KRAKOW, Poland — Months prior to the trip, Renee DeSoto was unsure about going to World Youth Day. Her father passed away in February and, along with the bereavement, it had been a financial strain, with her commuting between Prescott and Phoenix to visit him.
But her family encouraged her to go and she feels her dad was praying for her during the trip.
“I think he had a big hand in me coming here today,” said DeSoto, who traveled with a group from Sacred Heart Parish in Prescott. “I couldn’t ask for a better experience honestly, despite everything that’s happened.”
“When God wants you to do something, you know there might be challenges, but He’s going to put you in the right place to do it,” she said later. At least 10 groups journeyed from Arizona to Krakow for World Youth Day in late July.
The week-long schedule of events included visits to pilgrimage sites, catechesis sessions, concerts, opportunities for Confession and Mass and large scale events with the Holy Father, such as a lengthy pilgrimage walk to an evening prayer Vigil and Sunday Mass with millions.
The event officially began in 1986 in Rome, although St. John Paul II had been inviting the youth of the world together in the years prior.
“World Youth Day means just this, going to encounter God, who entered into the history of man by means of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. He entered in a way that cannot be undone. And he desires to meet you above all,” said St. John Paul II at the time.
Fast forward to 2016, the Krakow location was significant for a number of reasons but especially because it is the homeland of St. John Paul II and the city where he attended seminary and served as archbishop.
Candice Fabrie is a youth minister at Sacred Heart in Prescott and coordinated a collaborative group that journeyed with St. Luke Parish. Fabrie and others were thrilled to get a close sighting of Pope Francis when he passed by in a motorcade and they were in the front row.
“I just feel such a strong connection to my faith and seeing the head of our Church was just so powerful,” said Fabrie.
“I can’t really put it into words, … my eyes welled up with tears of joy and passion and mercy.”
Matthew Perry, also traveling with the Sacred Heart group really enjoyed visiting churches in Poland that spanned many styles of architecture, with a much longer history than the United States. Whenever the group experienced massive crowds and delays in public transportation, Perry recounted his group making the time go by praying the Rosary, “taking something that might have been a really frustrating situation and made it an advantage and bring[ing] the team together.”
Manda Poffel led a group of young adults from St. Timothy Parish in Mesa. She recalled the group traveling 30-plus hours to get to Poland and “the Lord making it a pilgrimage no matter what we do, no matter what we plan, things will always be part of the pilgrimage experience.”
Along with seeing the Holy Father at the first large scale event, visiting the relics of St. John Paul II and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati were memorable.
She also enjoyed conversations with pilgrims from Lebanon and Gibraltar.
She said her greatest hope was for the pilgrims to “come to a deeper encounter with Christ … that’s what I’m praying for, a desire to see them grow their relationship with Christ, through meeting the saints in a very real way, through meeting the pope and through the meeting of the pilgrims.”
Fr. Chris Axline, chaplain at Seton Catholic High School in Chandler, traveled with the group from St. Timothy and found WYD Krakow to be “very inspiring,” and also spoke about returning home.
“To see the youth of the Church happy and joyful about their Catholic faith and celebrating that — is inspiring to me as a priest to want to continue to be there, to serve them and to be their resource … to deepen that encounter when they get back,” said Fr. Axline.
“World Youth Day doesn’t end when we get back on the plane. You know this is just the beginning, so now let’s start living this out,” he added.