Countdown to World Youth Day begins!

World Youth Day is arguably the largest global gathering of young people and we’re now close to the first significant milestone in our journey to meet Pope Francis. Very soon World Youth Day will be less than one year away!

Polish pilgrims at the last World Youth Day
Polish pilgrims at the last World Youth Day

It seems only five minutes ago that we hopped onto the flight to bring us home from Rio 2013, yet here we are again!

Over the next few weeks we will begin to build for you the WYD picture. We’ll outline the Days in the Diocese programme, the WYD programme, hear some WYD testimonies and provide some of the real practical details that all pilgrims will need to know.

There is a richness and fullness imbedded within our timetable and we hope that those who join us will have plenty of opportunities to experience the spiritual joy of community, whilst having time to reflect personally and peacefully on this very rare and cherished time close to our Lord.

We start here with an overview of our time in Poland; a taste of what to expect.

Starting in the Heart of Poland

Our World Youth Day pilgrimage presents an opportunity for Westminster pilgrims to not only immerse themselves in the spirit and dynamism of the main Krakow week but to also spend time with our friends from the Chemin Neuf community at their youth festival in the Diocese of Lodz.

Lodz is approximately 3 hours drive from Krakow
Lodz is approximately 3 hours drive from Krakow

We arrive in Lodz for the Youth Festival on 19 July, where we head straight into a vibrant and busy programme, beginning with gathering and welcoming – our first opportunity to meet fellow young Catholics from all over the world.

Each morning in Lodz, we will come together at the Hala Expo for morning prayer; a tangible opportunity to bring some peace into our lives and give an enriching sense of context to the day ahead.

Following this calm time, we all have the opportunity to enjoy the rich and varied festival programme, which can include a visit to a local parish to deepen links with young people from Lodz or to be involved in many of the Expo events. These events include listening to a range of international speakers covering a multitude of topics and many activity-based sessions.

The Lodz Festival programme
The Lodz Festival programme

Afternoons in Lodz are “à la carte” – festival participants will be able to choose between various activities in the town of Lodz: a visit to a holy site; hear more about the town’s history from a local witness; join in a range of cultural activities; relax or enjoy a vast range of sports that are on offer.

During these afternoons, the Westminster pilgrims will have time to come together as a group, hear from one of our own speakers and be involved in some fun and interesting group activities.

During our time in Lodz we’ll be accommodated in student halls of residence that are very close to the town centre and the Chemin Neuf Festival.

Being all together in one place will help us to communicate better and build an awesome Westminster team spirit. We’ll be able to gather quickly and share information each day, and move more easily as a group between sessions.

On the Road to Krakow

On Monday 25 July we say goodbye to our friends in Lodz, especially those from Chemin Neuf, and head south to Krakow. The journey will take around three hours; we’ll arrive during the afternoon and in plenty of time to get settled into our home for World Youth Day week.

Most of the major World Youth Day events occur close to Blonia Park
Most of the major World Youth Day events occur close to Blonia Park

As with Lodz, we’ll be in student halls of residence in Krakow and within relatively short walking distance from the main square.

World Youth Day is breathtaking and, unless you’ve experienced it before, you’ll be totally unprepared for the noise, colour, movement, crowds and great joy that will engulf you.

It is relentless and you need your sleep and plenty of energy to sustain yourself.

World Youth Day week

Tuesday generally starts the week in a relatively manageable way with the simple matter of the opening ceremony. Normally it is the Archbishop of the host city who presides; so we can assume it’ll be the Archbishop of Krakow, Stanisław Dziwisz.

Of course, this isn’t any ordinary ceremony as probably well over one million young people will attend!

There will be flags and banners and huge TV screens and noise – very loud noise! But, as always, it will be faithful, joyful and staggering.

The World Youth Day schedule
The World Youth Day schedule

From Wednesday to Friday, each morning we’ll journey as a group to a language-specific session of catechesis, which are always inspiring. In Rio, one of the sessions was led by Bishop John Sherrington. We’ll be mingling with Americans, Canadians, Aussies and other English-speaking pilgrims – this is always great fun and an opportunity to wave our British flags with gusto!

Most afternoons are an opportunity to visit a range of spiritual, cultural and musical events scattered across the city and to witness our faith with brother and sister pilgrims from across the globe.

The Pope arrives

On Thursday afternoon we welcome Pope Francis.

The arrival of our Holy Father is always an event in itself and usually involves a helicopter, growing anticipation and a palpable rising of the volume amongst all the gathering millions!

A British pilgrim meets Pope Francis at the last World Youth Day
A British pilgrim meets Pope Francis at the last World Youth Day

The journey of the Pope is traditionally broadcast live on large screens so we can watch him board the helicopter and transfer to the popemobile. The final leg brings Pope Francis to the sanctuary; by then, everyone begins to realize what a truly awesome event World Youth Day really is.

Friday brings Stations of the Cross (Way of the Cross) and this is on a scale that is truly hard to contemplate. A wonderful experience for all of us and helps us contemplate and reflect on our journey to this point.

As we head towards the weekend we become increasingly aware that the very essence of World Youth Day and our time with the Lord is very close at hand. The Vigil on Saturday evening is a special time and it is the very reason that we have journeyed hand-in-hand with our fellow pilgrims from across the world.

We will make our way to the vigil site on foot from dedicated start points across Krakow. Generally this is a pilgrimage of around ten kilometres. Arriving at the vigil site with our sleeping bags, we’ll witness the strength, depth and diversity of our faith as many millions of young people begin to fill the area. What you will see is staggering and almost impossible to articulate – when you’re there you’ll realize what we mean.

The Vigil itself commences at dusk and this just adds to the atmosphere and reverence; it is a truly wonderful time with our Holy Father.

The Vigil takes place in Brzegi
The Vigil takes place in Brzegi

We sleep in the open on Saturday night and it’s always wonderful to hear people gradually falling to sleep and then a few hours later witness the rising sun, as everyone slowly begins to wake up. Just very, very special.

On Sunday, we have the Final Mass with Pope Francis and hear his thoughts on the World Youth Day coming to an end. The Pope will provide some vision for us to take away and this is always empowering.

Sunday afternoon sees us start our journey home to our families, both charged up and tired out – refreshed in spirit and set to ‘make disciples of all nations’!

Join us!

Even now we are on a journey. We ask that you join us to hear about our plans and to consider coming along to Poland with us. A registration form is linked to this article and is available elsewhere on the site.

In the next few days, there will be more content for you to enjoy, including:

  • Background on the Chemin Neuf Community
  • Testimonies from those who have previously experienced the joy of World Youth Day
  • Photos of previous World Youth Days
  • Logistical data on our venues in both Lodz and Krakow
  • Detailed information on the Youth Festival and WYD
  • Key information on the Pilgrimage
  • Dates for the Pilgrimage Meetings – to help us prepare for our journey
  • Information on WYD as it arrives to us