat and crowds, there was something immensely touching about seeing young people walking together, and pilgrims remained excitable, cheering and singing with other groups and always keen to make new friends.
Once finally arriving at the vigil site, the group claimed their territory and made camp. Quickly friends were made in the groups surrounding us. It has become tradition at WYDs for groups to bring with them some item that can be swapped with others, this year Westminster brought personalised wristbands, but perhaps the most prized swaps were koala bears from the Australians and dragonflies from the Vietnamese. Joy and friendship were visible across the site that afternoon as young people were drawn together in a new and deeper way in preparation for the arrival of the Holy Father to unite together in prayer.
During the prayer vigil pilgrims heard three testimonies from young people. One testimony, from Rand, a young woman living and studying in Aleppo, struck a particular chord; it is unusual to hear the experiences of a young person living through the war in Syria.
In his reflection, Pope Francis began by considering Rand’s testimony saying, ‘For us, here, today, coming from different parts of the world, the suffering and the wars that many young people experience are no longer anonymous, something we read about in the papers. They have a name, they have a face, they have a story, they are close at hand. Today the war in Syria has caused pain and suffering for so many people, for so many young people like our good friend Rand, who has come here and asked us to pray for her beloved country.’
Pope Francis warned young people of ‘the paralysis that comes from confusing happiness with a sofa’. He explained that a sofa ‘keeps us safe from any kind of pain and fear’. ‘That is probably the most harmful and insidious form of paralysis, since little by little, without even realizing it, we start to nod off, to grow drowsy and dull.’
He concluded his reflection by challenging young people to act on their faith, on the words and actions of Jesus, ‘Today Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life, is calling you to leave your mark on history. He, who is life, is asking each of you to leave a mark that brings life to your own history and that of many others. He, who is truth, is asking you to abandon the paths of rejection, division and emptiness. Are you up to this? What answer will you give? I am curious. Will your hands and your feet answer the Lord, who is the way, the truth and the life? Are you up to this?’
Following the Holy Father’s address, as the sun began to set, the vigil site slowly began to light with the candles of pilgrims preparing to receive the light of Christ in Adoration and Benediction. Pilgrims kept vigil under the stars throughout the night, awaiting the return of Pope Francis on Sunday morning to celebrate the final Mass and announce the next host of World Youth Day.