Last night we spent our first evening with Pope Francis. He said: “Nothing is more beautiful than seeing the enthusiasm, dedication, zeal and energy with which so many people live their lives” and he could not be any more correct. I felt my heart jumping with joy as I was listening to his words and watched the crowds waving their flags and singing; the energy that emanated from the crowd was incredible.
The feeling of watching them from above would just make you want to join in. Indeed, the greatest thing I take from World Youth Day is not the travelling or seeing the Pope but the wonderful feeling of feeling united with the rest of my brothers and sisters in Christ, feeling truly part of this Universal Church (187 countries present!).
Our day was packed with activities, which started with some stretches! One of the “Decades” (as we call our group) decided to share with us her morning exercise routine of stretches and exercise. Then we moved on to the spiritual exercise, i.e. morning prayer, and finally breakfast. Breakfast is the easiest meal of the day, because we do not have to queue for an hour or more to get food, which is a common experience using our meal vouchers for lunch and dinner here in Krakow.
The day came with some rain, but despite the discomfort of being hot and humid we are all willing to live every single moment to the full, to share our faith and to say that Jesus is alive, He is alive in us and we want to be his passionate disciples.
Our catechesis is conveniently located, just next to the Błonia Park, where we welcomed Pope Francis. Unlike other WYDs, this time the catechesis was not inside a church but in a massive circus tent. There, Cardinal Mafi, Bishop of Tonga spoke to us about mercy. He told us how his first experience of mercy was in his family and how, when he recognised that feeling, it made him realise we wanted to be better. He spoke to us in such a friendly and warm way that we all felt he was part of our group, to the point that some of the ladies in my group wanted to even propose him as the next pope.
Thursday was easy; good locations, short walks – we were early in the park, ready to receive the Holy Father. As we waited people were cheering and making friends; we also did some dancing to the words of: “Yes, my Lord you know that I love you. Yes, my Lord you know it is true”. It was lots of fun. Nuns dancing with our groups, priests joining in, all of us part of the same celebration.
After a short journey on the tram, Francis arrived and the crowds went louder than ever. We heard the Gospel and the much-anticipated time arrived – the Pope addressed us, he started talking to us as friends. We all felt so connected to him, we felt almost like crying.
It was a brilliant speech, straight to what concerns us, asking us to be merciful and to keep dreaming so that we can change the world. He asked us to value ourselves so that we do not get lost on false idols. He encouraged us to be passionate about life, to never be bored or boring. I felt a knot in my throat; I was really being touched by his words and wanted to spread the Word, hence I am writing this for you to read. “Full of emotion” are the words that lots of pilgrims have used to describe the evening, I am glad it was not the only one.
He reminded us that Jesus is the strength in our lives and that when we are feeling down or have fallen down, we just need to lift our eyes a tiny little bit and we shall see Him lending us a hand so we can get up and carry on. Jesus is not for sale, He cannot be purchased, Jesus is a gift of the Father. He has been given to us and He wants to enter into our home, to have a space in our heart so we can be merciful as the Father. He is there to help us not to settle for less and always give our best, to dream big.
I will finish with the words of Francis himself: “Here we are Lord, send us to spread your merciful love”.