In July, I was part of the pilgrimage of young adults from our diocese who journeyed to Krakow, Poland for World Youth Day. As part of our pilgrimage, we were blessed to have not only Bishop Robert Gruss join us, but also two religious sisters, Sr. Joy of Martyrs and Sr. Dove of Simplicity from the Servants of the Lord of Our Lady of Matara. Their presence, and their faith and joy in the Lord added much to our WYD experience.
As I look back on my encounter of WYD, there are three things that repeatedly come to mind. The first is mercy, which was the theme of World Youth Day taken from the fifth beatitude: Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy (Mt 5:7). The second and third are: generous hospitality and lively faith. These words should sound familiar to us because they are the first two lenses of our stewardship initiative. I experienced them being played out in so many ways throughout our pilgrimage.
Our first week we stayed in a hostel in Fr. Andrzej Wyrostek’s home town of Izdebnik, Poland. The pastor of St. Margaret Church, where Fr. Andrzej received the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, opened up the church several times for us so that we could celebrate Mass and a Holy Hour. He even had a U.S. flag hanging outside the church as way to welcome us.
One of the first nights, the mayor of Izdebnik came and officially welcomed us as pilgrims and as friends. The day before we left for Krakow for the WYD gatherings, the owners of the hostel offered to do laundry for us — 20 loads of laundry! It was quite funny to see all our laundry laid out on a big table when we returned from touring that day. Next to it was a big sign that read: “American — Polish Power Ball.”
We were so blessed to stay in hosts’ homes in Wadowice, the hometown of St. John Paul II, during the WYD events. Throughout our stay, our host families were incredibly generous and showed us great mercy on a number of occasions. One of the things that struck me is that their faith was so evident and alive. Because of that, offering generous hospitality and showing us great mercy came naturally to them.
For instance, the opening night of WYD, the trains were not quite working the way we had expected. We arrived back at the train station at 3:30 in the morning, and then we had another 2.5 mile walk back to our host homes. Even so, when we arrived at the train station, our host families were there to greet us with big smiles, hugs and high fives. And when we arrived home, we were greeted with a simple meal.
On another night, it was pouring rain when we arrived at the train depot ready for the walk to our host homes. There again our host families were waiting to welcome home their tired pilgrims and to feed them again.
At dinner the first night with our host families, I was sitting behind a statue of Our Lady and I felt a movement of the Holy Spirit to ask if they wanted to pray the rosary with us. So after dinner, Kristof, the father, pointed to the deck and he took the statue of Our Lady sitting behind me and placed her on a table on the deck with a lit candle. The host family’s lively faith was shining.
Robert Kinyon, a third year college seminarian, tells of his experience of this encounter:
“My principal desire for World Youth Day was to experience the church universal by which we derive the name ‘Catholic,’ and from this I wanted a stronger aspiration to follow the will of the Father as he guides his church on earth.
“This desire was chiefly satisfied one evening while praying the rosary with my homestay family in Wadowice. We took turns leading each mystery with our Polish family, alternating between English and Polish, and ending with the “Salve Regina” in Latin. This, for me, was a beautiful moment of consolation. How magnificent is our church — spanning thousands of years and countless languages!
“Truly, in that moment, the Lord fulfilled the desires of my heart and gave me a new vigor to follow him, bolstered in faith and hope.”
This experience of generous hospitality and lively faith at WYD, especially with our host families made me think how important lively faith is in our lives, and how lively faith impacts everyone around it. Lively faith is contagious. It also made me more aware of how hospitality and lively faith are intimately connected. One flows out of the other and each is enriched by the other.
The next time you are hosting a meal at home or at a family gathering, why not end your time together with the rosary or praying with one another? You never know what one invitation to prayer — which would be a joining of generous hospitality and lively faith — might mean to someone.