World Youth Day 2016: A Pilgrimage to Peace

Since28536551654_63791d5b7c_k (1) arriving in Kraków, Poland, I have struggled to describe the experience I had while in JPII and St. Faustina’s great city. Back stateside, I always answer, “Poland was amazing!” when people ask about the pilgrimage, and I always feel like I’m lying.

The truth is this: World Youth Day changed and challenged me. From the moment my father dropped me off at the Omaha airport to the second I hugged my mother hello a week later; the trip to Poland was not an easy one. There were of course moments of great joy and companionship, but there were also moments of spiritual distress and intense physical discomfort. Perhaps great change can only come after great unrest; if so, it’s no wonder that I feel fundamentally different after visiting Kraków.

The simple, superficial reasons for discomfort were plenty. We slept on a gym floor, we walked 75+ miles in one week, we were often rained on, our feet blistered and our muscles ached. A few people in our group even lacked their luggage for half the trip as the airline attempted to find it. Bathing occurred infrequently as we had to share four showers with some fifty other people. Our trip to Poland was by no means a vacation.

28870941530_627f503c2b_oThe wonders, adventures, and realizations made the pilgrimage so much more than these physical discomforts. I walked the streets of Kraków with the deep conviction that I was meant to be there and I simply had to wait to discover why. I was surrounded by the love of God, embodied in the careful & adoring architectures of the churches and in the joyful demeanors of my fellow pilgrims and of the Polish citizens. One morning a short Polish woman stopped me and two of the other Hoyas on the street, asking where we were from and profusely thanking us for coming. She hugged each of us and asked us to pray for her; I can still clearly picture her beautiful and excited smile.

28536548904_5d1fbace3f_kIn the most simple terms, Kraków gave me a reason to live, a reason that is all my own and not motivated by external factors and pleasures. During Saturday night’s vigil, Pope Francis implored us essentially to do better and do more. I cried through most of his speech. How, I thought, can I do better and more when I already feel tired down to my soul and aching for rest? I had come to Poland hoping to rejuvenate my spiritual life and no longer wonder why God makes me and others suffer. Instead of being given that peace, I was asked to try even harder, to push through the pain and reach out a hand to my neighbors. I felt almost betrayed and scolded.

The next morning during the closing Mass, something within me shifted. I can’t tell you what, but I could feel it; suddenly I knew that I must live even through physical pain, even through mental and emotional anguish, even through spiritual desolation, not because doing so is what’s right and moral but because I am here on this earth for something. Sometimes life is hard and rest does not come, but I am here and will be until God decides my time here has finished.

World Youth Day is an indescribable experience with love and pain and God and friends, and in Kraków this summer I found peace. So despite the vast oversimplification, I will still say: Poland, World Youth Day, Kraków, was amazing.

Dziękuję, Polska. Dziękuję, Cracovia.

This article was written by Hannah Wingett C’19 for our blog, but can also be found on her blog, here.