Dear young people, you have come to Krakow to meet Jesus. Today’s Gospel speaks to us of just such a meeting between Jesus and a man named Zacchaeus, in Jericho (cf. Lk 19:1-10). There Jesus does not simply preach or greet people; as the Evangelist tells us, he passed through the city (v. 1). In other words, Jesus wants to draw near to us personally, to accompany our journey to its end, so that his life and our life can truly meet.
An amazing encounter then takes place, with Zacchaeus, the chief “publican” or tax collector. Zacchaeus was thus a wealthy collaborator of the hated Roman occupiers, someone who exploited his own people, someone who, because of his ill repute, could not even approach the Master. His encounter with Jesus changed his life, just as it has changed, and can daily still change, each of our lives. But Zacchaeus had to face a number of obstacles in order to meet Jesus. At least three of these can also say something to us.
The first obstacle is smallness of stature. Zacchaeus couldn’t see the Master because he was little. Even today we can risk not getting close to Jesus because we don’t feel big enough, because we don’t think ourselves worthy. This is a great temptation; it has to do not only with self-esteem, but with faith itself. For faith tells us that we are “children of God… that is what we are” (1 Jn 3:1). We have been created in God’s own image; Jesus has taken upon himself our humanity and his heart will never be separated from us; the Holy Spirit wants to dwell within us. We have been called to be happy for ever with God!
That is our real “stature”, our spiritual identity: we are God’s beloved children, always. So you can see that not to accept ourselves, to live glumly, to be negative, means not to recognize our deepest identity. It is like walking away when God wants to look at me, trying to spoil his dream for me. God loves us the way we are, and no sin, fault or mistake of ours makes him change his mind. As far as Jesus is concerned – as the Gospel shows – no one is unworthy of, or far from, his thoughts. No one is insignificant. He loves all of us with a special love; for him all of us are important: you are important! God counts on you for what you are, not for what you possess. In his eyes the clothes you wear or the kind of cell phone you use are of absolutely no concern. He doesn’t care whether you are stylish or not; he cares about you! In his eyes, you are precious, and your value is inestimable.
At times in our lives, we aim lower rather than higher. At those times, it is good to realize that God remains faithful, even obstinate, in his love for us. The fact is, he loves us even more than we love ourselves. He believes in us even more than we believe in ourselves. He is always “cheering us on”; he is our biggest fan. He is there for us, waiting with patience and hope, even when we turn in on ourselves and brood over our troubles and past injuries. But such brooding is unworthy of our spiritual stature! It is a kind of virus infecting and blocking everything; it closes doors and prevents us from getting up and starting over. God, on the other hand, is hopelessly hopeful! He believes that we can always get up, and he hates to see us glum and gloomy. Because we are always his beloved sons and daughters. Let us be mindful of this at the dawn of each new day. It will do us good to pray every morning: “Lord, I thank you for loving me; help me to be in love with my own life!” Not with my faults, that need to be corrected, but with life itself, which is a great gift, for it is a time to love and to be loved.
Zacchaeus faced a second obstacle in meeting Jesus: the paralysis of shame. We can imagine what was going on in his heart before he climbed that sycamore. It must have been quite a struggle – on one hand, a healthy curiosity and desire to know Jesus; on the other, the risk of appearing completely ridiculous.
Zacchaeus was public figure, a man of power. He knew that, in trying to climb that tree, he would have become a laughingstock to all. Yet he mastered his shame, because the attraction of Jesus was more powerful. You know what happens when someone is so attractive that we fall in love with them: we end up ready to do things we would never have even thought of doing. Something similar took place in the heart of Zacchaeus, when he realized that Jesus was so important that he would do anything for him, since Jesus alone could pull him out of the mire of sin and discontent. The paralysis of shame did not have the upper hand. The Gospel tells us that Zacchaeus “ran ahead”, “climbed” the tree, and then, when Jesus called him, he “hurried down” (vv. 4, 6). He took a risk, he put his life on the line. For us too, this is the secret of joy: not to stifle a healthy curiosity, but to take a risk, because life is not meant to be tucked away. When it comes to Jesus, we cannot sit around waiting with arms folded; he offers us life – we can’t respond by thinking about it or “texting” a few words!
Dear young friends, don’t be ashamed to bring everything to the Lord in confession, especially your weaknesses, your struggles and your sins. He will surprise you with his forgiveness and his peace. Don’t be afraid to say “yes” to him with all your heart, to respond generously and to follow him! Don’t let your soul grow numb, but aim for the goal of a beautiful love which also demands sacrifice. Say a firm “no” to the narcotic of success at any cost and the sedative of worrying only about yourself and your own comfort.
After his small stature and the paralysis of shame, there was a third obstacle that Zacchaeus had to face. It was no longer an interior one, but was all around him. It was the grumbling of the crowd, who first blocked him and then criticized him: How could Jesus have entered his house, the house of a sinner! How truly hard it is to welcome Jesus, how hard it is to accept a “God who is rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4)! People will try to block you, to make you think that God is distant, rigid and insensitive, good to the good and bad to the bad. Instead, our heavenly Father “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good” (Mt 5:45). He demands of us real courage: the courage to be more powerful than evil by loving everyone, even our enemies. People may laugh at you because you believe in the gentle and unassuming power of mercy. But do not be afraid. Think of the motto of these days: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Mt 5:7). People may judge you to be dreamers, because you believe in a new humanity, one that rejects hatred between peoples, one that refuses to see borders as barriers and can cherish its own traditions without being self-centred or small-minded. Don’t be discouraged: with a smile and open arms, you proclaim hope and you are a blessing for our one human family, which here you represent so beautifully!
That day the crowd judged Zacchaeus; they looked him over, up and down. But Jesus did otherwise: he gazed up at him (v. 5). Jesus looks beyond the faults and sees the person. He does not halt before bygone evil, but sees future good. His gaze remains constant, even when it is not met; it seeks the way of unity and communion. In no case does it halt at appearances, but looks to the heart. With this gaze of Jesus, you can help bring about another humanity, without looking for acknowledgement but seeking goodness for its own sake, content to maintain a pure heart and to fight peaceably for honesty and justice. Don’t stop at the surface of things; distrust the worldly cult of appearances, cosmetic attempts to improve our looks. Instead, “download” the best “link” of all, that of a heart which sees and transmits goodness without growing weary. The joy that you have freely received from God, freely give away (cf. Mt 10:8): so many people are waiting for it!
Finally let us listen to the words that Jesus spoke to Zacchaeus, which to be seem meant for us today: “Come down, for I must stay at your house today” (v. 5). Jesus extends the same invitation to you: “I must stay at your house today”. We can say that World Youth Day begins today and continues tomorrow, in your homes, since that is where Jesus wants to meet you from now on. The Lord doesn’t want to remain in this beautiful city, or in cherished memories alone. He wants to enter your homes, to dwell in your daily lives: in your studies, your first years of work, your friendships and affections, your hopes and dreams. How greatly he desires that you bring all this to him in prayer! How much he hopes that, in all the “contacts” and “chats” of each day, pride of place be given to the golden thread of prayer! How much he wants his word to be able to speak to you day after day, so that you can make his Gospel your own, so that it can serve as a compass for you on the highways of life!
In asking to come to your house, Jesus calls you, as he did Zacchaeus, by name. Your name is precious to him. The name “Zacchaeus” would have made people back the think of the remembrance of God. Trust the memory of God: his memory is not a “hard disk” that “saves” and “archives” all our data, but a heart filled with tender compassion, one that finds joy in “erasing” in us every trace of evil. May we too now try to imitate the faithful memory of God and treasure the good things we have received in these days. In silence, let us remember this encounter, let us preserve the memory of the presence of God and his word, and let us listen once more to the voice of Jesus as he calls us by name. So let us now pray silently, remembering and thanking the Lord wanted us to be here and has come here to meet us.
WHAT A JOURNEY WE’VE HAD:
Last night was the most beautiful night of my life. During this vigil there was an endless sea of candles and people worshipping our God. Wax leaking into my hand did not distract me from experiencing the Lord’s presence and love as music was played and angelic voices sang on stage.
Coming to World Youth Day showed me that despite all the news of conflict in the world we see in the media today, faith has the unspoken power to unify every corner of the earth and point us all back to our creator.
I will always cherish the opportunity I’ve had this week, especially the past 24 hours, to meet people from all walks of life. It was fun to trade American “goodies” and get items from other nations such as Ukraine and Ireland.
Talking to people from other countries showed me that our commonality lies not only in our faith but also in how we interact with others and love them as our own brothers and sisters.
This picture shows the beatuy of the section C1 (hearing impaired section) where we were located. It was on the route where the pope drove by–which was great! Otherwise our section stunk since we faced the back of the stage. Lucky, we were able to reserve a spot in the central section with a direct view of the stage. Late Sunday morning, in the heat of the day, we used this central space to listen to spectacular mass led by Pope Francis.
Overall the World Youth Day pilgrimage taught me that faith is larger than one person–and gathering together to share and celebrate a common faith is a moving experience that everyone should partake in.
What I found the most inspiring about our trip and World Youth Day was all the hundreds of thousands of people who traveled from all over the world to join us. Over a few short days, I was able to meet and talk to people from 25 different countries, including Slovenia, the UAE, Nigeria, and Kazakhstan. To experience new cultures and see the motivation people had to come to this event is amazing and hard to comprehend.
The part of World Youth Day I found most inspiring was how through all the hardships everyone was still friendly and participated fully in mass.
People at the event came from all over the world and were all very friendly through all the hardships. It was fairly comfortable the first day (after the long walk) and night and everyone I talked to from all over the world was very friendly.
The next day everyone woke up very early but everyone seemed to still be in a good mood. During morning mass it was very hot out with no wind or shade. Regardless, everyone stayed, participated in the hot sun, and walked home through hard rain.
This made me realize how much people from all over the world would go through for a religious event.
For our last 2 days we took part in a 4 mile walk to and from a field where we would be camping over night to participate in an all night vigil and mass the next morning. Unfortunately, these 2 days were the hottest days of our entire trip.
While we were walking, there was a stand selling coke, mystery meat, and umbrella hats. Obviously I HAD to get the umbrella hat. I mean how could I not? This proved to be the best purchase I have ever made. This wonderful invention provided a 360 degree coverage of my entire head! I can proudly say that my face did not get sunburned that day! Everyone was jealous that they didn’t get one once we got to the field because it was so sunny and I had shade wherever I went! I took a nice nap in the sun (which resulted in an interesting looking sock tan). The hat was nice when I sleeping and it was great for mass the next morning.
This trip taught me to find the silver linings in certain situations. Instead of being all cranky and defeated because of the heat, I tried to focus on the good things to make this experience more enjoyable! Like when all 1.6 million people were standing up holding a candle, it just showed how beautiful our faith is, and how we should share this beauty with the rest of the world.
The thing that inspired me most over the past week was the fact that religious peoples’ lives are actually fun. They still dance, sing, and party but they also have a great relationship with God. It has inspired me to try to be closer with him myself because I want to lead a better life. Overall, this trip taught me that the misconception that religion is boring is false.
Thank you for following our trip to WYD. We will be heading on our way out of Poland tomorrow. We had an experience we will never forget!
LOVE, PRAYERS & PEACE,
LUKE, JAMES, OLIVIA, SKYLAR, HENRY, & LIAN
Our day began with Mass celebrated by Father Galens in his hotel room! We’ve met other pilgrims on our trip who are very appreciative that Father says Mass each day, and often join us.
Boarding the bus each morning is a bit of an adventure—let’s just say the itinerary is very flexible, and we never quite know what’s in store for us.
The first stop today was Skalka, the oldest shrine in Krakow dedicated to the bishop and martyr St. Stanislaus. Saint Stanislaus was slain by order of Polish king Boleslaw II the Bold in 1079. This action resulted in the king’s exile and the eventual canonization of the slain bishop. There is a log in the sanctuary with the saint’s blood stain upon it.
The crypt underneath the church houses the tombs of many distinguished Poles—artists, writers, a Nobel prize winner, poets and historians.
Skalka is also the site of a Pauline monastery and The Altar of the Three Millenia—a beautiful outdoor monument to the saints and heroes who shaped Poland’s Catholic history.
Next stop—the Tauron arena, called The Mercy Centre for WYD. Today we arrived just in time to hear our own Cardinal Dolan speaking to the crowd. There were young Catholics sharing testimony, a religious band and even the narrator of the CCD program “Chosen”—the kids knew him right away.
Cardinal Dolan then celebrated mass (with MANY other priests). In his homily he taught us that ” joy” is spelled:
J – because Jesus comes first
O- because next, Others are most important
Y – for You, who should come last
Is that the Pope??
This afternoon we have our first taste of downtime, a little much needed rest and relaxation before the two days ahead. A dip in the pool and pizza are in order for these pilgrims who have been such easy and enjoyable travel companions, and real troopers through the crazier moments.
And the day ended with some good old fashioned card playing:)
Tomorrow, early in the day, we set out on our seven mile hike to the over night vigil and Sunday morning Mass celebration with Pope Francis.
Please pray for our safe and smooth journey.
If possible, we’ll be posting photos to the blog tomorrow evening–since a picture is worth a thousand words–or in this case, millions:)
We started today with a morning Mass said by Fr. Galens on the patio of the hotel.
Following Mass, we as a group visited the historic city of Krakow. We walked the Royal Route—a big attraction in Krakow. It features Matejko Square statue which represented the polish victory Grünewald. Here we also learned that Poland was not a country for 123 years.
Next we visited the Basilica of St. Florian which was hosting a French speaking Mass. St. Florian is the patron saint of firefighters because when he was murdered he was drowned.
Then we went to the defenses of Krakow which were built in 1492 and was never conquered.
Our Group in our new Poland t-shirts
After, we headed to St. Mary’s Basilica, which had very unique artistic style inside. This was located in the Main Market Square—a.k.a Rynek Glowny.
Lighting candles for loved ones.
In the square, we traded American items such as flags and keychains for other flags and pins from kids of other countries. We also ate lunch at a nice cafe in the main square which everyone liked.
On our way to St. Bernard Basilica we stopped to shop for Swatches and to eat ice cream.
We ended our day by seeing the Pope arriving at Blonia as well as the opening ceremony for World Youth Day, however, we were locked out of our section because we were told that the walk to Blonia would take 20 minutes, but it actually took 90 minutes to get there! While we were locked out, the Pope came by us in his Pope mobile:
Things then turned for the worse because the gates to allow entry for the the section we were assigned were closed . We were about to leave when our luck changed and they reopened the gates. Once we got into the arena (we had an amazing view from our section) they announced that 187 countries are attending the event which makes it a truly global event.
My favorite part of the day was seeing all the people from different countries united together and try to find out where they were from or to try to trade items with them.
We had a very early wake up call today! Father Galens celebrated Mass with us in a small room near the hotel lobby at 6:15am. That’s pretty early!
Private morning Mass with Fr. Galens
Directly after, we had the opportunity to go to The Wieliczka Historic Salt Mine in Krakow. But first we had to climb down 374 stairs or 54 flights.
Descending the 54 flights (picture looking down the staircase)
At the bottom we ended up in a small chamber 64 meters below ground. We continued our way through narrow passages and learned about how the miners used pine trees to keep the mines from collapsing. They used a lincoln log technique to help support the ceilings (14th Century). The salt preserved the wood over all these years.
The oldest parts of the mine were developed in the 14th century! It was super cool as we were walking because on the walls we could see the salt! Our guide told us that we could eat some of the salt off the wall and it ended up being really good. Thousands of years ago, there used to be an ocean over Poland. When the water eventually evaporated, the salt remained. This created a huge salt deposit.
“Cauliflower” salt on the wall
Walls of salt
Another super cool part about the mines was that in different chambers, some of the miners carved statues out of salt. One of them depicts the legend of how salt came to Poland.
Legend of the discovery of the salt mine depicted in salt
We also learned how big of a help horses were to the successfulness of the mines. Horses were born and raised underground to help work machines to move salt between levels. Now that’s a lot of horse power! When we were about 90m deep in the mines, there was a small chapel in one of the chambers. The miners would come and have mass in the mornings and then go out to work. In the mine, there are 40 chapels just like this one.
The Holy Cross Chapel, 91 meters underground
It was super inspiring to see how much effort went into building areas to worship Our Lord. However, after the small chapel, we entered into this huge open cavern where there was an enormous church. Pretty much the whole thing was made from salt; from the carvings on the wall, to the alter and the chandeliers—even the steps, walls, ceiling and the floor! The whole space took 60 years to make and decorate, and only 3 people ever worked on it.
St. Kinga’s Chapel from above (3000 feet below ground)
Salt Chandelier in Chapel
Main alter in the chapel
All above images carved from salt!
Our guide informed us that lots of people get married there. We eventually stepped out into another small passageway where there was a sign saying that we had reached level 3, at 135 m deep!
To end this awesome trip, we got to take a very fast elevator up (to my relief), instead of taking the stairs 🙂
After going to the salt mines we went to see the apartment where Saint John Paul II (Karol Wojtyła) grew up. Before we got there though we stopped for lunch. We ate tomato soup, pork, vegetables, and rice. There was also a stand where you could buy drinks and ice cream. After lunch we got back on the bus and went to Saint John Paul II’s apartment in Wadowice, which has been turned into a museum. Before we went into his apartment we visited the church where he was baptized and grew up going to mass. Inside the church there was his papal chair and the font where he was baptized.
The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church (Inside and outside)
Skylar touching the baptismal font where St. John Paul II was baptised
St. John Paul’s Papal Chair
Then we went into the apartment where he lived as a boy. There we got to see many items from his whole life and some of the original furniture that was in the apartment. Some of what we saw included the room in which he was born, his skis and hiking stick, family photos, and personal effects. In the museum we learned all the different places he traveled during his lifetime. It was very emotional to see the the gun he was shot with, and the bullet that hit him.
St. John Paul’s childhood home (right next to the cathedral!)
He is very important to World Youth Day because not only did he start World Youth Day, he is also from Poland, and is the patron of the this years event. He also really loved young people—he even said about youth, “you are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world.”
In the evening we went to Old Town Krakow. There were massive amounts of people from all over the world cheering, dancing, and celebrating.
American spirit! Go USA!
Today we visited Auschwitz and were transported into the reality of a nightmare for millions of refugees. Auschwitz was alive with the aura of despondent fear that we, as World Youth Day participants, could feel this with every step. Each step we took was heavy and filled with regret and guilt. This regret comes from the fact that no one stood up and fought against the NAZIS for the victims and their humanity. My imagination ran wild with images of the refugees being killed in the exact place we were standing as we analyzed our surroundings. Being at Auschwitz I and II was a surreal experience because it was real. People let their violent and hate-filled nature spread— causing this genocide. Our previous knowledge of concentration camps and the Holocaust even further placed emphasis on the importance of Auschwitz , and how we must never repeat past mistakes. Walking around Auschwitz was like being trapped in a past world; where people were killed for their cultural and religious differences. Sadly, this form of persecution still occurs today. Weather someone is black, Jewish, or gay; no one has the right to kill them.
Destruction is the first word that comes to mind when I think of Auschwitz. Barracks were destroyed with only their chimneys left. Gas chambers and buildings were burnt and left in ruins. Destruction was how the NAZIS healed. They coped with their anger and guilt by trying to destroy the evidence; as they also hoped to prevent concentration camps and the Holocaust from becoming known history. Arguably, the Holocaust was biggest tragedy and mistake in world history. What remained at the scene where ash filled lakes, guard towers, spiked wire fences, and brick towers with dark insides stripped clean of evidence pointing to the holocaust.
Lake that holds the ashes of the dead
Entering into Auschwitz’s we saw black words stating the english translation WORK MAKES FREE. However more refugees were killed than set free. Being able to walk out of those gates safely today was a privilege. As a Christian, I understand the value of sacrifice because Jesus sacrificed himself for us. One man, Maximilian Kolbe, sacrificed himself at Auschwitz hoping to contribute to the goal of helping minorities have the opportunity to walk through those gates one day. This day came too late. Auschwitz leaves a legacy that change came too late. The concentration camp reminded me to stand up for what is right before what is right becomes wrong.
After lunch we made our way to Czestochowa to see the Black Madonna. This image was thought to be painted by Saint Luke the Evangelist on a table made by the carpenter Jesus. Later, Saint Helen recovered the painting in Jerusalem and gave it to her son Constantine. From that point, the painting made its way to Charlemagne, and Leo of Ruthenia, and eventually the image found a permanent home in Czestochowa.
The painting survived a strike from an arrow and the swords of armed forces. These attacks left permanent marks on the image. Today the painting is called the “Black Madonna” due to soot residue from centuries of votive lights.
The Black Madonna is revered by all of Poland and has become a symbol of Polish national identity. Throughout its history, the Black Madonna has been credited for many miraculous healings. From a distance, the image appears dark and plain. However, when I got close enough I could see a clear expression in her face and her skin appeared lighter. The gold surrounded Mary and Jesus was extremely vibrant and beautiful. It was incredible to stand and pray in front of this divine image. Knowing that it dates back to when Jesus walked the earth and touched by him, made being in its presence special.
These are the former crutches of people who were healed by ptaying to the miraculous image.
Afterwards, we celebrated Mass in the Rosary Chapel with Father Galens and some of the other priests from our group. In his homily, the priest talked about good and evil and the importance of goodness. He reminded us of our call to speak up for what is right.
Our journey began with checking in at JFK at 3PM. We were fortunate to all be on the same flight, as the original flight was cancelled last night, Saturday. At the airport we scrambled to make sure our seating arrangements were okay. Lucky for us, (Olivia, my mom and I) we were seated by the emergency door for the seven hour flight to Paris! We took off around 8:00, and of course we *tried* to sleep (unsuccessfully). I closed my eyes for about three hours and sat in 500 different positions, but that’s what happens when you try to sleep on an airplane.
Trying every neck pillow we had all at once.
At 3:00AM in New York, or 9AM in France, we landed and went directly to our connecting flight 40 minutes later. Since we had to reschedule our flights Saturday night, our group had to split up; some of us had to stay in Paris and get on another flight to Warsaw at noon. Being in the earlier group, we immediately boarded and took off quickly… and landed quickly, because I somehow fell asleep! The flight was about two hours long.
Group waiting around in Paris airport for later flight
Once we landed in Warsaw, we collected our bags and found our tour guide. We had to wait two hours to leave on the bus to Krakow, as there was another group that was coming with us from Texas whose flight had been delayed. The bus accidentally left without us at first (!), but it circled back around to pick us up. The rest of our group (that was delayed in Paris) went on another bus later. The bus ride was 300 km long and took five hours as we rolled down one-lane roads to Krakow.
Finally in Krakow, after the 22 hour journey, we went directly to the Shrine of Divine Mercy. It is a beautiful church, convent and shrine dedicated to St. Faustina. She was a nun who devoted herself to the sacred heart of Jesus and his divine mercy. Her life’s purpose was to spread the message to the world that Jesus loves us all so much—and his mercy is available to all of us, if only we ask.
We went to the chapel where St. Faustina prayed and received the message from Jesus to paint an image of him and his divine mercy. The picture attempts to portray Jesus (as St. Faustina saw him in her vision) as he appeared to the apostles in the upper room after the resurrection. We knelt to pray before the image, (Jesus said he would bestow special graces to those who pray before the image) and there we prayed for, and then left behind about half the intentions we received from friends and family. The other half will be left by the those in our group who didn’t get to go to the shrine today due the flight mishaps.
Mom and Angela with a Sister from the Divine Mercy Order
After a very long day (techincally days), we went to our hotel to reconvene with the rest of our group and enjoyed a much welcomed dinner to wrap up “day one.”.
Wake up call is at 6am tomorrow! Looking forward to day two of World Youth Day…
Kraków, Poland here we come! And we hope you’ll follow along with us as we journal each day of our trip from July 25-August 1. (To “follow” click the blue follow box at the bottom right of your screen. Please note that this box may not appear when viewing the blog from a cell phone. Or, simply visit this link each day and “refresh” the page if you do not see a new post.)
We’d like to extend a very special thank you to our families, friends and all the parishioners of St. Patrick’s in Armonk, NY—for your love, prayers and support!
Keep those prayers coming… as we, too, will hold all of your intentions close to our hearts.
In a world that seems, in some ways, to be falling apart, we make this pilgrimage to World Youth Day to show you that HOPE and MIRACLES prevail. Let us be witnesses to THE TRUTH that God is good and that the present AND future are in His hands.
And that future is going to be made up of MILLIONS of youth congregating in just a few days…
See you there!
Love, prayers and peace,
Lian, Skylar, Henry, James, Luke and Olivia