By Maureen Cromer
KRAKOW, Poland – The past 10 days have been filled with fun, faith and fellowship, but they have also been filled with sleepless nights, long walks and pure exhaustion.
When I woke up this morning,Aug. 30, I didn’t think my body was capable of getting out of bed. My legs were sore, my arms were tired and eyes were heavy. And then it hit me like a train – today is pilgrimage day.
What stood before me on this gorgeous morning was an 8-mile journey (or so we thought!) to Campus Misericordiae, the site of the Saturday night vigil and Sunday morning Mass with Pope Francis.
As the pilgrims and I packed our backpacks and got ready for the journey, I prayed. I asked God to bless me with whatever strength He could. I was so afraid that I wasn’t going to be able to make it. My fellow pilgrims, however, gave me the strength I was looking for.
We began the pilgrimage a little after noon. For the first few miles, everyone was giddy with excitement. As I watched these 40 young people begin this long journey with smiles on their faces, I was so proud that I was a part of it.
First they made a pilgrimage to Krakow, and then Archdiocese of Baltimore pilgrims made a pilgrimage-within-a-pilgrimage to the vigil with Pope Francis. (Maureen Cromer/CR Staff)
Maryland flag? Check. Neck pillow? Check. A pilgrim follows the path to the Saturday-night vigil. (Maureen Cromer/CR Staff)
The excitement, however, wore off little by little, as the sun got stronger, the heat rose, and we walked farther.
After four-and-a-half hours and a little over 9 miles, the pilgrims and I reached Campus Misericordiae – and just like that, the excitement was back!
There was an absolute mess of other pilgrims around us, hundreds of flags flying above us, and songs of other countries coming from every direction. It was almost as if the world had collapsed into Brezgi, Poland. All of these citizens of the world had come for the same reason we did – to share their faith with one another and with the Holy Father.
We spent the evening hearing witnesses to faith, celebrating the universality of the church, participating in adoration and standing vigil in prayer with Pope Francis.
During his address to the pilgrims, Pope Francis called upon each of us to leave a mark on this world.
“Being on this pilgrimage means a lot to me because it has shown me how universal our church really is,” said Jessica Brinker, a parishioner of Our Lady of the Fields and an incoming freshman at Saint Vincent College in Pennsylvania. “I see that despite the loss of faith in our culture, my generation is changing the world.”
And now, as we prepare for the end of our journey here at World Youth Day, we look forward to the future and to a world were the bridges we are building here today grow stronger with faith and love.
Through God, all things are possible – even pilgrimage.
The sun sets over World Youth Day pilgrims as Pope Francis attends a July 30 prayer vigil at the Field of Mercy in Krakow, Poland. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)