Young people react as the helicopter carrying Pope John Paul II lands at the site of the 2000 World Youth Day prayer vigil outside Rome. He inaugurated World Youth Day 30 years ago. Its international gatherings have drawn hundreds of thousands of people. CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec

Confessions of a first-time pilgrim

By  Steven Travale, Youth Speak News
  • July 21, 2016

I have begun my very first major pilgrimage. On July 20, I’ll board a flight to Warsaw, Poland, where for the following 12 days I’ll join thousands of others partaking in cultural and religious events at World Youth Day, created more than 30 years ago by St. John Paul II. This year’s event is being held in his homeland, Krakow, where he was archbishop.

I’ve made day trips to my diocesan cathedral and spent an hour at St. Anne de Beaupre in Quebec, but I’ve never fully undertaken a spiritual journey, which is by definition a pilgrimage.

To think that my journey is one of purpose, and of adoration, means it carries more substance and weight than a holiday. Truth be told, I’m nervous that I may not be prepared for two weeks of bold learning and self-discovery which this year’s World Youth Day promises to be.

I am one to always plan ahead and prepare for a trip; physically, I am on the ball. I’ve attended the meetings with the 60+ others who are going on the diocesan trip to Krakow, purchased a Polish SIM card, attempted (and didn’t succeed) with some Polish lessons, and packed just about everything into my suitcases. In a tangible sense, I am fully prepared for my two-week pilgrimage.

Spiritually however, I am uncertain of what to expect. At times I feel more annoyed by some of the sacrifices that I will endure on the pilgrimage. I’ll be away from my friends and social life and will be boarding with strangers, not to mention one night’s sleep under the stars.

Through all those thoughts however, I keep my trust in the Lord, knowing that the learning and spiritual benefits of a religious pilgrimage will come into fruition, God willing.

I am excited however, because that is precisely what I need at this stage of my life. As I prepare to move out of my family home and live in a faraway city as I enrol in university, it will suddenly be completely upon me to keep the faith — which my parents instilled in me — burning brightly. Two weeks spent developing spiritually with two million other young people like me will surely instill in me a fire for the faith.

Sometimes I wonder if that was one of the many reasons for St. John Paul II to have created World Youth Day. Millions of young Catholics have participated in the various World Youth Days and many have been reignited with a passion for the Church and Jesus Christ. Seeing as this year’s theme is from the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy,” I can only hope that I will come home with a newfound desire to show mercy and carry out acts of mercy in my routine life.

The days before my departure were a time for some preliminary prayer and thanksgiving to God for the marvellous opportunity. I encourage all World Youth Day pilgrims to do the same with me — to bring the experience of the next two weeks to a full circle.

(Travale, 18, is a graduate of Sacred Heart High School in Walkerton, Ont.)

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