Sunday, 28 August 2016

The Most Life Changing Experience #WYD2016


I don't know if you watched the news on Sunday 31st July, but if you did you might have heard about an event in Krakow, Poland where 2 million young Catholics gathered in a field and had Mass with Pope Francis. Well I was part of that amazing event - World Youth Day! What they probably didn't mention in the news is that the World Youth Day events had taken place all week from the Monday, culminating with Mass with Pope Francis on Sunday morning. I can honestly say that it was the best week of my life so I'd love to share some of the highlights of the pilgrimage!

1) The People

Our fabulous group - Lancaster Diocese

The group I went out there with was absolutely fantastic and I love them all. It's amazing how a 30+ hour coach journey can bond a group so quickly! The amount of jokes and banter in the group was unreal and we spent nearly all our time laughing (obviously not in the serious moments though). Every time I have been on a pilgrimage with Lancaster Diocese I am amazed by how close-knit the group becomes and the deep friendships that develop through our shared faith.

Along with the fabulous people from Lancaster Diocese, we also met many people from across the world: From Italy to Argentina, Lebanon to Spain, America to Australia and everywhere in between! It was amazing to meet people from across the world who share the same faith as we do and I absolutely loved meeting you all! I took loads of bracelets out with me and I loved swapping them with some of the people I met. Although my favourite swap has to be a little cuddly toy koala which I was given by an Australian girl at our first catechesis session - it's just so cute!! The number one most popular topic of conversation when meeting people from other countries was Brexit! Everyone was very eager to discuss with us our opinions and their opinions too! It's crazy how things happening in Downing Street are having such a big worldwide reach!

With the most lovely Italians who spoke English better than we do!!
Some lovely Lebanese

When you have nothing left to swap... Selfie!!

2) The Atmosphere
It's quite easy to describe people and the friendships that were made. But describing the atmosphere is impossible. Unless you were there, it is so hard to imagine how unbelievably happy and full of life everyone was. You would walk down the main road to get into the centre of Krakow and everyone would walk past in a line giving high fives. There were hundreds of people wearing "Free Hugs" signs and thousands more accepted the free hugs! The constant singing and chanting. The dancing, the laughs, the love. I can't even begin to explain how happy I was. When people describe an atmosphere as electric, this doesn't even start to cover it. Everyone was so excited to be there and so filled with joy. Some people argue that religion is divisive, but I have never known an atmosphere so incredible.

At the Opening Mass of World Youth Day

On the final night of WYD, before Mass in the morning with Pope Francis, everyone camped out in the field together for a beautiful prayer vigil with him. It was truly one of the most amazing events I have witnessed, with two million people praying together and then singing to God. The sheer emotion was unbelievable!

At the Stations of the Cross - the most moving and prayerful experience at WYD (Photo credits to Stephen)
There's something so powerful (and also very emotional) about praying in a field with people from across the world who all share the same religious beliefs as you. Whether it was just the 50 of us in the Lancaster group or the 2 million at the final Mass, to all the numbers in between, I found it a really amazing spiritual experience.

3) The Emotions
Again, this is something which is really hard to explain to people who weren't there. There is something about an intense religious experience which is incredibly emotional. From the huge highs where we were crying with laughter to the moments where the intense prayerful atmosphere brought more tears, it truly was an emotional rollercoaster!!

From our joy at the Pope's Arrival

To a prayerful and peaceful quiet time with Pope Francis

From dancing in the rain

To smiles when the storm passed

However, there was something which was emotional on a completely different level. On our penultimate day in Krakow, our group took the opportunity to visit Auschwitz. This is something I have always wanted to do, partly due to my interest in Modern History, but also because I think it is somewhere everyone should visit due to the horrendous and unthinkable crimes which happened there.
Due to the sheer number of visitors to both Auschwitz and Auschwitz II-Birkenau (which I hadn't previously realised were two separate camps) because of World Youth Day, a route had been assigned so that visitors were able to visit the most significant parts of the site but also so that the camp could be protected for future generations to visit and pay their respects.

Auschwitz I

With studying this period of history several times, as well as having an interest in WWII History anyway, it felt so strange to be walking on the ground they walked, to stand where they stood. It was a very surreal experience and one that I will never forget. It was a very emotional day and I felt like I'd held my emotions in until I came across what could be best described as a small pond during our time at Auschwitz II-Birkenau. There were several gravestones there with inscriptions in various languages. The English translation read words along the lines of "In memory of all the people whose ashes were scattered in this lake". These words made me very emotional as the prisoners ashes were not put into the lake. They were not scattered. The ashes of these people who had suffered unimaginable hardship at the hands of the Nazis had been carelessly dumped. None of their bodies were treated with dignity or respect as we would. I find this absolutely heartbreaking.

Auschwitz II-Birkenau
Found it incredibly strange and almost oxymoronic to be walking round in the glorious sunshine and scorching heat

Although it was a very upsetting and emotionally charged visit, I cannot recommend visiting both camps enough. I feel like it brought a great amount of perspective into my life. You realise how much you take freedom and even life itself for granted. Pope Francis visited both camps earlier in the week and spent his time there in prayerful silence. I read this article earlier and found it particularly striking, especially the part at the end where it describes what Pope Francis wrote in the visitors' book.

So I can safely say that going to World Youth Day changed my life. It was the most incredible and indescribable experience and I'm hoping and praying I'll be able to go to the next one in 2019 in Panama!

Massive thank you to everyone who made it such an amazing experience - to the other pilgrims from across the world but especially the wonderful Lancaster group who are the most lovely bunch of people I've ever met. I love you all! #playhardprayhardwyd #chiveoclock

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoy this slightly different from usual post!

If you'd like to vote for me as UCAS Blogger of the Month, you can do that here. Your votes are much appreciated as always :)

Anna x

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