I am extremely grateful to God for such a faith-filled, joyful pilgrimage experience with three million people from all over the world.
Turbulent heat waves, rain, thunderstorms, and the sweat of three million people.
Who knew what I was getting myself into as soon as I spontaneously booked my flight to Kraków, Poland.
Being a pilgrim at World Youth Day meant undergoing intense degrees of austerity, starvation, exhaustion, and discomfort. Three million people from all over the world came out to Kraków during that week. Imagine yourself strolling down streets, train stations, and venues through the waves of sweaty pilgrims while maintaining your physical contact with your pilgrimage group. Most of the food venues were generally packed, meaning one would line up for at least thirty minutes to place an order for some fast food sandwich.
This meant people would be on an empty stomach for the most part throughout the day.
Food was limited. Transportation system was infrequent. Time was limited.
But the entire time, wherever you go, you would be greeted by so many joyful youths on the streets chanting Catholic songs (in their own languages) and skipping joyfully while getting through to their destinations.
The most powerful experience was camping overnight on a large, muddy grass field together with three million people before the Sunday morning Mass.
In midst of the discomfort, I wondered: what is keeping these Catholic youths here in the first place?
It was so amazing to witness the mountains of faith across the large field—the only reason everyone was still there was to praise and reverence God with our own lives.
Now, doesn’t this sound like what Heaven would be like?
Saints and angels constantly praise and reverence God joyfully for all eternity.
The entire pilgrimage experience is a good reminder of our own earthly pilgrimage time in our everyday lives. There will be struggles and difficulties. But as St. Ignatius of Loyola once said in the first principle and foundation in the Spiritual Exercises:
“The goal of our life is to live
with God forever.
God who loves us, gave us life.”
“We should not fix our desires on health or sickness,
wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or short one.
For everything has the potential of calling forth in us
a deeper response to our life in God.
Our only desire and our one choice
should be this:
I want and I choose what better
leads to the deepening of God’s life in me.”
Two separate excerpts from the First Principle and Foundation from St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises
Until that day when we are all united with the Heavenly Father, each of us are all on this journey together to strive towards God— regardless of where we were born and what language we speak. We are all on this earthly pilgrimage together.
Now in 2017, I would still reminisce about my time from World Youth Day, to remind myself that God has worked marvelously in so many ways in the past, and is still constantly working in all of our lives throughout our earthly pilgrimage.
Written by Joseph Leung