By Bishop Edward J. Burns
After months of planning and preparation for a pilgrimage of a lifetime, thirty members of the Diocese of Juneau made their way to Krakow, Poland for World Youth Day. Those who made the trip came from the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Juneau, and Holy Name Parish in Ketchikan. The 31st World Youth Day was held in Krakow, Poland, from July 26-31, 2016 and was based on the theme: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7).
This world meeting of young people began with three days of prayer and reflection. The first full day, Wednesday, July 27, focused on the topic “Now is the time of mercy!” Thursday’s topic was “Let us allow ourselves to be touched by Christ’s mercy” and Friday, July 29, had the participants reflect on the topic, “Lord, make me an instrument of your mercy.” It was an honor for me to be one of the bishop catechists for this event and I found Krakow to be a wonderful venue to develop the theme of mercy since it is the home of St. John Paul II and St. Faustina. These two saints have shared their wisdom about God’s Divine Mercy. Allow me to highlight two quotes which helped in my preparations for the event.
In 2002, St. John Paul II said, “How greatly today’s world needs God’s mercy! In every continent, from the depth of human suffering, a cry for mercy seems to rise up. Where hatred and the thirst for revenge dominate, where war brings suffering and death to the innocent, there the grace of mercy is needed in order to settle human minds and hearts and to bring about peace. Wherever respect for life and human dignity are lacking, there is need of God’s merciful love, in whose light we see the inexpressible value of every human being. Mercy is needed in order to ensure that every injustice in the world will come to an end in the splendor of truth.” This message, spoken by the Saint who walked the streets of Krakow and hiked the surrounding mountains, offers much to ponder. These words are most poignant and were well received during my catechetical sessions attended by pilgrims from Kuwait and Egypt, who themselves are experiencing widespread injustices.
At the same time, the words and images of St. Faustina were everywhere in Krakow during this WYD event. In her Diary she wrote, “Help me, O Lord, that my eyes may be merciful, so that I may never suspect or judge from appearances, but look for what is beautiful in my neighbors’ souls and come to their rescue. Help me, that my ears may be merciful, so that I may give heed to my neighbors’ needs and not be indifferent to their pains and moanings. Help me, O Lord, that my tongue may be merciful, so that I should never speak negatively of my neighbor, but have a word of comfort and forgiveness for all. Help me, O Lord, that my hands may be merciful and filled with good deeds. Help me, that my feet may be merciful, so that I may hurry to assist my neighbor, overcoming my own fatigue and weariness. Help me, O Lord, that my heart may be merciful so that I myself may feel all the sufferings of my neighbor.” These words, too, are worth pondering and I believe that the youth who took all the messages of mercy to heart during World Youth Day have opened themselves to being instruments of mercy toward others.
Equipped with quotes like these and all my preparations for the catechetical sessions, I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the theme of God’s mercy with our young people and being present to them. It was a joy to interact with the youth who came to Krakow from all over the world. With our own group from Southeast Alaska, it was a joy being on the bus with them, praying the rosary and answering their questions about the faith and the Church.
The World Youth Day event culminated with the closing Mass on Sunday, July 31, 2016, presided by Pope Francis, the Successor of St. Peter. 2.5 million people gathered for this Mass. I rejoiced in knowing that the young people of Southeast Alaska experienced this illustration of the Catholic Church and her universality. It is my hope and prayer that those who attended will be able to witness to God’s divine mercy, and that the great gift of World Youth Day will be fruitful here in Southeast Alaska through the lives of the young people who participated.