World Youth Day – Encountering Jesus

The first line of Pope Francis’ homily at the closing Mass of World Youth Day is the one that has stuck with me the most. He said that we were all in Krakow to encounter Jesus. Now, people come to World Youth Day for all different reasons. Some want to see the Pope. Some want to meet new people from all over the world. Some are drawn to the location of a particular World Youth Day – like those to came to Poland in order to walk in the footsteps of people like St. John Paul II, St. Faustina Kowalska, and St. Maximilian Kolbe. Some thrive on adventure and challenge – both of which abound when you gather over a million and a half people in one place. Some want to grow in their faith. Some want to know that they’re not alone as young Catholics. Some want to take a journey with their friends. Some don’t even know why they’re there. But all of us – whatever our initial reasons or motivations – in one way or another journeyed to Krakow to encounter Jesus Christ. That is why we were there. And for myself and the pilgrims I have journeyed with, that encounter with Jesus Christ became real and alive.

The pilgrim walk to the closing Vigil and Mass at World Youth Day 2016.

To be honest, there were parts of the journey that were rough, especially over the weekend. About an 8-mile walk each way to Campus Misericordiae, where the closing Vigil and Mass were held, in strong sun with not enough water. The dehydration that comes from a long walk in the hot sun with not enough water. A chaotic food distribution system, in which some of our pilgrims waited in line for 2 1/2 hours just for the trucks to run out of food bags right before they made it to the front of the line. The inevitable tightness and closeness of a crowd estimated at 1.6 million. A downpour on our walk back to the hotel on Sunday. An almost-lost passport. A cancelled flight. 

But it was in the midst of these challenges that we encountered Jesus Christ. I’ll always remember sitting with four of my brother priests from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, plus a Dominican serving in the Archdiocese and a priest from the Diocese of Evansville, for the closing Mass, as Pope Francis drove right by our section on his way to Mass, but with our attention focused ever on Jesus Christ. I’ll remember the extraordinary care and compassion that our Polish tour managers – Gosia and Marek – had for us throughout the week, and how excited our entire pilgrim group was when we found Marek in the middle of the entire crowd leaving the closing Mass. I’ll remember the sight of countless candles being held by pilgrims during Eucharistic Adoration as the sun set on Campus Misericordiae. I’ll remember the bishop who spent the night sleeping on the field with his diocesan pilgrims rather than stay at the bishops’ hotel. I’ll remember our Archdiocesan Mass before we set out on our walking pilgrimage on Saturday, celebrated in the crypt of the Ark Church, built under the leadership of St. John Paul II as a visible testament to the power of faith during the long, hard years of communism. I’ll remember the joy and hope of a young adult couple in our group who got engaged to be married outside that same church earlier in the week, and the joy of our pilgrim community as we see in them the gift they are to each other and the gift they will be to the world. I’ll remember the good spirits and attitude of trust in 33 of our pilgrims – including me – who are spending an extra night in Prague because of a flight cancellation; and the extraordinary perseverance and patience of our Czech Airlines ticket agent who diligently spent three hours getting all of us rebooked on flights for the following day. I’ll remember the deep, strong prayer of young adults who are longing to be a beacon of hope in a broken world. I’ll remember that in Krakow, I encountered Jesus Christ – not necessarily in a different way than at home or in my regular ministry, but in a way that will leave a mark on those who made the sacrifices of a pilgrim journey to the City of Saints in Poland. For that encounter, I am grateful beyond measure.

World Youth Day – In the Footsteps of the Saints

Krakow has been called the City of Saints. The number of canonized Saints who are from Krakow or who have lived in this city is more than perhaps any city in the world other than Rome. Yesterday, a group of about 15 of the young adults on pilgrimage with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis visited some of the most significant sites associated with these Saints – from St. John Paul II to St. Maximilian Kolbe to St. Stanislas to St. Kinga and more. Looking back on this day, it has to be one of the most enjoyable and spiritual rewarding days I can remember. There are so many things I could share, but just a few highlights …

We began the day at the place where St. Stanislas, bishop of Krakow, was martyred in the 11th century by the king for refusing to bow to the authority of unjust rulers. We prayed morning prayer while standing at the bottom of a well where the bishop was killed. Providentially, we were able to join Bishop Kevin Rhodes and the pilgrims from the Diocese of Ft. Wayne-South Bend for Mass at the church built over the site of the martyrdom. 

In the back of the Franciscan church in Krakow, there is a silver plaque on a pew denoting the place where then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla prayed each day he lived across the street from this church as Archbishop of Krakow. I think I know why he picked this particular pew – while kneeling there, you have a perfect view of an icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help at a side altar – the same icon of Mary that is present in the future pope’s home parish church in Wadowice. The pilgrims in our group all were able to kneel at that same spot and pray. And there were some powerful encounters with God in prayer.

At the Church of St. Stanislas Kostka in Debniki, we saw the parish where St. John Paul II lived as a young adult while he was attending college across the river at the Jagiellonian University. We also prayed at the tomb of Jan Tyranowski, the young man who was a spiritual mentor to the future pope and helped him discover his priestly vocation. The more I learn about Jan Tyranowski, the more I want to know about him and the more I see him as an inspiration for my own ministry and as an example for young adult Catholics seeking to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Jan Tyranowski guides a young Karol Wojtyla with the rosary.

At the end of the day, several of us visited the Basilica of St. Florian, where a young Fr. Karol Wojtyla served as a college chaplain. There, he began gathering together groups of young people for fellowship and prayer. There, some say, the idea of what would later become World Youth Day began to take shape. And now, a new generation has gathered in this City of Saints to encounter Jesus Christ in the Church, the Sacraments, the Saints, the Holy Father, and one another.

This morning, we will celebrate Mass as a large Archdiocese of Indianapolis pilgrimage group before starting our walking pilgrimage to the site of the closing Vigil and Mass for World Youth Day 2016. I don’t anticipate having good internet connection for a while – we will be sleeping outside tonight and spending a lot of time walking or driving in the coming days – but look for a post at some point about the culmination of this pilgrimage. And continue to pray for us along the way.

World Youth Day – Papal Arrival

We don’t see coronation processions much these days. But when cities like Krakow were built, the layout of the city was designed based on the fact that it was a royal city and that kings and queens would be crowned there. Most of these ancient European royal cities have what is called a Royal Way or Coronation Way – the path that a new monarch would follow in procession to his or her coronation, most often in the city’s cathedral. In Krakow, the Royal Way begins on the north end of town, at Florianska Gate, so called because of the nearby church of St. Florian, the patron of firefighters, and in more recent history, the church where a young Fr. Karol Wojtyla ministered as a college chaplain. It led to the Main Square of the city – Rynek Glowny – dominated on one corner by a huge church dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God. And the Royal Way ended at the other end of the old city of Krakow on Wawel Hill at the Cathedral built over the tomb of the patron of the city and the nation, St. Stanislas. 

These days, Krakow’s Royal Way is one of the main pedestrian thoroughfares for the many tourists who visit this city to enjoy its historic atmosphere, beautiful churches, sumptuous culture, and hearty food. The streets are lined with restaurants and cafes, souvenir shops and bars, churches and plazas. But no more royal processions. Today, however, I think I may have glimpsed some of what a coronation day  might have been like in Krakow of old. The official welcoming ceremony of Pope Francis to World Youth Day was held tonight in Blonia Park, on the outskirts of the Old Town of Krakow. While I didn’t actually go to the welcoming ceremony myself – many in our group were there, however – I did spend the afternoon and evening wandering through the Old Town, watching as hundreds of thousands of people made their way to the park to see the Pope.

And the most amazing thing to me is that these joyful, rambunctous crowds of young people were parading down Krakow’s Royal Way to see a humble servant of God. Not a king, but a minister of the gospel. Not a coronation, but a witness to love. Not a moment of national pride, but someone who can bring together all the nations. Not a hereditary ruler, but the earthly leader of those who follow the King of Kings. 

Tomorrow, the man so many came to see will lead the same crowds in meditations on redemptive suffering in the Way of the Cross. On Saturday, he will lead millions in Eucharistic Adoration. And on Sunday, he will preside at Mass, bringing Jesus Christ to the world once more in Word and Sacrament. This is the Royal Way of Krakow – of Poland – of World Youth Day 2016. The Royal Way of Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, who shows us the way to follow him.

World Youth Day – Images from Krakow

18,000 young people in an arena for Mass. A Catholic bishop from Iraq calling on the entire Church to ensure that the Middle East does not become a land without Christians. Music led by people who have become friends during my summer ministry work over the past few years. A young adult woman from Indianapois interviewing bishops onstage at the US pilgrims gathering. So many people in line for the Sacrament of Reconciliation that priests (including me) were asked to sacrifice concelebrating Mass so that we could hear confessions. Almost as many people outside the arena for a Holy Hour as were inside when the doors were shut because the building had reached capacity – the same building that hosted 18,000 earlier in the day for Mass. Throngs of people from all over the world filling the streets of Old Town Krakow chanting, singing, and waving flags. Pierogi for lunch. Pierogi, pork, and beets for dinner. Gelato for dessert. An electric atmosphere at the catechetical site when video was shown of Pope Francis landing in Poland. Our Polish guides filled with national pride as they went to see Pope Francis appear at the window of the Archbishop’s Palace where St. John Paul II used to greet pilgrims. An adoration chapel so full that people had to wait in line to get in. Running into friends from all over the United States while in Krakow. Having a conversation with another vocation director who was standing on the sidewalk as the tram I was in was stopped at a station. Meeting pilgrims from Ireland, India, Australia, Colombia, Latvia, Nigeria, England, Indonesia, Spain, and so many other places. What a day it has been!

World Youth Day – Opening Masss

It’s happened before at World Youth Day. In the hours preceeding the Opening Mass yesterday evening, it started raining. At times a slow, steady mist. At other times, a heavy downpour. But wet and enough to bring out all of the blue, red, and yellow ponchos that were distributed in the pilgrim packs. But just before Mass began in Blonia Park, the rain stopped and the sky settled. By the time the Eucharistic Prayer began, the sun was out, shining on the altar. And shortly after Mass finished, the sun went back behind the clouds, the rains came again – although fairly gentle at that point, and the night continued on. It’s happened before at World Youth Day – that the rains have parted for Mass. Not always – but not unprecedented.20160726_172821.jpg

Our pilgrims are now part of hundreds of thousands who continue to gather in Krakow from all over the world. The opening Mass was our first opportunity to gather with the universal church in one unified prayer. But we had encountered other pilgrims since we arrived in Krakow. Yesterday morning, the college and young adult group from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis made our Pilgrimage of Divine Mercy to the Shrine of St. John Paul II and the Shrine of St. Faustina Kowalska in Lagiewniki, on the southern edge of Krakow. We were able to pray in the place where the Divine Mercy devotion has its origin and heart. From there, some of us explored parts of the Old Town of Krakow on our way to the site of the Opening Mass. One stop I made was to the Dominican Church of the Holy Trinity, where the relics of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati are being housed for veneration this week. I was able to pray in front of the relics of this patron of World Youth Day. I said a particular prayer for all of our pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and Saint Meinrad Archabbey, and also for young people who are discerning their vocation.

Today, we begin three days of catechesis divided by language group. We have been assinged to a large English-language site at the Tauron Arena in Krakow that is being organized by the Knights of Columbus and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Pray for us as we continue to walk the pilgrim path of mercy.

World Youth Day – Wadowice

The best pilgrimages and journeys are marked by the joy of the unexpected. We had a very basic plan for today – travel from Prague to Krakow with a brief stop in Wadowice. We didn’t know coming in when or where we would have Mass today. We didn’t know what we would be able to do in Wadowice or how much time we would have. But as we prepare to head to bed in our hotel in Krakow, we look back on a day of extraordinary, unexpected blessings.

Thanks to the good work of our tour manager, we began the day celebrating a group Mass for the Feast of St. James, patron of pilgrims, at the Church of St. Wenceslas, just two blocks from our hotel. This was probably our only opportunity to celebrate Mass just with our group, and how fitting that it be on the feast of the patron of pilgrims. After Mass, we set out on our buses for Wadowice, the home town of St. John Paul II. 

Basilica of the Presentation of Mary, Wadowice

The original plan was just to visit the town briefly, pray in the church where St. John Paul was baptized, and see the house that he lived in from the outside. But, again thanks to the good work of our guide, we were able to procure tickets to the St. John Paul II Museum in the building where the pope’s family lived right across from the parish church. The museum preserves the family apartment where he was born and lived until he was in his teens, plus several other exhibits in neighboring apartments that chronicle his life and ministry. It was a truly moving experience to walk through the story of this great man’s life beautifully told in the building where he lived. Because so many people wanted to visit this museum this week, we had to wait about 2 hours until there were tickets available – so that gave us time to explore the city, eat dinner, enjoy the famous Pope’s Cake – kremovka – and visit the Basilica of the Presentation of Mary. St. John Paul’s home parish church contains the baptismal font where he was baptized and an image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help that he often prayed in front of. Many in our group said a prayer for Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis in front of this icon, because he, too, has a special devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

When St. John Paul II first returned to his native Wadowice after being elected pope, he went first to this parish church and venerated the font where he was baptized. He recognized the day of his baptism as the most important day of his life. We, too, venerated this font to remember the disciple of Christ who was called and chosen by God in baptism and lived out that baptism as a disciple for the world, shining as a light to lead others to the God who loves us all. Pope Francis has often asked people to celebrate the day of their baptism and even make a pilgrimage to the font where they were baptized to recall that important day in each of our lives. In doing so, we are also following the example of this Saint who was Poland’s gift to the world.

World Youth Day 1 – Prague

The 64 members of our college and young adult pilgrimage group from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis all arrived safely in Prague last night – the first stop on our way to Krakow for World Youth Day. We spent today touring this beautiful city of hundreds of spires and towers, certainly one of the jewels of Europe. It was a day of a lot of walking to try to see as much as possible – Prague really can’t be seen in a day, but we did out best to hit the highlights! Among the stops were the Old Town, the Jewish Quarter, the Municipal House, Charles Bridge, St. Nicholas Church, the Prague Castle, and St. Vitus Cathedral. 

We joined the English language noon Mass at the Church of Our Lady of Victory, which houses the miraculous original statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague. To our delight, Bishop Paul Sirba of Duluth, Minnesota, was presiding at that Mass, which included World Youth Day pilgrims from the United States, the Philippines, India, and other places. This was our first real preview of World Youth Day – the church was so packed full of people that most of our pilgrims were sitting on the floor or on the steps of the sanctuary. Following Mass, we were able to spend time in prayer in front of this miraculous and well-known statue of the Infant Jesus. Chances are there might be a repilca of this statue in a church near you!

Infant Jesus of Prague at Church of Our Lady of Victory

This afternoon, we learned about and prayed at the tombs of the most notable of Prague’s canonized Saints – especially St. Wenceslas and St. John Nepomucene – who are both buried at St. Vitus Cathedral, along with the namesake of the Cathedral, St. Vitus, who was a martyr from Sicily. St. Wenceslas is the same Good King Wenceslas from the Christmas carol – he was a generous and faithful count of Bohemia a thousand years ago who was killed by his jealous brother. St. John Nepomucene is known as the Martyr of the Confessional because he refused to break the seal of confession on order of the king, who wanted to know the secrets his wife had confessed to St. John. The king had him tortured and killed and then thrown off the Charles Bridge in Prague.

Tomb of St. Wenceslas at St. Vitus Cathedral

We are now back at our hotel for a bit of rest before dinner, then I imagine many in the group will head back into the city for the evening. Tomorrow morning, we depart Prague and head toward Krakow, with a stop in Wadowice, Poland, the home town of St. John Paul II.

On the Pilgrim Journey to Krakow

As I lay awake during our first night sleeping on a hard, marble classroom floor in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in July 2013, I thought to myself: “I’m never doing this again.” A couple nights later, my thoughts changed to: “I’d do this again if we can stay in a hotel.” By the end of that week, my mind was made up: “If I ever get a chance, I’m definitely doing this again.” This happens again next week – the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day, an international gathering of young people with the Holy Father for prayer, catechesis, and fellowship.

Krakow Main Square

Krakow Main Square

Rio was my first experience of World Youth Day, and it came with many challenges and sacrifices – not just the marble classroom floor that we slept on for a week or the cold showers in toilet stalls, but also the vast crowds and limited services, the disorganization and lack of good communication that are probably inevitable when you gather 3.5 million people in one place.

But then there were all the extraordinary graces and moments of encounter with God and fellow seekers. The powerful silence of 3.5 million people in prayer during Eucharistic Adoration. The solidarity of joining with and meeting young disciples of Jesus Christ from all over the world. The joy of life shared by so many young people. The community of faith that is formed and sustained by Word and Sacrament. The challenge to once more take up our mission to spread the good news in a world of brokenness and chaos. The exuberant hospitality of the Brazilian people, certainly some of the most kind-hearted people I have encountered.

One of our pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis called it a “beautiful disaster.” And here we are, headed there again – to World Youth Day, that is, but in a different locale. This time, the young Church will gather in Krakow, Poland, City of Saints – St. John Paul II, St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Faustina Kowalska, St. Stanislas, St. John Cantius, St. Hedwig, and so many more. This time, the pilgrimage group from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis is more than 170 strong – much larger than the 35 people we had with us in Rio. And as much as these days make me reflect back on my last World Youth Day, I also know that each experience stands on its own. Krakow is not Rio. 2016 is not 2013. But Jesus is the same, and people from all over the world are journeying to Krakow to encounter him in the Sacraments, in the Word, and in the Church gathered together in a way that is unparalleled at any other events.

One of the groups from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis is leaving today, with a stop in Rome first before heading to Krakow. The group I am traveling with leaves on Friday with a stop in Prague and then Wadowice, Poland, the home town of St. John Paul II. Pray for safe travels, and I hope to post updates as I can throughout the pilgrimage!

In the midst of storms – Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Rev. Eric M. Augenstein

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) – July 17, 2016

Genesis 18.1-10a       Psalm 15     Colossians 1.24-28     Luke 10.38-42

The storm was fierce. Loud, booming, continuous peals of thunder. Countless bright streaks of lightning. Rain falling in sheets so fast that the roads and sidewalks were turning into rivers. In many ways, it was a typical summer late-afternoon thunderstorm in Indiana this past Friday night, as I finished up my summer stay at Saint Meinrad Archabbey, where I have served on the staff of their summer liturgical leadership program for youth. Many of us were gathered in the main church at this Benedictine monastery for vespers – evening prayer – just as the storm hit. As the bells rang the hour and the monks rose from their choir stalls, the thunder and rain threatened to overpower the soft, steady chanting of the psalms. But we prayed on. When the power went out and the organ could no longer be played to sustain the singing, we prayed on – unaccompanied, without ever missing a beat or a note. As the storm raged around us, there was an extraordinary calm in that church – the peaceful, gentle praying of monks who have not ceased their five-times-a-day prayer for anything since they settled on this particular hill in southern Indiana in 1854, not even the day their monastery was on fire and monks took turns rotating chanting the psalms and carrying buckets of water to put out the flames. In the midst of turmoil and fear and storm and tempest – the Church stays steady and faithful and hopeful. Because we sit at the feet of Jesus, and he is our rock.

There are times when I don’t know how to react or respond these days to the ever-increasing turbulence that surrounds and permeates the human family, both near and far. Orlando to Dallas to Nice, France to Istanbul to our own families struggling with scorn and hatred and hopelessness and addiction. There are some days when I just want to go to a church and lock myself inside and shut out the outside world because it has become too much to bear. There are other days when I wonder how all the good people I know – and there are so many good people – could work together to change this world for the better and banish from our midst hatred and warfare and violence. And then, in those moments when I do stop and enter the hard silence of communion with God, sitting with Mary at the feet of our Lord and Master, I remember the truth that surpasses all understanding, the mystery hidden from the ages, as St. Paul would say – that God is in charge; that God’s people – the Church – can be a refuge in the midst of storms; and that we must carry on the mission that we have been given: to become holy, disciples of Jesus Christ, and to lead our fellow human beings, one person at a time, to the source of all holiness. We are a broken people, indeed – and the storms of our world are a daily reminder of our brokenness. But in Jesus Christ, we have been redeemed, and it is him whom we must proclaim – in our words, in our love, in our lives.

Bernie Augenstein – In Remembrance

Bernie Augenstein (May 2, 1946 - July 2, 2016)

Bernie Augenstein (May 2, 1946 – July 2, 2016)

This past Saturday, my mother and I along with extended family and many friends laid to rest my father, Bernie Augenstein, who died on July 2 peacefully in his sleep. We are extraordinarily grateful for the overwhelming outpouring of support and prayers from so many people in recent days. Click here to listen to or read the homily that Pastor Mark Havel preached at the funeral at Cross of Grace Lutheran Church. And below is the text of the remarks I made at the beginning of the funeral liturgy, which was a wonderful ecumenical service of prayer, Scripture, and music. Pray for us in these days, and rejoice also with us as we celebrate a life well-lived.


Funeral Reflection for Bernie Augenstein

We are an Easter people, and alleluia is our song!

As some of you may know, my dad was color blind. He could see colors – they just weren’t the same colors most of the rest of us saw. This could be particularly challenging at stop lights – because he had a hard time distinguishing between red and green. But even in his colorblindness, he knew what bright colors signified – joy and hope and celebration. Long after the office dress code went to business casual, he still would bring out ties for special occasions. Easter being one of those times. He had one particularly bright and colorful tie that he would wear only once a year. He called it his Easter tie. I’m not sure that he could see all the brightness of the flowers on that tie, but he knew that it conveyed the joy of life and resurrection. And that’s also what we’re about here, today – the joy of life and resurrection. Which is why my dad is wearing that Easter tie today. And why he asked people to come to his funeral wearing brightly colored clothes. And why the music of this service is joyful. And why the hearse that will carry his casket to the cemetery is white. And why the beautiful Woodbridge Pecan Batesville casket is clothed in the white garment of baptism. And why, in the midst of our shock and sorrow, we must rejoice. Because …

We are an Easter people, and alleluia is our song!

In the detailed funeral plans my dad left for us, he said that a funeral should be a reflection of the person’s life. He further defined that for him, this meant lots of music and the active participation of everyone involved. He said that there’s no rule that says you can’t have 8 to 10 hymns at a funeral. He also specified that all verses of every hymn should be sung. And so we have it. It is also fitting that so many clergy are present with us – bringing together his own Lutheran tradition and my mom and my’s Roman Catholic tradition. Ecumenical dialogue, encounter, and prayer were so important to my dad – and all of us as an ecumenical family. And of course the many people with whom my dad was connected – through church, work, Facebook, family, and many other ways.

But the main way that a funeral is a reflection of a person’s life – of a Christian’s life – of my dad’s life – is that it is not really about him at all. It is about Jesus Christ, who calls us to follow him, who claims us as his own in the waters of baptism, who speaks a word of peace and justice to the world, who suffered death on the cross and rose from the dead so that death might be conquered. The life we celebrate today is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ – the mirror and reflection through which our lives, our deaths, and our promise of resurrection have meaning. And that is a cause for joy, because …

We are an Easter people, and alleluia is our song!