Sarah Beatty was among the pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Liverpool who attended World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow. She describes a memorable experience for the Liverpool group in Poland.
Wednesday 20 July
The Liverpool pilgrims gathered in the early hours of Wednesday morning at Manchester airport for our flight to Krakow. Once landed, we were taken to Jaworzno, a town in the Diocese of Sosnowiec, for the first leg of our stay – the 'Days in the Diocese'. We were split between two parishes – St Charles Borromeo and Divine Mercy – and after meeting our host families and seeing our homes for the next few days, a tour of Jaworzno and an ice cream followed!
Thursday 21 July
We assembed for morning Mass in the town centre with fellow visitors from the United States, Ghana, Hong Kong and Italy. Afterwards, we were taken to GEOsfera, an old quarry now turned into a conservation centre. Here each group planted a tree as a memory of our time of pilgrimage. We then visited Lake Sosina and after a pedalo outing, our moment came to shine as we took the stage in the surrounding parkland to lead both locals and fellow pilgrims in a song or two. We wouldn't have been a group from Liverpool if we'd not sung a Beatles tune, so out came the songbook and a version of Hey Jude.
Friday 22 July
An early start as we met at 5.15am in the town centre for a planned 15km walk to the Jasna Gora monastery in Czestochowa, venue for the 1991 World Youth Day. Fortunately, due to a mix-up involving Italians and buses, our walk was reduced to a 5km stroll around Czestochowa to the monastery, where we visited the chapel that houses the famous Black Madonna icon. We had afternoon Mass in the grounds of the monastery, where Archbishop Philip Wilson from Australia reminded us that "Jesus gave the church to St John, a young man, and He gives it to you."
Saturday 23 July
We made a morning visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial and museum. On our return, we had a time of prayer for those who had died there during World War Two 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! – and then it was off to Sosnowiec for Mass on 'Pope Square', where St John Paul II had celebrated Mass in 1999. We were reminded that the world needs its young people to be leaders, to make a better Church and a better world.
Sunday 24 July
The two groups celebrated Sunday Mass with their parish communities, having the opportunity to read and lead worship. Afterwards there was a picnic with families and members of both parishes, which began with a game of football: England v Poland. Our team scored three goals but, alas, were no match for our Polish friends. Later we were taught some traditional Polish dances (not unlike our YMCA dance routine!) before the day closed with a final drink in Jaworzno town centre with the families who had taken such good care of us.
Monday 25 July
On arrival in Krakow, we had time to explore the city, with some of the group visiting Oskar Schindler's factory. Later we convened for prayer and the chance to share our experiences so far. After dinner, we walked together to the main square, Rynek Glowny, where we were able to get a sense of the diverse range of nationalities who had made their way to Krakow.
Tuesday 26 July
In the evening we joined some 200,000 other young people at Blonia Park for a Welcome Mass presided by the Archbishop of Krakow, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, who welcomed us to Poland and reminded us of the reason we were here. It was amazing to see so many pilgrims in the one place and it really gave us a taste of what WYD is about.
Wednesday 27 July
The WYD catechesis programme began. We were allocated the Tauron Arena – a large venue much like Liverpool's Echo Arena – in which tens of thousands of English-speaking pilgrims assembled to hear Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston speak on the theme of mercy. In the evening, there was a Night of Mercy led by Bishop Robert Barron from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles along with North American singer-songwriters Matt Maher and Audrey Assad. The atmosphere was brilliant 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 Holy Father's call to be merciful like the Father.
Thursday 28 July
We were back at the Tauron Arena for a morning of catechesis. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle reminded us to allow ourselves to be open to God and to be touched by his mercy. We then headed off to the hotel of our very own Bishop Tom Williams, who celebrated Mass for us, offering a reflection on the parable of the lost coin. Later in the day, we went to Blonia Park to help welcome Pope Francis – so many people had come to welcome him 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, where we were led in some classic praise and worship tracks, including our hymn of choice, 'Trading my sorrows'. Bishop Frank Caggiano from Bridgeport, USA, talked to us about how we can each be a missionary of mercy: we must not be afraid, we need to let go of anger and to perform the works of mercy. If we do these things, he said, we will receive the joy of Christ. At the end of Mass, he encouraged us to get some rest, warning us that we wouldn't sleep at the vigil. That afternoon Pope Francis was once again at Blonia Park for the Stations of the Cross, which was very moving. Each station featured a different performance, from mime to dance, each linked to the works of mercy.
Saturday 30 July
Vigil time! Taking the advice of Bishop Caggiano, our group rested until 3pm before setting off for the vigil site, Campus Misericordiae, in the neighbouring village of Brzegi. After a three-hour walk, we arrived and set up camp. At 7.30pm it was time to welcome Pope Francis and start the vigil, a celebration which included praying the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy, praise and worship, and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
Sunday 31 July
We were woken early by various acts performing on stage – one of them treating us to a Sister Act medley! Pope Francis celebrated the Mass that followed at 10am, and during his homily he said that it does not matter which phone you use or clothes you wear as God loves you unconditionally. He also spoke about how we need not be afraid to say yes to God. Then came the announcement that Panama would host the next World Youth Day in 2019, and that was that: WYD 2016 was over. Gone, but not forgotten; this, after all, was a time that none of us will forget.