Pilgrims and priest attend Mass at Our Lady of Czestochowa. Pilot photo/George Martell
KRAKOW -- For Kyle Joy, it wasn't just the new people he met or the new cultures he experienced that served as highlights of his trip to Krakow, Poland for World Youth Day 2016, but it was also the people he traveled with.
"I've traveled with some of the most holy people I've ever met before in my life, and having gone to a very secular school in a very secular state, it's a very different experience spending time with these holy people, because rather than dragging you back, they push you forward," said Joy, who traveled to World Youth Day with his parish, St. John the Evangelist Parish in Townsend.
"Having these friends push you forward really exemplifies the beauty of Catholicism. We're all in it for each other and we all drive each other closer to God, and I think I've made friendships that will really last me a lifetime," he continued.
Joy and his fellow parishioners made up a larger group of around 370 youth, young adults, and leaders who traveled to this year's World Youth Day under the umbrella of the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Lifelong Faith Formation and Parish Support, which organized and planned the trip.
While the event ran from July 25 to July 31, a number of those travelling with the archdiocese spent several extra days in Poland to visit some of its many places of worship.
One such place was the Jasna Gora Monastery in Czestochowa, Poland. The monastery holds a revered icon of the Virgin Mary, known as Our Lady of Czestochowa, and for Melisa Oittinen, a parishioner of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Townsend, seeing that was one of the highlights of the trip.
"I'm very strongly attached to Our Lady, so I absolutely loved" visiting the monastery, she said.
Oittinen said that while she and her fellow pilgrims were at the monastery, they crossed "around the chapel on their knees, which was a great mortification," and climbed the bell tower to look out over Poland.
Half-Polish herself, Oittinen noted that "it was really wonderful to see where I come from" and learn more about her family's culture.
Other key events of the trip included an opening ceremony with Archbishop of Krakow Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz; a Mass at the Basilica of Divine Mercy celebrated by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley; a dinner with Cardinal O'Malley in Krakow; and of course, Eucharistic Adoration, a visit to the Auschwitz memorial and museum, and a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis.
Before the Mass, which was celebrated on the morning of July 31 and saw and estimated 1.5 million people attend, many pilgrims attended an overnight vigil where they slept out under the stars in a field.
Maura Maginnis, a parishioner of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Hopkinton, attended the vigil, but sprained her ankle while walking several miles to get to the field. She said that she managed to stay overnight, but in the morning left to go back to the hotel with several other members of her group, who had gotten sick.
"We were just devastated that we couldn't stay for the Mass with the pope," Maginnis said.
When they arrived back at the hotel, they relaxed and gathered their thoughts and attended a Mass at the church "where Pope St. John Paul II was a parish priest."
During the homily, the priest celebrating the Mass began to speak about "all of the people who weren't able to stay for the Mass (with the pope,) who had to leave early, who couldn't even go in the first place, and how even though it seemed like a disappointment at the time, it was a blessing to us all because we were able to come back and rest and get healthy," said Maginnins.
"Then he started talking about how blessings can travel, and how even though we weren't in Pope Francis' presence, we were still being thought of and prayed for," she continued.
Sitting in a room filled with people in similar situations as hers, Maginnis felt "blessed by everyone," and the experience actually turned into one of her favorite parts of the trip.
Many of the pilgrims traveling with the Office of Lifelong Faith Formation and Parish Support did not return home until Aug. 3, as they traveled to Zakopane, a mountainous town in southern Poland, after the event for a chance to reflect on the trip.
Assistant Vocation Director for the archdiocese Father Eric Cadin, who also attended the trip, noted that as he and the pilgrims return to their everyday lives, they face the challenge of living out Pope Francis' call to "fraternity, to fellowship."
"Our challenge is to go home and to get involved in our parishes, to get involved in our youth groups, to get involved in drawing (people) together, in walking on this path to holiness not by myself, but with each other," he said.