This is my World Youth Day sharing. And I would gladly share with everyone reading this everything all that has transpired for me during my stay in Poland.
It all started with a crazy dream; to attend the World Youth Day in Krakow in 2016. “This coming 2016, I will be in Krakow for World Youth Day.” That was I dreaming and motivating myself three years ago after failing to push for attendance in WYD Rio 2013.
Maybe when human willpower and God’s will align, things really come to fruition.
The preparations we underwent for the World Youth Day was a story of perseverance and victory. It was nearly impossible to raise that kind of amount but everything pushed through. Even the visa interview went smoothly, with minimal concerns to attend to.
The moment I learned that the visa was approved, I knew that God really wanted me to go to Poland. I said a prayer of thanksgiving for guiding us throughout the preparations.
When we reached Poland, my heart could not make out what it wants to feel; excitement? Exhilaration? Joy? Disbelief? Because it was also my first time to go out of the country, my mind can’t comprehend that I was in Europe. I can’t believe I’m already in Europe! It was the first time I would step into a foreign land, on a foreign soil, and I was in complete and utter joy.
While my mind was still comprehending, little did I know that God has already planned out something amazing for me in the coming days and weeks.
We started out in the Days in the Diocese in the area of Warszawa Praga under Our Lady of Fatima Parish. They welcomed us with warm smiles and deeply accented greetings of “Dzień dobry!” and “Cześć!” I met my host family and it was not the conventional family I expected. Instead of meeting a big family with a mother, a father and children, I met a single woman living alone in her flat but still she participated in the hosting of pilgrims and now we (Hannah and I) were assigned to live with her for the whole week.
Her name is Emilia Latek. She is 37 years old. A traveler, a successful woman who has a long, good experience of career in Poland. She has been to 50 countries and counting and she looks really young for her age; energetic, vibrant and full of life. The best part of being her adopted sisters for a week was that she is really fluent in English. So there was no difficulty in conversing with her and knowing her thoughts, her opinions, and what she thinks about. She showed us pictures of her travels and filled our imagination with stories of her adventures in foreign lands. Her courage and independence really inspired me to love my single years now and to see the beauty of living for a purpose.
Legionowo, the place we called home for a week was a silent little town in the city of Warsaw. What caught my attention was that the place was serene and quiet. The number of cars that pass compared in Warsaw Central was very minimal. The people there as well are really polite and warm. They immediately beam at you when you greet them “Dzien dobry!”. And that was when I realized that God is a God of silence and calm. Maybe, what made my stay in the days in the diocese more meaningful was because I got to reflect more, to be more silent, to have the chance to ponder on the many realizations God is giving me without being distracted by a lot of things.
Mass at the parish every morning was challenging and comforting at the same time. Because the mass was said mostly in Polish, we just played by ear, trying to translate the parts in the English mass we know by heart and responded, listened and sang as to how we would during masses in the Philippines. There were translators present and I was thankful that I got to understand the homilies of Fr. Thomas. Polish people are devout people. That is one of my realizations during mass. They listen intently, prayed sincerely and sang with their hearts.
The days in the diocese flew by really fast. The volunteers toured us around Legionowo and Warsaw. One of the highlights was when we were in the town center and we watched a movie about St. John Paul II. The movie helped me appreciate Poland and most especially our dear late Pope, St. John Paul II. God spoke to me through the movie in a way wherein I realized that the only way to really conquer evil is to conquer it with love and mercy. And that was how St. John Paul II did when he lived during the World War II. The movie made me admire the late pope even more.
My days in the diocese experience would not be complete without that silent and relaxing Sunday afternoon with the host families. Ate Emi (we got to be that close that we called her Ate fondly after explaining Filipino customs and culture) brought us to her parent’s house and we got to spend a whole day with Mr. and Mrs. Latek, Karolina (her older sister) and Karolina’s children; Max and Maya. We ate good polish cuisine prepared by Mrs. Latek and played with Max and Maya. During early dinner, Mr. and Mrs. Latek talked about how they met. There was an instance wherein Mr. Latek blushed when we asked him about the song they danced to when they fell in love and I was surprised and touched at the same time. I realized that time that you’ll just know it when love finds you. Max and Maya also made me realize the beauty of being a child. The carefree world they live in. You want to swim in an inflatable pool and let yourself be dragged around and around in a floater, why not. You want to run around naked in the backyard because the sun is out and it’s okay to do it, why not. You want to play football in the pool or pretend to be in a laser gun fight with your water guns, why not. Max and Maya reminded me to become a child again. To depend on God like how they depended on their mother. To not be ashamed to ask for things they need. That afternoon at the Latek residence taught me to see and enjoy the little things, to appreciate the gift of family and to really find rest in God.
After the Days in the Diocese is the World Youth Day proper in Krakow. So we travelled to Krakow and this time, Hannah and I were no longer hosted by a family. Instead, we were hosted in a school in Mietnow. The walk to the school from the St. Michael the Archangel Parish took us almost 15 minutes. I would never forget the first time we went there and we were bringing with us all of our stuff. A big luggage, a big backpack, another backpack (WYD kit), and a personal bag. I would honestly say that that time, it really challenged me to not complain and to be patient. During the long walk while carrying all those baggage, I realized that this is a chance for me to offer a sacrifice to God. The heavy baggage, the long walk we had to endure made me realize that in life, we should also do the same with our baggage (pain, problems, struggles) and to really carry it.
The World Youth Day stored for us a lot of surprises: From touring in Krakow and seeing the old buildings, the beauty of architecture Poland has to offer, the very long walks, to the activities, the pilgrimages, the wonderful churches, to the Mercy Night held at Tauron Arena that we were not expecting to even have the chance to enter because of the many pilgrims waiting in line, to the exposition held there while Matt Maher sang “How Great is Our God”, to the concert of Stephen Curtis Chapman and I got to have front row seats, and to all the wonderful things that happened. But, there is one surprise that I will truly treasure in my heart forever: that is the privilege to be part of the opening ceremony of the WYD 2016. I was really blessed to be able to carry the World Youth Day cross for a couple of minutes. To just even hold it and touch it meant so much. The idea of me holding in my very hands, feeling the weight, seeing the scratches and bumps up close, feeling the olden feel of the cross in my palms and fingers, the cross that was present during the first World Youth Day in Rome in 1986, the idea of holding it still give me goosebumps until now. I could never imagine having a chance to be part of that, yet God allowed me to. The cross was really heavy because it needs to be carried by more than six people. I even caught myself saying in my head, “Lord, ang bigat mo naman.” But that’s it. That’s the whole point that God wants me to know at that moment. If I carry the cross given to me on my own capability, yes, of course it will be heavy and impossible to carry. But if I allow others to help me, to carry it with me, to be in union with God and the people around me, then everything will be much more bearable. That was when I realized that our faith, though is a tough job to strive to be holy each day, is a wonderful gift that needs to be carried with love and endurance, with perseverance and hope. And most importantly, to carry it with others. Because our faith is a gift not affecting an individual person alone, but the whole world. When we carry our crosses with others, we bring Christ to others as well.
Some of my favorite part in the World Youth Day was hearing the talks and homilies given by Pope Francis. He even caught my attention when he said this and I would quote: “That is the secret, dear friends, and all of us are called to share in it. God expects something from you. God wants something from you. God hopes in you. God comes to break down all our fences. He comes to open the doors of our lives, our dreams, our ways of seeing things. God comes to break open everything that keeps you closed in. He is encouraging you to dream. He wants to make you see that, with you, the world can be different. For the fact is, unless you offer the best of yourselves, the world will never be different. The times we live in do not call for young “couch potatoes”, Młody kanapowi in Polish, but for young people with shoes, or better yet, with soccer cleats on. It only takes players on the first string, and it has no room for bench-warmers. Today’s world demands that you be a protagonist of history because life is always beautiful when we choose to live it fully, when we choose to leave a mark.” I was deeply touched when the pope said with soccer cleats on. One, because I love football and two, he really wants us to be out there, to be proactive in evangelization. The way he gives his homilies really strikes a chord in the heart of every young person. He makes us want to be better, to accept who we are and to share the good news that despite our youth, our shortcomings, Christ lives in us and he wants us to share Christ to the world.
There was this instance also that I would never forget during the prayer vigil at Campus Misericordiae wherein everyone held a candle in their hand and prayed. The atmosphere was very solemn and at that moment, it’s as if every young soul in that field was praying intently and sincerely from the heart. I was moved by the moment and all I got to say was a prayer of thanks to God for the seed of faith He has planted in my heart and for allowing me to witness a million different hearts pray to Him. And at that moment as well, I realized how big God is; how vast and universal is this faith that we have. Different races, different languages, different native tongues proclaiming God is good, a million different hearts being moved and souls fanned aflame by the Holy Spirit. What a sight to behold! Even now, just thinking of it and reminiscing it still bring tears of joy in my eyes.
The whole World Youth Day experience for me is something that I would hold dear in my heart and soul forever. All the learnings, the realizations, the experiences I had allowed me to have that deeper relationship with God, and to have that appreciation more of the mission He has given to me. My heart is full of so much gratitude and love and joy. Thank You, Lord for all that You have done, for all that You are and for everything that You made me witness in Poland. I will be forever grateful.
Ayana Alica O. De Ocampo, FLiQ Full Time Worker