Bishop Robert J. Cunningham led 46 young people and adults to a pilgrimage to World Youth Day. Below are reflections from four of the young pilgrims from Immaculate Conception Church in Fayetteville.
Participating in the World Youth Day pilgrimage was an unforgettable experience that impacted me profoundly and has continued to inspire me with food for thought and prayerful reflection.
During the 12-day pilgrimage there were frequent moments of awe and inspiration. If I had to single out one notable impression, it would be the spectacular beauty of a richly diverse yet harmoniously unified Catholic Church.
This impression revealed itself to me in various ways during the pilgrimage. Travelers of different cultures as well as priests and nuns wearing habits from a variety of religious orders came together for the same event in a strikingly lovely way, like different facets of the same diamond.
The richness and beauty of unity and diversity were especially edifying during moments when I heard pilgrims praying in foreign languages. I was able to identify those who were praying the rosary because the rhythm of the rosary is the same in any language.
The celebration of Mass, the sacrament of reconciliation, and silent prayer during Eucharistic Adoration with millions of youth from around the globe was spiritually energizing.
Now that I’m back home again, I pray that I have the courage to carry that excitement for Christ and His Church out into the world.
— Gabriella Oliva
The gathering of millions of teens and young adults from all over the world to celebrate the Catholic faith at World Youth Day in Krakow was a blessing to experience. The endless sea of international flags waving enthusiastically will forever clarify my understanding that the Catholic Church is vibrant and universal.
World Youth Day presented me with an opportunity to grow in my faith alongside 3 million others. It was noisy and busy at times, yet somehow managed to maintain an atmosphere of serenity and intimacy. At World Youth Day everyone was your friend and there was a pervasive feeling of love.
I was deeply touched and humbled to walk the same streets as some of our great and courageous saints such as Pope St. John Paul II, St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, and St. Maximilian Kolbe. As I reflected on their lives I felt confident about the future of the Church and the world.
There is a fear and loneliness in the modern world that accompanies youth who strive to live their Catholic faith with devotion, but are growing up in an increasingly secularized world. World Youth Day developed my understanding that feelings of fear and loneliness are not necessary because the Church is alive and strong, and we have Christ’s promise that He will remain with us until the end of time.
— Maria Oliva
There were so many meaningful and awe-inspiring experiences during the World Youth Day trip that it was hard to pick just one!
But the experience that most changed me on the trip was getting to see the different cultures and meet youth from all over the world who had the same beliefs and values that I do.
The first day that the pope came to do the Stations of the Cross I will never forget. We entered the plaza and all you could see for miles in every direction were flags from different countries and people from all over the world rejoicing in Jesus Christ. After the Stations of the Cross there was a concert featuring music from different countries.
All of the different groups were dancing, holding hands, clapping, and having fun together. Getting to be immersed into other cultures like that was an amazing experience.
I got to meet people from all over the world, learn a little bit about them, enjoy their company, and just love them and rejoice with them. Everyone was so joyful and loving.
That week every single person I encountered had the love of Jesus and was genuinely happy, respectful, and interested in everyone they met. This experience taught me that faith can bring people together despite their differences because we are all made and loved by God.
It also taught me what joy is, and that real happiness can only be achieved through Jesus Christ. World Youth Day was an amazing pilgrimage and I am so blessed to have been a part of it.
— Liz Hall
World Youth Day is an amazing and life-changing experience. You are able to meet so many new people, see stunning places throughout the world, and build a closer relationship with the Lord.
All of these experiences in one pilgrimage will teach you lessons that last a lifetime. I think the most meaningful part of the pilgrimage for me was seeing the joy in everyone as we hiked around 10 miles, or more, every day.
The pain or suffering that we may be going through didn’t matter; that we were able to give it up to God and be joyful with one another was incredible. It changed the way I thought about pain and suffering.
How you react to hardships you encounter is a choice. YOU, and you alone, have the power to choose whether to be miserable or to give it up to God and choose joy. On this trip I realized offering it up to God and choosing joy not only is the “right” thing to do, but making that choice is actually a lot more of a fun and happy way to live your life.
The outcome of choosing joy, even if it’s a little bit harder to do, will be a greater prize overall. That is a lesson I’ll keep with me forever.
— Hannah Hall