Over my twelve years as Auxiliary Bishop of Washington, I had the privilege of serving as spiritual director for the Archdiocesan World Youth Day Pilgrimages to Koln, Sydney, Madrid and this past summer to the 31st World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland. In July, I accompanied forty two pilgrims to Krakow. In keeping with the call of our Holy Father, our pilgrimage deepened personal faith through reflections on the beatitudes, gathering for liturgy, adoration, and scripture study. As we deepened bonds and grew as a community of faith, we prepared to go forth in mission to spread the good news.
In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis challenges us to discern our own personal mission, "Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel” (20). Moving beyond our comfort zone was at the heart of our pilgrim’s trip to the National Holocaust Museum, prior to departing for World Youth Day. At the Holocaust Museum we deepened our understanding and gained insight into the Church in Poland prior to WWII, the heroic work of everyday Catholics, clergy, religious, and lay men and women during the Holocaust, and Nazis atrocities’. Our focus was to gain knowledge and to be prepared to pilgrim to Auschwitz Concentration Camp during World Youth Day. On Wednesday of World Youth Day week, we silently walked the grounds of Auschwitz and Birkenau, prayed before the barracks where St. Maximilian Kolbe was executed, and wept as we connected history to the issues facing many in our world today and felt a call to serve those disenfranchised and persecuted.
Although at the time I did not know that shortly after my return from World Youth Day I would be named Ordinary of the Diocese of Memphis, Krakow proved to be a profound spiritual journey and opportunity for myself and my fellow pilgrims to deepen our commitment to serve. Our pilgrimage to the Shrine of Divine Mercy is the perfect example. Since our pilgrims were housed at two different sites, we set off from our respective sites, beginning with Morning Prayer, praying the rosary as we road and hiked to our designated rendezvous, then praying and chanting as we continued our hike to the Shrine. Upon arrival we entered the small chapel which houses the tomb of St. Faustina and the Divine Mercy painting. Each pilgrim knelt in personal prayer before the image of Divine Mercy seeking God’s mercy and love.
Now as the Ordinary of the Diocese of Memphis, I look forward to planning and beginning our pilgrimage with the youth of Memphis as we journey to WYD Panama in 2019. Now that we have come to the end of the Year of Mercy, we know that we have been blessed in knowing the love of our Lord and the experience of his Mercy. For God's Mercy Endures Forever.