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In September 2014, World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow was being advertised at my school, All Saints Catholic High School, Sheffield. There was no way that I could ever afford to go so I put it to the back of my mind.  Less than two years later I travelled to Krakow with my school and the youth of the Hallam Diocese.  Thanks to a few generous Parish Priests from our feeder parishes and some fundraising, what was a dream became a reality.

wyd-2016-3-copy  On Saturday, 23 July Bishop Ralph arrived at school to start our journey with a few prayers with family and friends.  We set off on the thirty two plus hours journey.  This was the weekend that the French working at Dover Docks had decided to go on a very slow working day.  Fortunately, we were delayed for only four hours.  On our way down to Dover we stopped at Aylesford Priory to celebrate Mass with Southwark Diocese.

  We arrived in Krakow on Sunday, hours later than our planned time but we didn’t care.

wyd-2016-1-copy  Our first encounter with the youth of the world was Sunday evening when we had a tour of the town.  The main square was heaving with young people, singing, dancing, just enjoying themselves, and this continued for the whole week.

  The Opening Mass on Tuesday at Blonia Park saw more than 200,000 young people attend.  Walking to these events was an experience I will never forget.  The roads were packed with young people, singing and waving flags, the locals waving at us from their houses.  It didn’t matter which country you were from, we were all united in faith.

  During the Mass Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Cardinal of Krakow, told us that Krakow was the city from where St John Paul “set off to preach the Gospel,” as well as where St Faustina Kowalska helped spread devotion to Divine Mercy worldwide in the 20th century.  Thank goodness for modern technology, we could listen to the Cardinal in our own language using the radio on our phones and ipods.

  On Wednesday catechesis started and we were designated Krakow Arena for the three days.  This was an opportunity for all the English speaking to get together daily and to listen to inspirational speakers and to celebrate Mass.

Thursday saw the arrival of Pope Francis to Blonia Park, on one of Krakow’s trams, to a wonderful reception from at least half a million young people. The theme for the evening’s celebration was “Called to Holiness,” and young people from different continents presented this message with an animated illustration of young saints from the 3rd to the 20th century.  He recalled that as a bishop in Buenos Aires for many years he had come to understand that “nothing is more beautiful than seeing the enthusiasm, dedication, zeal and energy with which so many young people live their lives.”  Moreover, he said, when Jesus touches a young person’s heart “he or she becomes capable of truly great things.”  Simple words but so powerful.  He also expressed his hope to the young people that they opt not for “early retirement,” but participate fully in a life lived passionately, spreading the mercy of Jesus Christ.

  On Friday Pope Francis led everyone through the Stations of the Cross, again in Blonia Park.

  Saturday evening’s overnight prayer vigil was the high point for all, both spiritually and physically, as everyone joined together in keeping with a World Youth Day tradition of walking to and from the venue and sleeping out under the stars awaiting the return of Pope Francis to arrive for the final Mass.  Pope Francis once again asked everyone to remember their mission as members of the Church and bring God’s mercy back with us to our homes.

  Pope Francis also announced that the next World Youth Day will be held in Panama in 2019.

wyd-2016-5-copy  Throughout our trip, we treated our experience in Krakow as a walking pilgrimage.  Fitbit recorded it, almost 80 miles walked over the course of the seven days.

  We students would like to thank our school for allowing us to embark on a life changing experience.  To our Chaplain, Bernie Healy for all the organising, Mr Stokes for coming with us and to all the other leaders who kept us all in line.  We cannot thank you enough.

  “God loves us the way we are, and no sin, fault or mistake of ours makes him change his mind.  As far as Jesus is concerned – as the Gospel shows – no one is unworthy of, or far from, his thoughts.  No one is insignificant.  He loves all of us with a special love; for him all of us are important: you are important!  God counts on you for what you are, not for what you possess.  In his eyes the clothes you wear or the kind of cell phone you use are of absolutely no concern.  He doesn’t care whether you are stylish or not; he cares about you!  In his eyes, you are precious, and your value is inestimable.” (Taken from the final homily of Pope Francis)

Students from All Saints School