The Polish Military Diocese and the Polish Military worked diligently to plan the details of four very full days. Sunday began with a solemn Mass in the Military Cathedral, a wreath-laying ceremony at the monument to Polish resistance, and the first taste of the history of this great people who would be our hosts for a week.
The schedule was full. Monday’s long ride to Czestochowa allowed the pilgrims to pray together, to sing, and most importantly, to engage in dialogue about their experiences, growth in their relationship with Jesus Christ, and the differences and similarities between cultures. One young woman from New Zealand was confined to a wheel chair due to an accident shortly before her departure. Almost immediately, everyone was lending her a hand and taking turns pushing and lifting the chair. Solidarity was evident at every turn.
The museums in Warsaw reminded us about Poland’s role in the history of Europe. No one could remain unmoved before the objects left behind by the 20,000 victims of Communist brutality at Katyn. Of course, the silent witness of the inhumanity of the concentration camp at Auschwitz (Oświęcim in Polish) escaped no one.
It was good to observe the interaction between the young people from NATO nations and the fervor of their faith. The French composed the largest group, and they animated the liturgies with their choir and vibrant singing. They were also the most easily recognizable with their blue and white striped jerseys.
Personally, I was touched to be able to pray at the baptistery in Wadowice where Pope St. John Paul II was reborn to new life. The link between that rebirth and his service to the universal Church, which included his decision to ordain me an archbishop in St. Peter’s Basilica and send me as his representative to the Dominican Republic, seemed so powerful.
In Krakow itself, the military young adults were accommodated in tents at a military base, but the only hardship was the heat. The pilgrims from the United States assured me that the sleeping mats were very comfortable, the meals good, and the showers hot. The Americans from military installations around the world gathered for Mass on Thursday night at the Divine Mercy Center. It was no mean feat to arrive there, but the celebration was splendid.
Conversations throughout the pilgrimage revealed young people journeying in faith and seeking to grow in their relationship with the Lord Jesus. The time in the Polish Military Diocese and the time in Krakow with Pope Francis left no one unmoved. Strangers arrived on July 24th, but only friends parted a week later after the closing Mass with the Holy Father on July 31st.