Reflections from Łódź

Ann reflects on her Paradise in the City experience in Poland, as part of the Westminster pilgrimage to World Youth Day.

Paradise in the City (Photo: WYM)
Paradise in the City (Photo: WYM)

We spent the first week in a lovely little city called Łódź, which has a fascinating history. Saint Faustina grew up near Łódź and moved there when she was 16. Three years later, she saw a vision of a suffering Jesus, who instructed her to go to Warsaw to join a convent. Saint Maximilian Kolbe was another nearby resident. On the more secular side of history, Łódź had the largest and longest lasting Jewish ghetto in Nazi-occupied Europe.

We were there to take part in Paradise in the City. A festival organised by the Chemin Neuf community. Whilst nothing compared to Krakow the following week, there were attendees from 79 countries, and over 5,000 people. For pilgrims who hadn’t been to a World Youth Day before, it was a nice little opening to how hectic Krakow might be.

The Paradise in the City guide with a ladybird (Photo: WYM)
The Paradise in the City guide with a ladybird (Photo: WYM)

The programme was pretty busy, ranging from talks and workshops to praise and worship concerts and adoration. One thing I particularly enjoyed was how the length of adoration increased throughout the week, presumably as people became more accustomed to sitting in silence with the Lord.

Talks were given by a wide variety of people, ranging from the Archbishop of Canterbury to a Catholic sexologist. Although I didn’t attend the former’s talk, I’ve been assured it was excellent, whilst the latter gave a fascinating talk reminding us that the Church wants body, heart and soul to be in one accord, and that we need to remember to always see each other as people and not as things or labels or categories.

Celebrating at the Paradise in the City festival (Photo: WYM)
Celebrating at the Paradise in the City festival (Photo: WYM)

Despite the busyness, there was still plenty of time for fun and friendship. Some of the afternoons were for free time, with sports being available for those so inclined. I am very definitely not a sports person, so instead with a couple of friends, we decided to head up to the ghetto; but on the two occasions we tried, we realised that we wouldn’t have time to get up there and back in time for the next event! So instead we did the obvious thing of going and finding a rather beautiful bar instead… Given that it was a 20-30 minute walk away from where we were based, that still counts as exercise, right?

During this week we were blessed to have the opportunities such as have Mass in the cathedral in Łódź and a reconciliation service in front of the Blessed Sacrament in the beautiful Church of Our Lady of Victory. Don’t bother trying to find me in this group photo though, I managed to miss it whilst distracted elsewhere!

The Westminster pilgrimage in Łódź at Our Lady of Victory (Photo: WYM)
The Westminster pilgrimage in Łódź at Our Lady of Victory (Photo: WYM)

Continuing the theme of it being like a mini World Youth Day, the final event of the week was a huge Mass at a local sports arena. What would a pilgrimage be without a short walk or two? With this in mind, and as preparation for the much longer walk ahead of us in a week’s time, we headed off for our hour-long walk.

Walking to the final Mass and festivities at Paradise in the City (Photo: WYM)
Walking to the final Mass and festivities at Paradise in the City (Photo: WYM)

Having been to a few of these types of things, I’m fairly used to there being huge numbers of priests around now and then. I was still taken by surprise at just how many priests were there saying Mass!

So that’s a short summation of what we got up to in Łódź. Coming up next, Częstochowa and Krakow!