Written by Ian Meaden
Well…this is going to be interesting. (Now I could be mean and just leave it at that and make you wonder ‘what’s going to be interesting’? But then I’d have to confess how mean I was...) So, here what’s interesting, I’ve been asked to be a blogger and submit a few entries to Salt and Light Television depicting my experiences at WYD. However (and here’s the rub) I’ve never actually “blogged” before. I mean, growing up I wrote in my journal. Blogging is kind of kind of like a 21st century journal but remember, you’re reading an entry from a guy who just recently found out what Snapchat is. I still get excited when I can use a hashtag in a sentence…it makes me feel hip.
In my life, I have had the privilege of attending two previous World Youth Days (Toronto, Ontario – 2002 and Cologne, Germany – 2005). I never expected or planned on attending another one, especially over ten years after my first WYD encounter. While I am not a WYD rookie, I almost feel like one, because this will be my very first WYD with…wait for it…a smartphone!
Why then, after all this time, am I attending WYD in Krakow, Poland? Good question. The answer is actually twofold. Firstly, I am able to attend as a group leader and do my part to guide new (and some veteran) pilgrims. My goal has always been to focus on the logistical aspect, so that my fellow pilgrims can focus on the experience both the good and the bad, and the emotional. To do my part to assist my co-leader, who is also a WYD rookie, on what to expect, I keep telling my fellow pilgrims that this is amazing pilgrimage, is an encounter with God, and it’s an opportunity and a blessing to deepen your faith, to truly experience the universality of our beautiful faith. It is a pilgrimage, not a vacation. There are no five-star resorts, or a beaches, or awesome golf courses, or lounging chairs with drinks with a little umbrellas in them. You’re staying in a school gymnasium, or church basement. You’re walking 15 plus kilometres to the vigil, you’re camping overnight OUTSIDE (please God, don’t let it rain!) Like I said, this is a pilgrimage, and an amazing one at that. The second reason why I am going, is because for my generation (Gen X or Gen Y, I can never tell), JP II was the only Pope I/we have ever known or had for most of our lives. I‘ve always felt a closeness with JP II. His love for the youth of the Church was a blessing, and the love the youth had for him was astonishing. I found no better way to honour JP II and deepen my Catholic faith then attending WYD in the city where he served as Priest, Bishop, Cardinal, until his elevation to the Papacy in 1978. While I am a little bit older then the top age of 35 (still in my 30’s, albeit barely), the strong desire I had to attend this particular WYD could not be ignored. I am grateful to my group for allowing me to not only join them but also lead them.
Days in the Diocese (DID) is the pre-cursor to World Youth Day. For many pilgrims, it is truly the way to experience the culture and deep history of the host nation. In fact, some would argue Days in the Diocese is the true World Youth Day experience.
For our DID (with the Archdiocese of Edmonton) we are housed in the beautiful city of Wroclaw (population: approx. 631,000), in the small St. Hedwig Parish. What a blessing this Parish has been to us, opening their homes and hearts to welcome us. Many have experienced authentic Polish cuisine, learned a few Polish word and just gathered together in common fellowship while making some long-lasting friendships in the process.
However, DID is not just about experiencing Polish culture, it is about understanding the theme of this year's WYD, "Blessed are the Merciful". This theme was the central focus of catechesis by Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Bateman. The underlying message of his talk, which should serve as a calling to all of us, is 'how has mercy been shown to me?' and 'how have I shown mercy to others?'.
Now, of course DID is not all about Mass, catechesis, prayer, or the amazing Adoration on Friday. This is all very important, but there is also the fellowship aspect of the pilgrimage - sight-seeing beautiful Wroclaw with your group. There is the historic market square with buildings dating back centuries, Cathedral Island (St. John the Baptist) housing the 'Gate of Mercy' (and the official Parish for the Archdiocese of Wroclaw), plus this beautiful historic Jesuit Parish (Holy Name of Jesus) where every nook and cranny takes on a whole new meeting. I'm not kidding when I say every inch was covered by wonderful Catholic art. There is also St. Mary Magdalene Parish with two VERY tall towers and a bridge across where people can climb up and see most of Wroclaw (beautiful view). I am proud to say that yours truly did in fact climb all 243 steps to the very top (to heck with my fear of heights!) Add to all of this excitement, we had "MercyFest". I can't tell you how awesome is was to see the Blessed Sacrament in full sight, watching everyone fall to their knees, still singing praise and worship!
I can't end this first blog post without a shout out to "Group Zero" led by Edmonton's own Jesse Baris who did Canada proud in their 'Ode to Canadiana' which included, amongst other songs, 'Call Me Maybe'!
(You can be a part of the pilgrimage experience at home through the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat by following #yegwyd).
Photos Credit: Ian Meaden