EDMONTON (CCN) — “Don’t be afraid,” Archbishop Richard Smith told young people travelling to Kraków, Poland for World Youth Day. “Go with open hearts and understand that Jesus takes nothing and gives everything.”
Smith presided at the commissioning mass for World Youth Day June 12 at Holy Rosary Church, a Polish church. Dozens of young men and women wearing the red and white T-shirt of the Canadian delegation attended the mass — their last official activity before they depart for Poland in mid-July.
About 270 young people from across the Edmonton archdiocese will travel to the land of St. John Paul II for this worldwide Catholic encounter.
The event runs July 25 to 31, but Edmonton pilgrims will depart a week in advance to participate in a variety of activities in the Diocese of Wroclaw.
WYD is typically celebrated every three years in a different country. The previous one took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2013.
Smith has been to a number of these encounters and gave the congregation a taste of what they can expect.
“You can look forward to something extraordinary,” he said. “First of all is the encounter with literally hundreds of thousands of young fellows, people your age, people who like you share the faith, love the Lord, love the church and want to follow Jesus.”
The archbishop said most pilgrims discover they are not alone in their faith. “World Youth Day conveys the truth that we are not alone. There are thousands, millions of people around this globe your age who love the Lord and love the church.”
The encounter with the pope is an important dimension of this pilgrimage. “People are there from all over the world. Every language on the earth is there, gathered around the Holy Father. He is our pope and we are his.
“So we recognize that in the person of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, we have a sign of the extraordinary unity that we have that transcends all linguistic (and) cultural differences. “
The deepest, most important encounter at World Youth Day is our encounter with the person of Jesus Christ, the archbishop told his young congregation. Jesus is truly present at World Youth Day “and we meet him there.”
Smith said many who go to WYD come away changed, never to be the same again, especially those who go there to discern God’s will for them in life. As a result, many vocations to the priesthood and to religious life emerge from WYD.
Like St. John Paul II, the founder of WYD, Smith urged young people to not be afraid and to go to Kraków with open hearts. “Don’t be afraid of Jesus. Don’t be afraid of change,” he said. “Jesus is waiting for you.”
“Having a blessing from the archbishop is very empowering,” said Adam Lachacz, one of 10 travelling to Kraków from St. Andrew’s Parish in Edmonton. “It’s really nice to know we are being supported in our spiritual journey on this pilgrimage to the homeland of St. John Paul II.”
Lachacz, 18, said he has heard a lot from friends who have gone to WYD in the past and has lots of expectations. “It’s going to be so exciting to be there in Poland with three million other youth from across the world.”
This is the second WYD for Martine Bazira, one of 17 from Paroisse St. Thomas d’Aquin going to Poland. “I feel like I have a great mission but most of all I’m going there to meet people.”
The 23-year-old said she made a ton of friends when she went to WYD in Brazil in 2013. “The feeling that we are not alone in our faith gives us more courage to carry on and to follow Jesus.”
Jamie Jaca, also from St. Andrew’s Parish, is going to Poland to experience what her friends described as a great faith adventure.
“They were telling me what a great experience it was encountering Christ among a million other people,” the 22-year-old explained.
“It will be such a great experience to stand among all those other youth who have the same beliefs. Sometimes we feel we are so alone in our faith and yet there are so many people out there who believe in Christ the same way that we do. I believe this pilgrimage is going to change my life.”