Krakow 2016: World Youth Day diary

Pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Liverpool set off for World Youth Day on Wednesday 20 July.
This is an account of their experience in Jaworzno, the town in which the host families were based, and in Krakow.

See all the pictures from the Liverpool Pilgrims
Wednesday 20 July
Our pilgrims gathered in the early hours of Wednesday morning at Manchester airport for our flight to Krakow. Once we landed, we were taken to Jaworzno, a town in the Diocese of Sosnowiec for the 'Days in the Diocese'. We were split between two parishes; the parish of Saint Charles Borromeo and the parish of the Divine Mercy, with both very welcoming, inviting us to join them for a light snack with parishioners and the parish priest.
After our welcome, we were taken by our families to the homes that we would call our own for the next few days. We all had a chance to settle into our new homes and get to know our families before a tour of the town of Jaworzno and an ice cream! We then went back to our homes for supper and to, once again, spend time with our families.
Thursday 21 July
We gathered together on Thursday morning to celebrate Mass in the town centre church with other pilgrims from USA, Hong Kong, Ghana and Italy who were also staying in Jaworzno. Afterwards, we were taken to visit Geosphere, an old quarry which has been turned into a centre for conservation. While there, each group was asked to plant a tree as a memory of our time of pilgrimage.
With the tree planting done, we walked the scenic route to Lake Sosina through Gródek Park where there were different activities for us to do, including a pedalo boat trip across the lake.
Then came our moment to shine as we took to the stage to lead the crowd in a song or two. We wouldn't be a group from Liverpool if we didn't sing a Beatles tune, so out came the song books and a version of Hey Jude. Once again, we made our way home for supper, spending time with our families.
Friday 22 July
Friday was a very early start as we had to meet at 5.15am in the town centre for a 15km walk to Jasna Góra in Częstochowa. Fortunately, due to some confusion over Italians and buses which made us over two hours late, our walk was reduced to a 5km walk around Częstochowa to the monastery.
We were welcomed upon arrival by the monastery priests and invited to spend some time in prayer in the chapel that houses the famous Black Madonna icon.
At 3pm, we celebrated Mass in the grounds of the monastery, where Archbishop Wilson from Australia reminded those gathered that "Jesus gave the church to Saint John, a young man, and He gives it to you".
Saturday 23 July
A later start than the previous day as we set off for our time at Auschwitz and Birkenau. We gathered back together after our visit for a time of prayer to pray for those who had died there and all who are still persecuted today for their faith and beliefs.
After lunch, we were taken to the local outlet mall, the Polish version of Cheshire Oaks. A few purchases were made and then it was off to Sosnowiec for Mass on Pope Square, a place where Saint John Paul II had celebrated Mass in 1999. At Mass, we were reminded that the world needs its young people to be leaders, to make a better church and a better world. Afterwards, we had the opportunity to meet and speak to other pilgrims from around the world.
Sunday 24 July
The two groups celebrated Sunday Mass with their parish communities, having the opportunity to read and lead worship. Then it was free time to spend with the parish communities and our families, with each family doing something different with their pilgrims.
We then gathered for a family picnic with families and parishioners from both parishes which began with a game of football: England v Poland. The team did a great job and scored three excellent goals, but we were no match for our Polish friends.
Later on, we were taught traditional Polish dances, similar to our YMCA and Saturday Night dance routines, and had time to sit and relax before the final meal. The families wanted to have a final drink with the group before we set off for Krakow, and so we were taken to Jaworzno town centre to socialise and relax with the people who had taken such good care of us through the week.
Monday 25 July
Unfortunately, the time came for us to say goodbye to our families. Although most of the group did not want to say goodbye, we were excited about what lay ahead in Krakow.
Making good time, we arrived at our hotel and were able to have a few hours to walk around and explore the city, some of the group heading over to Schindler's factory and other major sites.
In the evening, we gathered for prayer and for a chance to share our World Youth Day experiences with each other so far. After our evening meal, we walked together to the Rynek Główny. Many other pilgrims had gathered there, so we were able to get a sense of the different nations and groups that made their way to Krakow for World Youth Day 2016.
Tuesday 26 July
Tuesday was a fairly free day, with the group splitting off around Krakow city. In the evening we gathered at Błonia Park along with 200,000 young people. The Welcome Mass was celebrated by the Archbishop of Krakow, Archbishop Stanisław, who welcomed the pilgrims to Poland and reminded them of the reason they were here. It was amazing to see so many people gathered in one place and it really gave a taste of what WYD is.
Wednesday 27 July
Wednesday saw the start of the WYD catechesis. We were allocated the Tauron Arena: a large arena, much the like Echo Arena, in which tens of thousands of English-speaking pilgrims assembled to hear Cardinal O'Malley of Boston speak on the theme of mercy. In the evening at the Arena there was a 'Night of Mercy' led by Bishop Robert Barron and Matt Maher and Audrey Assad. The atmosphere was amazing and to see the arena full with thousands outside unable to get in spoke of the vibrancy of the Church and the answer to the call of the Holy Father to be merciful like the Father.
Thursday 28 July
On Thursday, we were back to the Tauron Arena for our morning of catechesis. We were blessed to hear Cardinal Tagle speak once again. In his catechesis he reminded us to allow ourselves to be open to God, and allow ourselves to be touched by his mercy.
We then headed off to Bishop Tom's hotel where he celebrated Mass for us. He offered us his own thoughts and reflection on the parable of the lost coin. In the afternoon, we had a chance to rest for a while before heading off to welcome Pope Francis to Krakow. It was incredible to see so many gathered to welcome the Pope and to celebrate our faith together.
Friday 29 July
For catechesis, we decided to stay local and so ended up in the Augustinian church on the street opposite our hotel. We were led in some classic praise and worship tracks, including our hymn of choice 'Trading my sorrows'. We even learned new actions to it. Bishop Caggiano spoke to us about how we can be a missionary of mercy. He told us three stories to illustrate his point and concluding by saying in order to be a missionary of mercy we must not be afraid, we need to let go of anger and perform the works of mercy. If we do those things then we will receive the joy of Christ.
At the end of Mass, he encouraged us to get some rest throughout the rest of the day as, experience tells him: you don't sleep at the vigil!
That afternoon, the Pope was once again at Błonia Park for the Stations of the Cross which was very moving. Each station had a different performance from mime to dance, all linked in to the works of mercy.
Saturday 30 July
Vigil time! Taking Bishop Caggiano's advice, the group rested until 3pm before setting off to the vigil site: Campus Misericordiae.
After three hours, we arrived at the vigil site and set up camp. Once that was done, it was time to welcome Pope Francis and begin the vigil. During this time, we were able to take part in praying the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy, praise and worship and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
Sunday 31 July
The group were woken up early with various acts performing on stage, one of which delivered a Sister Act medley.
Once everyone was awake, it was time for Mass with Pope Francis. During his homily he told the young people gathered that it didn't matter what cell phone you use or clothes you wear, God loves you unconditionally. He also spoke about how we need not be afraid to say yes to God.
After Mass, it was time to announce the host city of the next World Youth Day in 2019: Panama City. And that was it: World Youth Day 2016 was officially over.
It was a fantastic two weeks in Krakow, which none of us will forget.