World Youth Day – focusing on the face of mercy

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15 September 2016

By Liam McCormack, Religious Education teacher, Marymede Catholic College, South Morang

As a Religious Education teacher I have been humbled by young students openly sharing and experiencing a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Marymede RE teacher Liam McCormack and student Clarissa at World Youth Day 2016

On the 22 July I, along with many other school students and teachers from across Victoria including Clarissa a Year 11 student from Marymede Catholic College, left Melbourne airport destined for World Youth Day (WYD) 2016 held in the holy city of Kraków, Poland.

It was a truly memorable experience that I will never forget and was so fortunate to take part in. All the Victorian pilgrims were encouraged to keep a journal of their experience so that we could remember key events and messages, and bring them home to share to our school and parish communities. I thought sharing some of my journal entries would be the best way for others to get a glimpse of what we experienced in Poland.

World Youth Day officially started today and we kicked things off with the biggest ever gathering of Australians in Poland. We then commenced our walk (in the pouring rain!) to the WYD opening Mass which saw us join over one million pilgrims from all parts of the globe as one Church. The sun would finally break through the clouds and shine rays of light on us during the Mass. Many saw this as a sign from God that he was present and watching over us. It was a truly humbling experience to see the Church alive in so many young people. 

During the pilgrimage we have been breaking down what Mercy is and what it looks like. Today we walked over 20km to Campus Misericordiae (the field of Mercy) for the final Mass and vigil with the Pope only to find out that food wasn’t where it was supposed to be and another 15km walk with six teenagers was needed to get the heavy food packages. I soon realised that Mercy is all around us, it is in the small acts of kindness to one another that we make every day and it was certainly evident in the young people who didn’t complain once while walking such a large distance carrying heavy food for those who were already asleep back in the field of Mercy. 

I have experienced large crowds at the MCG and when you leave the game there is always a happy side and a sad side, sometimes there is tension or frustration other times it is quite or sombre. However here in Kraków, no matter what the weather or event, there are millions of people buzzing with excitement and energy. Today millions walked at the end of the final Mass in the heat of the day and after walking large distances the day before yet still remained energetic and excited about the experience they had just had with Pope Francis. 

What I’ll remember most from this WYD experience will be the attitude of the students from schools all across Victoria. The pilgrimage has been very demanding both physically and emotionally yet not one student complained or gave up. Whenever a problem or hiccup occurred students pushed on, helped out or supported those who needed it. Most of all at every opportunity to pray, explore their faith or be involved in a religious experience the students took it with both hands and embraced it, even if it was just visiting one of the many beautiful old churches around Kraków, students took the time to kneel and pray even on all the hard stone and marble floors. 

For more on World Youth Day, read the current edition of Catholic Education Today.