With the knowledge of WYD veterans behind us, early on Saturday morningwe set off for Campus Misericordiae (Field of Mercy) for the final celebration of World Youth Day with some two million other Catholics from nearly every country of the world.
It took a while to arrive at our destination, but once we found a corner in our designated area much nearer the stage everyone settled down for a long day of waiting around for things to kick off.
The food vouchers that were given out at the beginning of the week came in handy once again as small groups went off to collect the pilgrim ration packs to keep us going until the following Sunday evening. During this time, some of us took the opportunity to catch up on some lost sleep, play card games or go for a wander around the site. We were fortunate to not be overcrowded in the area we would be calling “home” for the next 24 hours or so.
Sometime later, Hamish and Fr Henry with a small group who forgot to set their alarms joined us in the field, and a couple of the boys in the group constructed a makeshift altar on top of some wooden crates so we could celebrate the Holy Mass before the Vigil started. A couple of other pilgrims from a different group joined us to receive Communion, before departing back to their own group.
Time dragged on and we sat through various sound checks and sung worship before Pope Francis’ arrival was announced and the Vigil was finally underway.
Pope Francis reiterated his message from the Opening Ceremony a few days before and encouraged the young people present to renounce the ways of the world, in particular the materialistic way of living that is encouraged, and instead carry a different type of truth in their hearts: one that is Christ-centred and consistently attempts to overcome the things that will inevitably leave us trapped and unfulfilled.
As the sun set over the field, candles were handed out and lit as we entered a time of prayer and once things had quietened down a bit, many chose to go to sleep as the next day would bring another early rise and give us plenty of time to not get stuck in long toilet queues, have some breakfast and brush our teeth before the final Mass started.
In a field of so many, combined with tiredness, it was hard to follow the Mass but we persevered until the Pope announced that the next World Youth Day is to be held in Panama in 2019 and gave the final blessing.
It is tradition at such events as this final Mass celebrationfor everything a pilgrim is carrying with them to receive a papal blessing, so for all our bags and other bits and bobs that were lugged across Krakow and back, it was worth it.
Our journey back to our hotel was an eventful one, with a few people becoming dehydrated because of the heat, the public transport system shutting down for extra security as Pope Francis travelled around the city centre, getting caught in two rainstorms and eventually arriving very damp and tired, but just in time for a very welcome dinner courtesy of Bishop Alan who joined us for the evening.
Speeches and recognition of the hard work Hamish has put into organising this World Youth Day were heard and Hamish, in turn, thanked our group leaders and mentors,seminarians, communications officers and all the pilgrims for their enthusiasm and joy throughout the two weeks.
On Monday morning, we left for the airport for our flights home later in the day. Fr Michael and Fr Henry concelebrated Mass in the airport Chapel and gave thanks for the blessings of World Youth Day 2016 and for a safe journey home. After this, Fr Henry gifted us all with a prayer card and medal of Our Lady of Walsingham, before getting some lunch and saying our goodbyes before the first group boarded their flight.
As of very early this morning (Tuesday), we are all safely arrived back in England, except one or two who stayed behind in Poland to visit family in other parts of the country.
We have had a brilliant two weeks, and bonded very well as a group, particularly in looking out and supporting each other. Bishop Alan has invited us all to Poringland at the end of September for a reunion, although we are hoping to meet again before that and continue building the friendships we have formed.
I would, on behalf of the other Communications Officers and the East Anglia pilgrims, like to thank you for the support from the parishes across the Diocese who understand the irreplaceable value that such pilgrimages have in the lives of the young Catholics in our communities, and for following our adventures over the past two weeks. We have been praying for you in the home of Divine Mercy, and look forward to communicating this to you.
Saint John Paul II, who so loved young people and is the founder of World Youth Day, Saint Faustina Kowalska, Saint Maximillian Kolbe and Our Lady of La Salette, pray for us.
For a full picture gallery of the East Anglia group at World Youth Day see below.