KRAKOW, Poland — Pilgrims from the Diocese of Providence embarked on a 13-day pilgrimage on Saturday, traveling to Krakow, Poland, to participate in World Youth Day 2016. The international youth conference, which takes places in a new location every two to three years, is expected to draw at least one million, and possibly as many as two million, Catholic youth and chaperones from around the world.
For Teraesa Handren, 15, a parishioner of St. Philip Parish, Greenville, World Youth Day provides an opportunity to seek out other youth who share her passion for her Catholic faith. She explained her decision to attend the conference as she waited for her flight at Logan Airport, Boston, on Saturday afternoon.
“I prayed about it and for some reason, I got that calling,” she said, adding that youth from St. Philip’s have been preparing for the pilgrimage for about a year. “It’s time to get closer to God and be with people who also have that relationship with him.”
Julia Anthon, a parishioner of Holy Ghost Parish, Tiverton, said that she hoped World Youth Day would help her to discern God’s path for her life. Anthon recently graduated from high school and is interested in participating in missionary work.
“I really wanted to come here and deepen my faith and come back a different person,” she said. “I’m hoping that through all the different stages I’ll be able to discern God’s will for my life, since 17, 18 is such a vital age to know where God’s calling you.”
The 65 youth, young adults and chaperones left Logan Airport Saturday evening, flying out shortly before a storm in the Boston area grounded several flights. They arrived in Warsaw, Poland, on Sunday and attended morning Mass at the Church of the Holy Savior alongside local parishioners and pilgrims from the Diocese of San Bernardino, Calif., getting an early glimpse at one of the thousands of other dioceses expected to attend the event.
On Monday, the pilgrims set out for Czestochowa and Jasna Góra Monastery, site of the famous image of Our Lady of Czestochowa, revered as a national patron of Poland. The icon, also referred to as the “Black Madonna” because of its darkened appearance, is rumored to have been painted by St. Luke and transported to Poland in the 1300s. The icon and its defense has been at the center of several political and military conquests throughout Poland’s history, and the monastery continues to serve as an important pilgrimage destination today.
After attending noon Mass alongside hundreds of other pilgrims at the chapel containing the image of Our Lady, the group continued on to nearby Wadowice, birthplace of St. John Paul II. A brief tour of the town included the Basilica of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, site of the pope’s baptism, and his former family home, seen from the outside.
“There were a lot of crowds, but I think the crowds said it all,” said Thomas Colucci, a parishioner of St. Philip’s, following the Mass at Czestochowa. “It was important. It was interesting how respectful it became once Mass started. It was good to see everyone on the same page.”
Hannah Raymond, a parishioner of St. Patrick Church, Providence, traveling with a group of young adult pilgrims, said she was touched by the experience of watching the concelebrating priests move through the crowd to offer Communion to the people.
“I had this image of Christ going out to the masses,” she said. “I was so moved. It also reminded me of Jesus going through the crowd and someone reaching out to touch his cloak.”
Though the pilgrims from the diocese are already facing the challenges of traveling among more than one million pilgrims, often facing long lines at popular religious sites, the opportunity for fellowship with other Catholics has been apparent at every turn. Even at a rest area, where Rhode Island teens joined in an impromptu game of Frisbee with youth from France, Mitch Swass, a parishioner at Saints Theresa and Christopher Parish, Tiverton, was glad for the opportunity to connect with other pilgrims, even if they couldn’t understand each other’s language.
“I always like the stuff that’s not planned,” he said. “The stuff that just pops up.”
On Tuesday, the pilgrims attended their first official World Youth Day event with an opening Mass alongside thousands of fellow pilgrims in Błonia Park, Krakow. During the course of the week, World Youth Day events will include catechesis, concerts and various Masses and prayer gatherings, culminating with an overnight vigil and Mass with Pope Francis on Sunday morning.
Following the close of World Youth Day, the pilgrims will continue their journey to sites of religious and cultural significance throughout Poland and the Czech Republic, traveling to Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum in southern Poland, site of the notorious Nazi concentration camp, and the cities of Wrocław and Prague.
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