August 5, 2016

Pilgrims experience ‘spirit of peace and joy’ during World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland

Young adults from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis pose for a group photo during World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland. Sixty-four young adults from central and southern Indiana made the 11-day pilgrimage to celebrate and deepen their Catholic faith with Pope Francis and more than 1.6 million young Catholics from around the world. (Submitted photo)

Young adults from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis pose for a group photo during World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland. Sixty-four young adults from central and southern Indiana made the 11-day pilgrimage to celebrate and deepen their Catholic faith with Pope Francis and more than 1.6 million young Catholics from around the world. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

Following the closing Mass of World Youth Day in Poland with Pope Francis on July 31, some young people from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis walked more than eight miles—in the rain—to get back to their buses.

When they arrived at the airport in Prague to begin their return flight to Indianapolis, 35 young adults from the archdiocese learned that their connecting flight to Paris had been canceled and rescheduled for a day later because of a strike by employees of Air France airlines.

Yet despite such setbacks and struggles, the enduring memories of World Youth Day for the 104 youths and 64 young adults from the archdiocese are marked by the “spirit of peace and joy” that prevailed during the seven days at the end of July—when more than 1.6 million young people from around the world came together to celebrate and deepen their Catholic faith.

“A lot of things could happen when you get together a group of more than 1.6 million people—chaos, tension, violence, protests, clashes,” said Father Eric Augenstein, the director of vocations for the archdiocese and a leader of the archdiocesan pilgrimage to World Youth Day in Krakow. “But this gathering was marked by a spirit of joy and peace that can only be because it had the Gospel of Jesus Christ at its center.”

Father Augenstein was among six priests from the archdiocese who concelebrated the closing Mass with Pope Francis. The others were Fathers Dustin Boehm, John Hollowell, Jonathan Meyer, Martin Rodriguez, and Dominican Father Raymond-Marie Bryce.

“The first line of Pope Francis’ homily struck me the most,” Father Augenstein recalled. “He said that we have all come to Krakow to encounter Jesus Christ. We might be tempted to think that we were there to encounter the Holy Father, or the many saints of Krakow—like St. John Paul II and St. Faustina —or the young people gathered from all over the world. But those encounters were only significant and lasting if they led us to encounter Jesus Christ.

“And it seems that many of us did have profound encounters with Jesus Christ during our days in Krakow. There was a heavy emphasis on the sacraments and on mercy, and the joy of the multitude gathered from all the nations wasn’t just a party or a concert or a meeting place. The Holy Father and the events of World Youth Day really helped direct our focus to Jesus and the Church.”

‘A poignant reminder of what heaven is’

The closing Mass was “a poignant reminder of what heaven is,” according to Father Hollowell, who led 26 youths from Annunciation Parish in Brazil and St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle to World Youth Day.

Father Hollowell recalled some of the defining experiences for the group in the last 24 hours of World Youth Day—“walking in for five miles as the crowds continue to grow, spending a night in the field in a vigil of adoration and song, and then waking up and having Mass with Pope Francis—with people and flags as far as you can see in every direction.

“It was a poignant reminder of what heaven is—people from every tribe and language gathered around the altar of the Lamb,” Father Hollowell noted. “Now my prayer is that all of our attendees accept Christ’s call, and the Church’s call, to be a saint.”

The experiences of the closing weekend had a lasting impact on the young pilgrims from the archdiocese.

“It was amazing to see that kind of crowd—that many people around my age together. And still, during prayer and Mass, they all were so reverent,” said Matt Del Busto, a 19-year-old student at Butler University in Indianapolis. “It was clear that they took their faith seriously.”

Catherine Fleszewski will always remember the feeling she had during eucharistic adoration at the Saturday night vigil.

“Seeing the universal Church kneeling before the Lord was really profound,” said Fleszewski, 24, a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. “I loved the multi-lingual Divine Mercy Chaplet, just knowing that the Lord’s mercy is universal, and for everyone and open to everyone. All we have to do is be humble enough to accept it. Once we choose joy and trust in the Lord, his mercy is just going to flow into our hearts in a beautiful way.”

‘An imprint on our hearts’

Scott Williams also recalled the beauty of that scene, even with all the hardships of walking for eight hours to arrive at the field where everyone converged for the Saturday night vigil and the Sunday morning Mass with Pope Francis.

“It was a beautiful reminder that in life there will be some suffering along the way, but we are all in it together,” said Williams, coordinator of youth ministry for the archdiocese.

“That Saturday evening, we knelt in silent adoration with young people covering each horizon. The magnitude of the gathering was awe-inspiring. It was not only the number of young people; it was clear to see that the magnitude of God came alive as volunteers passed out candles to each pilgrim. The light of our young Church shined bright for miles.”

Sunday’s Mass was just as powerful.

“Mass with our Holy Father left an imprint on our hearts,” Williams said. “As our group gathered around small radio transmitters to hear the interpretation of the homily, we were inspired by our Holy Father’s words of encouragement to be advocates for change in our culture. We were sent off with a mission—to integrate hope into our home parishes.”

Katie Sahm recalled another “beautiful moment” from earlier in the week when Father Augenstein led a small group of young adults from the archdiocese on a walking tour of the life of St. John Paul II.

“We visited the house that he and his father lived in when they moved to Krakow,” said Sahm, associate director of the archdiocese’s Office of Young Adult and College Campus Ministry. “These were very formative years for St. John Paul since he was a young adult at the time and discovering his priesthood. It was also a time when he lost his dad.

“After we went into the house, we gathered in the front garden area and decided to pray a Divine Mercy Chaplet and offer it for the repose of the soul of Father Eric’s father who recently passed. As a group, we have so much love for Father Eric. He has been such a gift to us that in our gratitude to him, all we could think of to do in return was to offer this prayer.”

A life-changing journey of faith

The 104 youths from the archdiocese also had a memorable moment early in the week when their pilgrimage led them to Rome, where Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin was visiting at the same time on official Vatican business. Archbishop Tobin celebrated Mass with the youths near the tomb of St. Peter in St. Peter’s Basilica.

“Having our chief shepherd with us to celebrate Mass in St. Peter’s had a profound impact on them,” said Father Meyer, who led 34 young people from All Saints Parish in Dearborn County on the pilgrimage.

He also won’t forget the example of one of the youths from All Saints as they walked miles to the open field on a day when the sun blazed, there was no shade, and temperatures rose to 90 degrees.

“We talked a lot about this being a pilgrimage and not a vacation, and how it will entail suffering and hardship,” Father Meyer recalled. “One of our youths has rheumatoid arthritis. It was so bad for her on the walk that she cried. But she wouldn’t complain, and she wouldn’t give up. She was a witness to the other youths. She was a witness to me.”

Combine such moments with the memories of the Mass with Pope Francis and the World Youth Day theme of “Blessed are the Merciful,” and the impact on the pilgrims from the archdiocese is life-changing, say two local leaders of the journey.

“We did quite a bit of reflecting on the way home,” Father Meyer said. “From their experiences and their exposure to the universal Church, they now know they’re not alone. Their faith is so much bigger than themselves, than their parish, than they ever imagined.”

Father Augenstein added, “The Polish people are proud to be Catholic—and that pride was contagious. I think many of us from the United States want to bring that Catholic pride and joy back to our own communities.” †

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