At World Youth Day, Fort Worth pilgrims experience message of love, mercy

by Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

North Texas Catholic

World Youth Day pilgrims wait in the rain for Pope Francis to arrive for a welcoming ceremony July 28 at Blonia Park in Krakow, Poland (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Drawing on themes emphasized during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis delivered a message of compassion and optimism to the multitude of young people who gathered July 28 to welcome the Holy Father to Krakow, Poland for World Youth Day 2016.

Included in the swell of enthusiastic pilgrims from 187 countries crowded into Krakow’s Blonia Park, were 209 teens, young adults, and chaperones from the Diocese of Fort Worth. Standing in a sea of red, yellow, and blue rain ponchos, they heard the pontiff praise the enthusiasm, dedication, zeal and energy of young people while reminding them “Mercy always has a youthful face!”

“A merciful heart is motivated to move beyond its comfort zone. A merciful heart can go out and meet others; it is ready to embrace everyone,” the pope said as he stood against a large backdrop of Jesus, Divine Mercy.

“To say the word ‘mercy’ is to speak of opportunity, future, commitment, trust, openness, hospitality, compassion, and dreams.”

He asked the estimated throng of 1 million to reject the “empty thrills of life” for something real and alive — Jesus Christ.

“”Jesus inspires us not to settle for less, but to give the very best of ourselves,” Pope Francis continued. “Jesus pushes us to keep our sights high and to dream of great things.”

An image of Jesus is seen as Pope Francis gives a reflection during the Way of the Cross at World Youth Day in Blonia Park in Krakow, Poland, July 29. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

His words struck a chord with the young Catholics from North Texas.

“They listened intently to the Holy Father’s homily at Blonia Park and came away with a renewed sense of who they are as Catholics, especially with the notion of not letting your faith ‘fall asleep’ as Pope Francis alluded,” said Marlon De La Torre, diocesan director of catechesis and a trip chaperone.

Several members of Fort Worth’s delegation were able to get close enough to the Popemobile to snap photographs of the Holy Father as he drove by them.

“Afterwards, they began to celebrate and dance with their fellow pilgrims from all over the world in Catholic solidarity,” De La Torre added. “Many of the kids I have spoken to are truly overjoyed in being part of this experience and witnessing the magnitude of the Church as truly One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.”

Initiated by Pope John Paul II in 1985, World Youth Day takes place every three years to give young Catholics an opportunity to nurture their faith in the presence of the Holy Father. This is Pope Francis’ first visit to Poland — the home of Saint John Paul II and the “Apostle of Divine Mercy” Saint Faustina Kowalska of the Blessed Sacrament — patrons of World Youth Day 2016.

Pilgrims from the Diocese of Fort Worth visited St. Peter’s Basilica and St. John Paul II’s tomb in Rome before arriving in Poland where they toured the Polish saint’s birthplace in Wadowice. At the John Paul II museum, they viewed the apartment where the former Karol Jozef Wojtyla grew up.

 “Poland has been amazing — very warm and welcoming,” said Diocesan Director of Youth Ministry Jason Spoolstra lauding the event’s tight security. “Praying at the Shrine of Divine Mercy and seeing the image was a high point of this pilgrimage.”

World Youth Day participant Hannah Krebel, a 19-year-old St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishioner, is meeting people from all over the world and is enjoying the chance to see different cultures express one faith.

“I wanted to come to World Youth Day because I had such an amazing experience at the last one three years ago in Rio,” explains the Samford University sophomore. “The atmosphere here is amazing. It’s great to see so many people excited to be here and everyone is pushing beyond the weather.”

Bouts of rain and temperatures in the mid-eighties have affected some open-air activities.

Krebel, a graduate of Faustina Academy in Irving, has felt some self-described “powerful” moments during her World Youth Day pilgrimage. In high school, she prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet every day at 3 p.m. with the rest of the student body.

“So when I knew I was going on this pilgrimage to World Youth Day, I began to ask God to grant me a real understanding of his Divine Mercy,” said the teen who felt privileged to visit the shrine where Jesus revealed his message to St. Faustina.

During an evening Adoration service, Krebel felt God answering her prayer.

“It was so fitting that where I began to really understand God’s mercy in my heart, and not just in my head, was also the place where St. Faustina heard Jesus tell her to spread his Divine Mercy around the world,” she wrote in a blog for the North Texas Catholic. “He had a purpose for me being here.”

Former St. Rita parishioner Joan Grabowski, who now lives in Indonesia, attended the World Youth Day welcoming ceremony with her sister, Karen Grabowski Dowd of Rochester, N.Y. The experience was truly one of peace and love, she said.

"As we entered the park, I heard the theme song and saw the vast and colorful crowd. I shed tears of joy at being at this powerful event. No politics or politicians. No conflicts or name calling. Only the love and mercy that comes from Jesus. It was amazing."

Drawing on themes emphasized during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis delivered a message of compassion and optimism to the multitude of young people who gathered July 28 to welcome the Holy Father to Krakow, Poland for World Youth Day 2016.