By Rachel Morin A pilgrim from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, a parishioner of St. Louis in Clarksville and a rising sophomore at UMBC in Catonsville.
KRAKOW, Poland – This morning I woke up next to a million people.
The sun rose over the edge of the valley as we all started to sit up, nested in dew-speckled sleeping bags.
A pilgrim puts on her shoe at sunrise July 31, hours before Pope Francis celebrates the World Youth Day closing Mass at the Field of Mercy in Krakow, Poland. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)
Through the loudspeakers, mic checks began:
“Jeden, dwa, trzy … jeden, dwa, trzy”
(One, two, three … one, two, three).
Today is the last day of our Krakow pilgrimage and I can’t imaging being more tired, more hopeful, and more fulfilled than I am right now.
Around my wrist is a wish bracelet from Brazil that reads, “Lembrança do Senhor do Bonfim da Bahia,” or “In remembrance of the savior of Bahia.” Before tying it, I was asked to make three wishes, and then leave the bracelet on until it fell off naturally. It will probably still be on when I get home tomorrow.
This bracelet, these people gathered from hundreds of countries – they all create this stunning depiction of what it means to be Catholic and a citizen of the world. The wish bracelet reminds me of my goals and the people I care most about. I want to be able to share my experiences here with them, and let the words spoken here transform their hearts as they did mine.
The crowds of people create a stirring of faith unlike anything I’ve seen. Everyone is here to encounter Jesus. They bring their songs, language, and love to this one city in the world, walking side by side. Christ’s world is one of diversity and equity, and here we are able to experience something almost like that – where people give their excess to the less fortunate, exchange words and smiles with those who don’t look like them, and together share a single purpose for peace.
With everyone gathered together, the notion of a Universal Church doesn’t seem far off, and the joy and excitement of everyone around you lifts your spirit like nothing else. Isn’t it great to be a Catholic? We preach mercy, hope, forgiveness; we can change the world.
But as one person in a group of millions, it is easy to feel small. After this pilgrimage is over, we will all travel home without that crowd to cheer us on. What are we to do then? Pope Francis gave the answer to this as we celebrated Mass with him for the last time in Poland.
In a response to the Gospel reading about Zacchaeus, the tax collector who was not tall enough to see Jesus over the crowd (Lk. 19: 1-10), Pope Francis said that “Even today we can risk not getting close to Jesus because we don’t feel big enough, because we don’t think ourselves worthy.”
He went on to say, however, that no one is insignificant or unworthy of a relationship with Jesus. We were meant to love our lives and live them to the fullest for the sake of the world. Despite the challenges we have faced or might face when we return, it is important to never give up.
As I looked around at the crowds during Mass, I witnessed the importance of every soul in that park. The weather today was hot, and if someone passed out or felt sick, the medical staff was there to carry that person away on a stretcher and instruct the entire crowd to move for the ambulance that brought them to the hospital. Every person was cared for – no life was expendable. I witnessed my own significance yesterday when I was offered a mat to lie on from a kind Polish stranger. We exchanged names and will both probably remember that experience for a long time.
Today at the park I look up,
We are all under this one patch of sky,
where we came from all over the world.
Now we watch the same cloud pass slowly over the earth.
We look up, heaven looks down.
We are all God’s people.
And when we walk, drive, fly home,
This sky will follow each soul who breathed its air.