The lives of hundreds of thousands of young people have changed during this past week in Poland at World Youth Day. The youth have witnessed others from around the world striving to live out the faith, and have heard the demanding, but the inspirational advice of Pope Francis.
The first papal advice was in his first Mass, with the country's patron saint, Our Lady of Czestochowa. There he stated that God is no stranger to the lives of people.
"The Lord does not want to be feared like a powerful and aloof sovereign. He does not want to remain on his throne in Heaven or in history books, but loves to come down to our everyday affairs, to walk with us."
Each day after dinner, he looked out this window, where he improvised intense speeches as a way to close the day. One example was this speech about the volunteer who died of cancer a few weeks before WYD began.
"The faith of this man, our friend, who worked so much for this World Youth Day has led him to Heaven, and is now with Jesus, and he watches over us all. This is a grace. A round of applause for our companion!"
One afternoon in Krakow, Pope Francis parked the Popemobile ... and traveled by tram. He went to Blonia Park, where thousands of young people were waiting to welcome him. He responded to them with this advice.
"What do you want? Empty thrills or the power of fulfillment? What do you want? I can hardly hear you... Define fulfillment: to gain new strength, there is a way. It is a response that cannot be bought or sold. It is not a thing or an object. It is a person and He is alive and His name is Jesus Christ. A round of applause for the Lord."
He also visited Auschwitz. It was a visit without any words, yet the Pope's silence spoke louder than any speech he could have given. He prayed in the cell where Fr. Maximilian Kolbe was tortured and saluted the survivors who experienced this horror.
In the afternoon, he visited a pediatric hospital to greet terminally-ill children and their families.
"I would like to draw near to all children who are sick, to stand at their bedside, and embrace them. I would like to listen to everyone here, even if for only a moment, and to be still before questions that have no easy answers. And to pray."
As nightfall was approaching, he presided over the Stations of the Cross. He said God is not nonchalant about the pain and suffering of people, but has created men and women so their generosity is the response to pain.
"In welcoming the outcast who suffer physically and sinners who suffer spiritually, our credibility as Christians is at stake. It's not in ideas, it's there."
As WYD revolved around the theme of mercy, he could not miss a visit to the shrine of Saint Faustina Kowalska, where he recalled that Jesus loves humanity unconditionally.
"Let's never turn away from Jesus, even if we think that our sins and our faults are the worst. He prefers us as we are, as such His mercy pours out on us."
The big event of WYD was the Saturday night prayer vigil. There, he urged young people not to confuse happiness with being comfortable.
"We didn’t come into this world to "vegetate,” to take it easy, to make our lives a comfortable sofa to fall asleep on. No, we came for another reason: to leave a mark. It is very sad to pass through life without leaving a mark."
That night, one million six hundred thousand young people remained and slept on the "Field of Mercy.” In the morning, the Pope returned to celebrate Mass and asked them to aim for the best.
"Don’t let your soul grow numb, but aim for the goal of a beautiful love which also demands sacrifice. Say a firm "no” to the narcotic of success at any cost and the sedative of worrying only about yourself and your own comfort.”
After Mass, the Pope invited the youth to meet again in three years to celebrate another WYD, in a different part of the world.
"That's why, I announce with joy that the next World Youth Day, after the two held at the diocesan level, will be in 2019 in Panama.”
With only a few hours before the Pope was to leave, he made it a priority to first thank the volunteers and prepare the crowd for the next encounter.
"I do not know if I will be in Panama but I can assure you one thing: that Peter will be in Panama and Peter will ask you if you have spoken with your grandparents, if you have spoken to your elders in order to have memory; if you have had the courage and bravery to face situations and plan things for the future. And you will answer to Peter. Is that clear?”
So, with heavy rain falling to the tune of "We are the Champions" by the rock band, Queen, Poland said goodbye to Pope Francis.
CTV / AA