By Father Matthew Buening
Chaplain of the Towson University Newman Center
KRAKOW, Poland – I had already declared World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, Poland, my favorite of the five wonderful experiences I have had with the youth of the world and the pope. However, something happened today that made this WYD so awesome that – even if it rained for the rest of the pilgrimage and I never found another delicious pierogi – I would still proclaim this visit to the city of saints in this land of great suffering one of the greatest moments of my life.
Why? Because today I got to hear confessions at the “field of mercy” in the shadow of the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy.
Now of course I have heard confessions before, and as many priests will tell you celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation is the time when we feel most Christ-like. It is always an awe-inspiring moment to be an instrument of God’s Divine Mercy.
However, as they dragged me away from the confessional kicking and screaming after three and a half hours of hearing confessions, I wondered what in particular made these confessions at this World Youth Day so profound and powerful.
I think the answer lies is something that that has been talked about a lot here in Krakow, by everyone from the pilgrims on the street to our Holy Father himself. It is the theme of this World Youth Day, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt. 5:7).
In these grace-filled moments of reconciliation with pilgrims from all around the world who seriously desired to make this World Youth Day a life-changing event, I found that the more I dished out mercy and love the more I was filled with it myself. I couldn’t get enough. I felt as if the Lord was pouring His mercy upon me with every soul that I was privileged to encounter.
A priest hears the confession of a World Youth Day pilgrim at Park Jordana in Krakow, Poland, July 29. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)
I never knew how some of these great saints in our tradition could hear confessions for hours and hours on end without stop, but after this experience I think I have a glimpse of what they must have felt. It was overwhelming and inspiring all at the same time and I hungered to forgive and minister mercy like never before.
I eventually left the field of mercy where maybe 75 priests were hearing confessions in every language imaginable, partly because I knew I had gone past my allotted time, and even though the line of penitents was still long I did not want to deprive any priest of the same blessing I had received. The truth be told I also wanted to be with my fellow pilgrims from Baltimore as we were going to meet Archbishop Lori for Polish desserts. However, I needed to write and share that absolutely nothing could be as sweet as the grace I experienced in the field of mercy next to the Divine Mercy Shrine during this World Youth Day.
It is a grace that each and every one of us can experience if we take to heart the theme of WYD and this Year of Mercy: Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy!