Fundraising – for a better understanding of the cross

By Katie Erskine 
Member of ChristLife and youth minister at St. Louis, Clarksville
Did you just cringe? Because I did. 
To make possible our World Youth Day pilgrimage, the small group from my parish, St. Louis, had to do a fair amount of fundraising. Though there are few things I find so uncomfortable, I must admit that convincing other people why they should invest in sending me to Poland did get me thinking: Why go on a pilgrimage? Why go on a pilgrimage to Poland? Why go on a pilgrimage to Poland with a million other people? 

Pilgrims from a vast array of nations await Pope Francis’ arrival in Blonia Park. (Katie Erskine/Courtesy)
I did not come on pilgrimage because I love walking 10 miles a day on blisters, or because I’m particularly fond of having my face in a stranger’s armpit as they cling to the handrail in the tram for stability, or because I simply cannot get enough hot dogs in America. I came on pilgrimage because I know God does big things when we are together – big things like, you know, Pentecost.

We all know the Pentecost reading, the one with all the hard-to-pronounce nationalities that makes you pity whoever is reading at Mass. Recall the scene during Pentecost: Jews from all over the world were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the Shavout, the commemoration of when God gave Moses the Torah. The Jews were on pilgrimage.  

Think of how absolutely brilliant God’s timing was on that one. The Lord chose to send down his Holy Spirit and give birth to his church when he conveniently had “Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers of Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia … ” (Acts 3:9) all in one place! Together. On pilgrimage. 
And what did all these newly converted Christians do after they had committed to following Jesus? 
They went home to their various dwellings across the world, taking a little thing called the Good News with them. If you want to change the world, bringing people together through pilgrimage is the way to do it.  
Today (July 29) we took a pilgrimage within a pilgrimage: The Way of the Cross. Historically, Christians would visit the Holy Land to walk the path the Lord did on his way to Calvary. As this became less practical, Christians began creating their own “Stations of the Cross” in their cities. How fitting to reflect on the Cross, the Vehicle of Mercy, on this pilgrimage about mercy. “The cross,” Pope Francis tells us, “is the word through which God has responded to evil in the world.” 
The Way of the Cross was a main event for World Youth Day and all were invited to gather together in Błonia Park to pray together. As destiny would have it, my group ended up taking a wrong turn in the confusion of the crowds and was unable to make it to the park. We stood outside, by a fence, listening to an English translation of the prayer through the static of a radio.  
As I sat by the fence, I considered how incredible it was to be together, on pilgrimage, with a million young Catholics, remembering the cross of Jesus Christ in the same country where Christianity was persecuted not even 30 years ago. Our gathering in Błonia park was testament that the Cross had won the battle in suffering Poland.  
Like the early Christians going forth after Pentecost, all of the pilgrims will have to leave Poland. Yet, we will leave with more than we brought. I, personally, will be coming home with more than my under-50 pound suitcase, carry-on bag and blisters. I will be bringing home with me something that makes every fundraising weekend and every penny contributed to our trip worth it. I will be bringing home with me a better understanding of God’s answer to the suffering and evil in our world and church: “His answer is the Cross of Christ: a world which is love, mercy, and forgiveness.”

(Katie Erskine/Courtesy)

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.