By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published August 4, 2016
ATLANTA—Atlanta area pilgrims joined millions of young Catholics from across the globe visiting Poland for World Youth Day events July 25-31.
More than 10 parishes and groups from the Archdiocese of Atlanta journeyed to the native land of St. Pope John Paul II for the meeting of young people with bishops, catechists and Pope Francis in Krakow and other religious sites.
Local groups making the trip represented St. Andrew Church in Roswell, Our Lady of Vietnam Church in Riverdale, Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church in Norcross, Our Lady of the Americas Mission in Lilburn, St. Mark Church in Clarkesville, St. Francis of Assisi Church in Blairsville, St. Catherine of Siena Church in Kennesaw, and All Saints Church in Dunwoody. Also making pilgrimages were Georgia State University students, seminarians of the archdiocese, and a group of 51 youth organized by the Legionaries of Christ.
Dunwoody High School senior Dawson Burns was part of the All Saints Church group.
In a text home to his father, Robert, the teen mentioned his feet were sore from walking but called World Youth Day an eye-opening experience.
The Mercy Center, located at the Tauron Arena in Krakow, was Dawson’s favorite part of the trip. At the arena, pilgrims heard from speakers, visited an adoration chapel and listened to inspiring music.
“The English catechesis sessions happen here, and all of the speakers have been amazing. I have met many people from around the world, and they are all excited about their faith,” said Dawson in an email to the Georgia Bulletin. “We have traded trinkets with people of other countries to take home a piece of their culture with us. Also, the pope’s message of mercy has been very clear and is being directed to the youth. We aren’t the future of the Church. We are the Church, now!”
Wi-Fi access was premium, and organizers planned well to ensure safety of the young people.
“I feel very safe here as the security and police have a major presence around Krakow and the venues,” noted Dawson.
Theme was beatitude of mercy
All Saints group members kept a travel blog to share spiritual and cultural experiences at www.catholiccopilot.com/Copilot-Blog, said trip organizer Christina Wheeler.
The groups from St. Francis of Assisi Church and St. Andrew Church were among those sharing photos via Facebook.
Atlanta pilgrims visited Polish salt mines and the Niedzica Castle, walking across a footbridge into Slovakia. Other stops included the boyhood home of St. Pope John Paul II in Wadowice, and the Black Madonna of Częstochowa icon housed at the Jasna Góra Monastery. Others visited the Auschwitz concentration camp.
The theme of the 2016 World Youth Day was the fifth beatitude—“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
Atlanta seminarian Dan Fitzgerald also made the pilgrimage and said he has never seen so many people together in his lifetime.
“During the welcoming ceremony, the crowd chanted, ‘this is the youth of the pope’ in Spanish,” said Fitzgerald. “To anyone who thinks Catholicism cannot capture the hearts of young people, the sheer magnitude of miles and miles of youth gathered to enthusiastically welcome the pope and be challenged to live a life to the full testifies otherwise.”
Prior to departing for Poland, young people and fellow travelers from the archdiocese gathered for prayer and fellowship at the World Youth Day Pilgrims Mass July 13 at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta.
Priest experienced three WYDs
Father Tri John-Bosco Nguyen, parochial vicar at St. Brigid Church in Johns Creek, was celebrant and homilist.
Father Nguyen, an experienced World Youth Day pilgrim, shared favorite memories of having participated.
When Father Nguyen was a college student, he attended World Youth Day for the first time in 2002 in Toronto, Canada. What struck him most was witnessing the universality of the church.
He recalled that World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2013 required a lot of patience from pilgrims. Because of an influx of Brazilians for the vigil and closing Mass, foreign pilgrims were asked to return to their hotels instead of staying outdoors overnight on the beach. No one complained.
At the 2011 event in Madrid, Spain, safety and security were of added concern, but all was well.
“Not one single fight, not one single conflict. There is something very special there,” said the priest.
Another favorite experience of the priest’s was during the vigil in Rio. Pope Francis was to deliver a prepared reflection.
“He just threw that away and said ‘Guess what? Let’s spend 15 minutes in silent adoration’,” recalled Father Nguyen.
A crowd of millions, singing and dancing a half hour before, became still in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
“In the next 15 minutes you didn’t hear a sound, except for the ocean waves and maybe some helicopters,” he said.
There is no world tour that can give you that kind of experience, noted Father Nguyen.
The priest encouraged youth to have nightly reflections during the pilgrimage and, after returning home, suggesting use of the daily examen in the Jesuit tradition. He simplified the Ignatian prayer reflection into basic questions to consider: What are a couple of things to thank God for this day? What am I sorry for today? What events of the day helped me to see God’s presence?
“And number four,” he continued. “What can I do to be more Christ-like tomorrow? After you come back, the fourth question will move you forward.”