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A message of mercy at World Youth Day

MAIRI HUGHES looks back at her pilgrimage to Krakow with Glasgow University Chaplaincy’s Faith Forum

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived in Krakow for what would be my first World Youth Day. I was certainly overwhelmed as I stepped off the train in Krakow—there were nuns, priests, monks and pilgrims at quite literally every corner, all holding flags representing their country. The city was bursting at the seams with pilgrims from every inch of the globe all united for one purpose.

The group I was with—the Glasgow Faith Forum—were hosted by a small parish just outside Krakow. As we were welcomed by our host parish with such warm hospitality—just one of the thousands of groups who would be descending on Krakow for World Youth Day—it sunk in just how much effort this small city had gone to to welcome the whole world with open arms.

Excitement was high on the day of the Papal welcome as thousands of pilgrims all made their way together to Błonia Park in Krakow to greet the Pope. Being in amongst loads of young Catholics all expressing their anticipation for the Pope’s arrival in so many different languages was like nothing I’d ever experienced.

Pope Francis started off World Youth Day with a homily which set the tone for the days to come. He spoke of the importance of mercy and of the need for young people to use the massive potential which they have in their youth in order to achieve great things. Pope Francis articulated inspiringly the theme of mercy and set the pilgrims up for the excitement of what was to come.

The final two days of World Youth Day were undoubtedly the high point of the event. The vigil on Saturday night was held in Brzegi, outside Krakow. The walk there was long and uncomfortably hot but spirits were still high. Locals greeted pilgrims in the street with water to drink and warm welcomes. I was once again overwhelmed by the effort the city had gone to welcome the rest of the world.

During the vigil, Pope Francis prayed with the pilgrims and delivered a homily in which he reminded us of the reality of conflict in today’s world and said: “We have no desire to conquer hatred with more hatred, violence with more violence, terror with more terror. We are here today because the Lord has called us together.” He pointed out the fraternity in all these countries joining together in Christ. He stressed the need for us young people to go out into the world and work together to change the future.

As the two million camping out for the vigil joined together in prayer by candlelight, the camp was illuminated and there was a real sense of determination for change amongst the pilgrims.


Having camped out for hours in a field which certainly didn’t make for a comfortable mattress, there was much anticipation for the closing Papal Mass. The Mass lasted around two hours and the heat was almost unbearable. Hundreds of translations of Pope Francis’ words echoed around the congregation as pilgrims crowded eagerly around small radios to listen to the Mass.

Pope Francis concluded World Youth Day with a final homily on the obstacles which we may face as young Catholics. The Holy Father encouraged the millions of pilgrims to persist with their faith no matter what, reminding them that even when we feel unworthy or ashamed, Jesus will always remain with us if we keep our hearts open to him.

Pope Francis begged the crowds to take this message out into the world with them and to walk with Jesus always.

Along with the millions of others, I left World Youth Day with a newfound determination to try my best to show mercy to the rest of the world, encouraged not only by Pope Francis’ words, but also massively—simply—by the number of other young people who were also determined to do this.


Immediately after World Youth Day, our group headed to the five day long annual summer Faith Conference held in Woldingham School, Surrey. The conference consists of daily Mass and prayer, confession, talks, discussion and social time.

Still on a high from World Youth Day, we were all enthusiastic and eager for what the conference had to offer. The talks continued on the theme of mercy, discussing the very nature of mercy and allowing us to further see how we as young Catholics can bring mercy into today’s society. The discussion allowed us to share with one another our thoughts on the inspiration given to us by Pope Francis and how we can put this into practice.

The conference also provided us all with more time to pray about and reflect on our World Youth Day experience as a whole. It was the perfect end to World Youth Day and helped to cement Pope Francis’ message of mercy before we all returned back to our normal routines. Personally I took a huge amount from these two weeks and I am amazed at the impact such events can have on our personal lives in such a short space of time.


—This story ran in full in the August 12 edition print of the SCO, available in parishes.


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