The past two weeks have been a whirlwind. Following a trip to Illinois to deliver The Alabama Project to Loyola’s Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, I embarked–along with my daughter Celia and 13 others from St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church in Birmingham–on another journey to Poland for World Youth Day.
This week alone, we have experienced the horrors and hope of our world, from the bleak concentration camps of Auschwitz I and II (Auschwitz-Birkenau) to the blessings of Divine Mercy at the St. Faustina Chapel in Krakow.
The greatest moment was when Pope Francis arrived late yesterday afternoon as the rain came down to offer his welcome address amid thousands of WYD pilgrims at Blonia Park. As we stood along the streets awaiting the Popemobile (aka the Holy See’s fiat), Pope Francis flew by on public transportation. Most of us never considered that Pope Francis would opt for the tram, but that’s the kind of pope he’s proven to be time and time again.
The Pope’s message to the large group of youth from many countries, which we listened to intently through the assistance of handheld radios translating his words into multiple languages, was simple and moving: He told us that it disheartens him to see so many young people “retire” early in their lives, to give up hope and dreams before they reach their mid-20s. Apathy, drugs, desolation are among those evils affecting the world’s youth. To be merciful to others, he said, we must hold onto hope for our own lives. Only when we experience mercy and grace in our souls can we extend it to others.
In this post, I offer just a few glimpses of our journey thus far.
Inside the chapel at Niepokalonow, devoted to St. Maximilian Kolbe, who sacrificed his life for another prisoner at Auschwitz
The image of the Black Madonna at Jasna Gora-Czestochowa
The train tracks at Birkenau, which carried Jews, Roma and other prisoners to their fate
Celia and I enjoying “pope cakes,” a favorite of John Paul II, in his hometown of Wadowice
The Polish tram carrying Pope Francis to the welcoming ceremony
Pope Francis’s address on screens across Blonia Park in Krakow
Our view from far, far away of Pope Francis on the stage at Blonia Park. We’re hoping for a better view for the Papal Mass!