Teenagers from several Morrison County communities spent a year and a half raising money for an opportunity in Poland: World Youth Day. This year, the event’s theme was mercy.
Just over a month after World Youth Day, the youth group reflected on how the event has impacted their lives, as the pilgrimage provided them with lifelong memories through a number of different scenarios that changed their faith.
Krakow, Poland became the temporary home of 2 million teenagers from July 14 to Aug. 4. Among those 2 million were 28 Morrison County teens, their chaperones and group leader, Rob Schumer. The group was organized by the Guardian Angel Youth Group of Holy Cross Church in North Prairie, despite students being from different parishes.
One-hundred twenty countries were represented, each with their own chant at ceremonies, said youth group member Rudi Turner of Little Falls.
None of the students brought technology of any kind along with them. Each traveled with a lone backpack, which, for Turner, included a pool flotation device to sleep on.
The kids walked 88 miles during the trip and it rained nearly every day. Youth group member Ben Borash of Royalton said one day being it took three hours to walk one block, due to streets congested with youth collecting bags of food.
One of the best parts of the experience for the students was seeing the Pope Francis they said. Only 30 feet came between the students and the Pope-mobile. Seeing the Pope is a big deal, said Turner.
Students also enjoyed riding the tram through the city. Krakow’s stunning architecture expressed thousands of years of shopping and trade, said Turner.
Trading was another activity for the students. Four-thousand rosaries were brought along which the students traded for souvenirs from other countries.
Two day-trips were also taken during World Youth Day. One included visiting the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Turner said that her thoughts when walking through the camp were, “I’m actually walking where these people died. On the same ground that they walked.”
Aria Kapsner of Little Falls had a similar experience on that walk. “That opened my eyes to so many realizations and I’ve never felt so empty inside,” she said.
The second trip was to see the Our Lady of Czestochowa painting. The students saw a masterpiece that allegedly survived fires, attempted robberies and attempted destructive vandalism.
The closing Mass was a candlelight ceremony with adoration, celebrated by Pope. Francis Five million people attended, Borash said.
“Five million candles, five million prayers sent to God at the same time; to say the least, it was amazing,” he said.
Turner too, felt inspired by the crowd.
“The barriers were knocked down. We were all there for the same reason. It was as if there were no problems in the world; it was us and our faith,” she said.
Even now, the youth group remains inspired by the support shown by church members, family, and friends back home.
“People I didn’t even know were so supportive of this journey,” said Turner.
World Youth Day empowered the students to believe in themselves at all times. Interacting with others has become easier because of the way World Youth Day influenced them.
Kapsner said one of the most lasting lessons was that God’s works are not only experienced in church. Everywhere that the group traveled during the experience was an opportunity for the youth group to offer up their suffering for someone or something.
But even now at home, Turner said she gets more out of worship.
The youth group will be forever aware of the value in reaching out to people who have been pushed to the margins, said Borash.