Warsaw, Poland — Editor's note: Kristen Whitney Daniels, NCR's newest Bertelsen intern, is in Warsaw, Poland, for World Youth Day 2016; she will be blogging about her experience on NCRonline.org. Look for Kristen's posts at feature series page World Youth Day 2016.
After 16 hours of travel, over 100 pilgrims from the Bridgeport, Conn., diocese, myself included, landed in Warsaw, Poland, July 22 for World Youth Day. Altogether, there will be roughly 250 of us, representing a relatively small diocese located in southern Connecticut. Consisting of youth, young adults, chaperones and those who have taken vows to religious life, this group reflects a diverse group of ages, races, education and socioeconomic backgrounds. Yet right now, we pilgrims share quite a few things: sleep deprivation, exhaustion and a contagious excitement for what these next 11 days will bring.
It's never easy arriving in a place (let alone a foreign country) after very little rest, but the complete awe of being here, in this beautiful country, is helping us carry on. Traveling as a rather large pack, in our sky blue World Youth Day issued T-shirts, we have certainly caught the attention of the locals. There's a bit of gawking at our large group but locals have been kind enough to assist with everything from intricate Polish pronunciations to helping navigate the Warsaw city center.
Immediately after arriving in Warsaw, the group was shuttled to the hotel, which is conveniently next door to a Catholic church. Again walking in a massive sky-blue huddle, we were greeted with a statue of St. John Paul II holding a small child. Below, his feet were littered with flowers, sanctuary lamps and other devotional items.
It is only appropriate that the first saint we encountered implemented World Youth Day 30 years ago. As pope, John Paul II held a special devotion to the youth. He created World Youth Day not only to encourage the youth to encounter and access the church, but also as a way to foster a deeper community and spirituality with young adults throughout the world.
Fr. John Connaughton, director of vocations for the Bridgeport diocese, reminded the pilgrims of John Paul II's original mission as we celebrated Mass at the Sanktuarium Miłosierdzia Bozego Księza Pallotyni (The Church of Divine Mercy). Recalling John Paul II's hope that each young adult walks their own path to sainthood, Connaughton said that "saints are not an impossible ideal."
Following Mass, we left the familiarity of the church to venture to Warsaw Old Town. We trekked along cobblestones to witness the rich history of the capital city of Poland. Largely destroyed by German airstrikes during World War II, it was rebuilt brick-by-brick to recreate the city of the past.
I was in complete awe of the resilience of the Polish people. After the country was so close to being decimated, the Polish people made sure the past was commemorated by creating these breathtaking town squares, all while remembering those who fought during the war. Again, John Paul II's influence can be seen. Store fronts held placards of the pope's face and whole chapels are dedicated to the pope's life and death.
As we prepare spiritually in Warsaw for the next couple days, we are looking forward to greeting Pope Francis in Krakow next week. Until then, there's plenty of work to be done as this Catholic community immerses itself into Polish history, along with catechesis, prayer and contemplation.
[Kristen Whitney Daniels is an NCR Bertelsen intern. Her email address is email@example.com.]