KRAKOW, Poland – When Pope Francis made his way to the Campus Misericordiae (Field of Mercy) vigil site at Brzegi, Poland, he was a welcome sight. To and from the field, the World Youth Day pilgrims had walked around 11 miles.
Pilgrim Anthony Agnello, 20, from St. Mel parish, Flushing, said the long walks and high temperatures ultimately reminded him of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross.
“We are paying tribute to Jesus and this sacrifice and suffering exhaustion is only a portion of what he did for us,” he said.
Although the young pilgrims were tired, they were recharged during the Prayer Vigil with Pope Francis.
There were testimonies of those who accepted the mercy of God and returned to God. Pope Francis asked the young people not to confuse happiness with a sofa, not to be content with watching life from a place of comfort, and often, numbing paralysis.
“His is a welcoming presence. And when he speaks, he speaks of unity and fraternity,” said Ricardo Newball, 22, of Holy Cross, Flatbush. “That personally strikes with me and my family because we are very united and we do a lot of work in the community.”
He added that it was great that a man as influential as Pope Francis could draw two million people to come pray with him.
“This is pushing a message for young people like me to not be comfortable but to be active and to go out and change the world,” he said.
The center of the vigil was the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, followed by singing the Divine Mercy Chaplet in different languages.
Chrisel Gladson, 17, from Our Lady of the Snows, North Floral Park, said she was grateful for the opportunity to pray the chaplet at the overnight vigil.
“When (the pope) asked for a moment of silence… there are millions of people here and you could hear a pin drop,” she said. “Then adoration started and you could feel the presence of God.”
Three members of the diocesan contingent had VIP tickets to be closer to the stage at the vigil. Though only one of them was able to reach the front of the VIP section, they were all excited to be close to Pope Francis.
“Just seeing him up close was very emotional,” said Julius Romero, 17, from Holy Family, Fresh Meadows.
Deborah Oliveira, 18, of St. Rita, L.I.C., said that she was overwhelmed with emotion. “I don’t know what to do but just pray and thank God for what He has done for me,” she said.
Yamitzla Reid, 21, from St. Gerard Majella, who was the closest to the stage, said the experience was humbling.
“It was an amazing experience. It feels like he is blessing you, like he wants you to be something,” she said. “(Pope Francis) is right … who am I to sit back and not be able to experience what I need to experience. His speech was an eye opener.”
Afterward, the pilgrims sung hymns, looked for opportunities of prayer and confession and played games that united them across parishes.
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