REGINA — Michelle Braden said it is difficult to describe a single highlight of World Youth Day (WYD) held July 25 - 31 in Krakow, Poland. “I think it was the growth of the group. You could watch it day to day: growth spiritually, emotionally and in the growing of the community.”
She led a group of 29 from the Regina archdiocese that included three priests: Rev. Mieczyslaw Burdzy of St. Henry Parish, Melville; Rene Mangahas of St. Joseph Parish, Whitewood; and Paul Mau Nguyen from Holy Rosary Cathedral, Regina. It was a three-week trip that took in WYD as well as a mountain retreat and a visit to the notorious death camp, Auschwitz.
“The most impressive thing for me and a lot of the group was seeing all those different countries coming together for one purpose. Just to see that demonstration of peace and joy was powerful for a majority of our group,” said Mary Polk, a 20-year-old University of Regina student.
She said there were challenges at times. “Being in a group for three weeks was challenging in itself, and getting along with everyone and the crowds and getting around, but it was worth it just to see everyone engage in their faith and growing in their faith.”
Polk said it renewed a sense of motivation in her faith. “And seeing all the other young people around me gave me a renewed sense of community on a global scale.”
The group also walked through the Auschwitz death camp. It was closed to the general public to allow WYD pilgrims a chance to visit the site; they walked a route through the camp and could not visit any of the buildings.
“It’s hard to talk about it. We decided just to walk it as a prayer experience. It’s pretty overwhelming — surreal is the word I would use. Hard to believe because it’s quite beautiful in the summer; I’m sure it looks different in the winter but in summer it is a park; beautiful weeping willow trees. It’s hard to believe the atrocities that went on there,” said Braden.
Polk said it was a good learning experience. “A lot of my group felt heavy when we were walking through. You can just sense the death there — emotionally, kind of a heavy wearing on your soul.”
Following WYD the group attended a three-day retreat in a mountain resort, Zakopane. “It reminded me of Banff, a touristy place,” said Braden. “It is where John Paull II used to go hiking.”
It’s estimated that about 1.5 million attended World Youth Day, but the final mass attracted about 2.5 million.