Reflections from the Office for Young People, which led a group to WYD accompanied by Archbishop Goh and local priests

 
Praying the Divine Office in the field with Archbishop William Goh (right).

The Office for Young People (OYP) contingent for World Youth Day (WYD) was the official contingent of the Singapore archdiocese led by OYP chaplains Fr Jude David and Brian D’Souza. Accompanying the contingent were Archbishop William Goh and Fr Jovita Ho. 

The pilgrimage in Poland lasted from July 19-Aug 2. There were three main stages: the OYP-led Day of Recollection, the Youth Arise International (YAI) festival (which was a mini WYD if you like) and WYD itself.

There were many beautiful moments as well as challenges that the 170-strong group experienced during their pilgrimage:

July 20

  • Day of Recollection at Czestochowa. Visit to Jasna Gora Monastery
After arriving in Warsaw on July 19, we spent the next day travelling to and in Czestochowa, famous for the Shrine of the Black Madonna. 

At this Day of Recollection, Archbishop Goh invited pilgrims to reflect on Jesus and their spiritual relationship with Him. There was also a time of prayer ministry, and God really showed His mercy and love as we prayed for one another. 

We celebrated Mass in the beautiful Jasna Gora Monastery which houses the famous painting of the Black Madonna and Infant Jesus. Throughout the day, pilgrims also had a taste of Polish dishes, lovingly prepared by local parishioners, such as soups, potatoes, sauerkraut and bread.
  
The OYP contingent, bearing the Singapore flag,                               Praising God at the Youth Arise International festival.
walks to its next destination.

July 21

  • Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp
The next day, we travelled to the Auschwitz concentration camps, which today stand as a sombre reminder of the atrocities committed by men. 

At the same time, God’s grace was made apparent through the acts of love, courage and sacrifice among the prisoners, no better symbolised than by the martyrdom of St Maximilian Kolbe, who took the place of a man slated for death. 

Walking the same gravel path that prisoners walked more than 70 years ago, seeing the gas chambers, reinforced electric barb fences and reading about the deliberate selection of vulnerable groups (e.g. young children and pregnant mothers) for death left an indelible impression on us. 

More than 1.1 million people died in these camps, a stark reminder of how far we can fall if we do not cling to the love of Christ.


Archbishop Goh and Fr Jude David celebrate Mass at the Divine Mercy chapel in Krakow.

July 22-24

  • Youth Arise International at Zory
The contingent spent three days in the little town of Zory for the YAI festival. YAI was for many an eye-opening experience as a smaller-scale precursor of what to expect during WYD itself. There were many contingents from different countries present and we made many friends.

It was beautiful to see all of us young people of the world connecting through the language of love for Christ. This was most apparent at Mass, where all of us would respond in our own languages! 

There were many other memorable experiences, including: 

  • “In the Desert”
Ask any pilgrim and most will say that the experience in Katowice (specifically an abandoned airbase where we journeyed to to meet with 10,000-20,000 other pilgrims from other festivals similar to YAI) on July 23 afternoon was unforgettable.

The contingent alighted in the middle of nowhere with no shelter or shade in sight; so we had to improvise with makeshift cardboards and umbrellas to shelter us from the scorching sun.

The experience of feeling unprepared and uncertain was definitely alien and uncomfortable for many of us Singaporeans.

However, it was heartening to see our contingent cheerfully embracing the conditions, generously sharing food and shelter with others.

It was especially touching to see our “young-at-heart” archbishop remain unfazed by the heat and making his rounds of his “sheep” despite perspiring under his umbrella.

  • Ready to receive mercy?
Archbishop celebrated the closing Mass at YAI. He challenged the young people from all over the world to think about the need for “daily bread”: indeed, if God is merciful, why do we need to ask for daily bread?

In reference to Luke 11: 9 (“And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you”) Archbishop Goh highlighted that to knock and to seek are acts of humility. It is an admission of inadequacy of self and the brokenness that exists in our lives. When one is able to do that, it creates the disposition to receive Christ’s mercy.

Archbishop’s homily touched the hearts of many pilgrims. He later shared how one pilgrim from the US, who had not gone to confession for many years, was moved to seek confession.

 
Pope Francis arrives for the closing Mass.

July 25-31

  • World Youth Day in Krakow and Wadowice
For the WYD event itself, the contingent spent several days in Wadowice, a town two hours by train from Krakow (where most of the WYD programmes were taking place), and also the hometown of Pope St John Paul II.

The WYD programme was structured such that there were several “main events” which all pilgrims (estimated to be 2 million) were supposed to attend, such as the opening Mass on July 26, the papal welcome on July 28, the Way of the Cross on July 29 and the overnight vigil and final Mass with Pope Francis from July 30-31.

Surrounding these main events were other programmes, such as catechesis by bishops at various locations in various languages, a pilgrimage to the Divine Mercy Sanctuary, vocation fairs and many other talks and performances.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of WYD was the crowds, who were everywhere, from tourist spots like the museums and cathedrals to facilities such as trains, trams, eateries and portable toilets. We were challenged to be gracious, patient and calm and indeed we received such graces as a contingent because the atmosphere among us was notably peaceful, supportive and joyful.

  • Opening Mass
The Opening Mass was held in Blonia Park in Krakow. Most of us had never seen so many people – more than 500,000 – packed together in one place.

Ms Faith Perh, from the Church of St Mary of the Angels, said she felt especially moved by one aspect of the Mass.

“It was very symbolic and moving, seeing the youth of each previous WYD host country pass the large WYD cross to each other as they collectively bore it to the altar for the Opening Mass,” she said.

  • Divine Mercy Sanctuary
The theme of WYD, that of mercy, was reflected in our pilgrimage to the Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Krakow. It was also the convent in which St Faustina spent many years as a Religious Sister. It was a blessing to be able to visit the Divine Mercy chapel where St Faustina’s relics are kept, and to attend Mass in one of the chapels at the Basilica of Divine Mercy.

Another significant representation of Divine Mercy were the “Zones of Reconciliation” spread throughout WYD where priests would sit to administer the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

The largest of these zones was known as the “Valley of Reconciliation” befittingly next to the Divine Mercy Sanctuary! It was indeed a beautiful demonstration of God’s love and mercy here, with many young people being moved by the Holy Spirit to seek reconciliation with God.


Blessing by Archbishop Goh in the Basilica of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Wadowice.

  • Vigil and final Mass
Perhaps the most anticipated part of WYD was the overnight vigil culminating in the final Mass celebrated by Pope Francis.

For WYD 2016, the OYP contingent walked a total of 14 km (7 km each way) to and from the giant field known as Campus Misericordiae. The trek was made even more challenging by the burning heat and it was beautiful to see pilgrims helping each other along the way

Upon reaching Campus Misericordiae, we were greeted by the sight of more than 2 million young people, by far the largest crowd most of us had ever seen gathered in one place. The relentless sun continued to beat down on us until around 8.30pm, when it finally set, and thereafter the cold wet night (from heavy dew) set in.

“It was surreal to be praying with the Holy Father,” recalled Ms Melissa Gomes from St Joseph Church (Bukit Timah). “His prayer was filled with a deep reverence, humility and contentment to be one with God and I was filled with peace in my heart, just being there praying with him.”

Pope Francis challenged all of us young Catholics not to be “couch potatoes” in our faith, but to stand up and take up the call of bringing Christ to others, to inspire love and pour out mercy, and to venture deeper into our own life’s adventure with Jesus.

Looking back

Our WYD trip culminated perfectly with a final Mass for the OYP contingent in the Basilica of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Wadowice, the home parish of Pope St John Paul II.

For us, Wadowice had become our hometown for WYD and it was most befitting to bid farewell to our WYD journey with the celebration of the Eucharist by our archbishop and priests.

Looking back, we acknowledge that despite the physical and mental hardships, there were numerous positive testimonies of encounters with Christ, a testament to the Holy Spirit working in WYD. God really graced us with the unity of spirit and love among all 170 pilgrims in our group.

At the end of the pilgrimage, we all truly experienced and understood the meaning of being One Church, not just in the Singapore archdiocesan context, but in the wider Universal Catholic Church.

Hearing the testimonies from young people – that our God is real, ever-present and merciful – inspires hope for the Catholic Church, because lives are changed and hearts are reignited.

It also leaves us in no doubt that those who went for this pilgrimage will continue to accept the Holy Father’s challenge – to do our best to live our faith every day, and to spread the fire of God’s love and mercy to others around us.

For more information on the Office for Young People, visit www.oyp.org.sg or OYP Facebook page. OYP events: Nox Gaudii returns on Sept 16, Treasure retreat is from Oct 28-31. 


The OYP contingent together with participants from other countries braving the wet weather together.

By Jane Quek and
Lawrence Foo

PHOTOS: DANIEL SEAH, JOEL TAN, CHRISTINA CHUA, JULIANA ALOYSIUS, BRANDON NG, JAZREEL TEO, JANE QUEK and TIMOTHY TAN

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