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.
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!