My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Last week, we held a Sending Off Mass for those pilgrims from Brooklyn and Queens who will travel to Poland for World Youth Day Krakow. World Youth Day is a tradition begun by St. John Paul II at the beginning of his Pontificate which has brought great graces to the Church and engendered enthusiasm of our young people for their faith.
This year, 2.5 million young Catholics are expected to come together to profess their faith, an experience which will have lasting effects for many years to come. Here in our diocese, we are fortunate to have almost 600 pilgrims traveling with us; 400 traveling directly with the diocese, 150 members of the Neocatecumenal movement and about 50 more who are going individually with various parishes from Brooklyn and Queens.
Perhaps we will have the largest contingent from the United States. It is hard to believe that each World Youth Day our diocese is able to have such a large contingent. I attribute a large part of our success to the work of Father Gerard Sauer, pilgrimage director and pastor of St. Mel’s Church, who takes a special interest in World Youth Day. He has a wonderful team of adult leaders who assist and support the other leaders of the various groups who attend. Prior to each World Youth Day, Father Sauer makes a trip to the proposed site so that he has a good understanding of the terrain which always allows us to have a very successful pilgrimage experience.
We put the emphasis on a pilgrimage. This is not a vacation, nor is it an adventure. Rather, it is time of prayer, especially during this Year of Mercy when we are traveling to Poland to visit the home of St. John Paul II, whose first encyclical is entitled, “Rich in Mercy,” and who legitimized the devotion to St. Faustina Kowalska, the Apostle of Divine Mercy. Together, these two great saints give us the backdrop for the theme, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy,” the words of Jesus in the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes were, indeed, the greatest sermon that was ever preached by Jesus because they contain the key to personal happiness. Our blessedness comes in reciprocal ways. When we are merciful and extend mercy, we in turn receive mercy.
In proclaiming the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis gives an opportunity to our young people to receive the indulgences during the Holy Year, as they will be catechized in the days prior to his arrival in Krakow regarding the theme of mercy and what it means for young people.
The pilgrims will visit sacred sites in Krakow, the Shrine of St. Faustina, the St. John Paul II Shrine, and the Shrine of Our Lady of Częstochowa, the national shrine of Poland. They will also visit Warsaw and several places along the way, including Auschwitz.
One of the highlights of our trip will be the underground cathedral in the salt mines where we will see the work of faith performed by the salt miners over many decades.
The Vigil Mass will take place almost 15 miles outside of Krakow in a large field. Our pilgrims will hike about nine of those miles in preparation for the visit of the Holy Father. All will sleep out in the field overnight under the stars awaiting Mass with the Holy Father the next morning, which will close World Youth Day in Krakow.
Some might ask why World Youth Day? Why all the effort and expenditure of funds by young people? This is truly an opportunity for our young people to grow both spiritually and humanly, as some leave their family for the first time for an extended period of time. They find themselves away from home where they must confront themselves and the issues of their lives. For some the question is, “What will I do with my life?” Do they have a vocation for marriage? Do they have a vocation to religious or priestly life? What will make them happy? These are the important questions we hope those taking this pilgrimage will begin to discern during this prayerful time.
It is a true gift for these young people to participate in World Youth Day. However, it does involve personal sacrifice and the sacrifice of their families who helped them over the years to raise the money to afford this kind of pilgrimage.
A pilgrimage, by definition, is an act of putting out into the deep because the pilgrims do not know what they will encounter along the way. They have a goal to deepen their knowledge of Jesus Christ in their life. Along the way, there will be twists and turns, unexpected events which all will hopefully lead them to a better union with our Lord, Jesus, the face of God’s mercy.
Upon my return from World Youth Day, I will issue another report on the experience. I ask you to pray not only for the pilgrims from Brooklyn and Queens, our 22 priests, and three bishops – Bishop Octavio Cisneros, Bishop Witold Mroziewski and myself – but also for all the young Catholics from around the world who travel to Krakow on this sacred pilgrimage.