Millions of young Catholics joined Pope Francis in Krakow, Poland — but countless more were celebrating in solidarity with the faithful all over the world.
Across the United States leading up to July 30, the faithful held their own World Youth Day events in many major cities, including New York, Chicago, Sacramento, and Washington, D.C.
“We seek the big decision … instead of seeking holiness on a daily level.”
“Krakow in the Capital,” held on the campus of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., hosted nearly 1,300 pilgrims. It featured festivities all day long on July 30 and concluded with a Mass said by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, and a concert featuring singer Marie Miller.
An opening prayer kicked off the event to encourage young people not simply to be followers of Christ, but to go out and help evangelize others.
Sister Clare Hunter, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, spoke during a panel discussion of how her first World Youth Day in 1991 with Pope John Paul II changed how she saw her faith.
“I didn’t know there were [other] Catholics in the world … It broadened my mind to the Catholic in the world,” Hunter said.
The panel discussion, entitled “Growing in Holiness Where God Has Called You,” featured a priest, nun, married couple, and a single person all striving to live out their vocations in the context of their faith.
Monsignor Robert Panke, the rector of the Saint John Paul II Seminary in Washington, D.C., also commented during the panel discussion about how he came to know his vocation.
“I never ever thought about being a priest,” Panke said. “When your desire meets God’s desire, you’re filled with joy.”
Sloan Dickey, a video reporter for The Wall Street Journal and the panel moderator, made an observation about his young adult peers. “We seek the big decision … instead of seeking holiness on a daily level,” Dickey said.
In this catechesis talk and the general tone of the event, the focus was encountering Christ in the universal church.
Pope Francis wrote in a message last summer — in the long lead-up to World Youth Day 2016 — that the “Church must offer abundant signs of God’s presence and closeness, and reawaken in people’s hearts the ability to look to the essentials.”
At the dinner of Polish pierogis, kielbasa, and paczki, Sarah Scofield, 25, from the Diocese of Knoxville, Tennessee, shared her impression of why World Youth Day is so important.
“I come from a parish where there’s not a lot of Catholics around, and we have a young adults group, but there’s only really four or five active members. So I really wanted a larger community for fellowship,” Scofield said. “I wanted to know what other young adult groups were doing, seeing if there were outreach opportunities where we could combine multiple groups and really just learn about how, in other parishes, what [the young people’s] role is.”
The Ojczyzna Polish Dancers from Baltimore, Maryland, provided cultural entertainment after dinner, demonstrating their folk dance tradition.
“The mass was a true celebration of the universal church. There were 1000+ young people from different walks of life,” said one young person.
Pope Emoji, Flat Francis, and #wydDC made the event technologically linked to the actual event in Krakow, allowing pilgrims to feel even more connected with fellow Catholics who were celebrating and partaking of the event on the ground.
Morgan Kellman, 27, a local from the Brookland area and a volunteer at the event, described the feeling of being united with so many of her fellow faithfully religious young adults.
“The Mass was a true celebration of the universal church. There were 1,000-plus young people from different walks of life, prayers of the faithful in a variety of languages, and Latin hymns,” Kellman said.
When reflecting on Cardinal Wuerl’s homily at the closing Mass, Kellman noticed how the cardinal incorporated the message of the current Pope Francis as well as Pope John Paul II, who began the amazing tradition that is World Youth Day.
“Cardinal Wuerl’s homily celebrated the young church, quoting Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis,” Kellman said. “He encouraged us to never underestimate the power of our witness. He challenged us to go out, not to be afraid, and serve others. He called us to love and unite together in a world where some are not able to live out their faith freely.”
“Krakow in the Capital” successfully brought Catholics from around the D.C. metro area as well as from all around the country — in a chance for like-minded young adults to share a faith-filled experience and renew their commitment to growing in holiness. There is no telling what larger impact this may have in the days, months, and even years ahead.