A cross and icon of the Blessed Mother, gifts from a Polish bishop to the Buffalo Diocese, have served as tools for local pilgrims preparing for World Youth Day in Krakow. Like the popular pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima, the cross and icon have traveled from house to house, allowing the pilgrims and their families to pray in front of it, asking for a safe and fruitful journey.
Father Jozef Dudzik, one of two local recipients, has used his icon to unite his parish. A veteran of World Youth Day, Father Dudzik has turned the parish's monthly youth Mass into a WYD Mass with a band, flags and a special candle. There, pilgrims learn about the history of the international event and recite the prayers and hymns to be used during the July 26-31 event. Pilgrims also pass the cross and icon from one household to the next. Each family holds the items for one month to pray before it, and prepare spiritually for the Polish pilgrimage.
"They take it from the church after World Youth Day Mass here on Sunday we have once a month, then they bring it back for the next month and give it to the next family," said Father Dudzik. "We (have the Masses) for all the parish. It's like a parish event. Everybody enjoys, supports and prays for the sake of World Youth Day. To raise the parish, make it more vibrant, we focus on the youth. It is a good way for me to renew and revive the parish life."
Despite the name, World Youth Day is open to all people. Often siblings or entire families participate together. Those who don't make the trip to foreign lands can pray for the pilgrims who do.
"We put it up on one of our wooden cabinets in the kitchen/living area, so we had to walk by it every single time we walked through the house. It was kind of like a reminder that it's coming and to get prepared," said Danielle Kline, 17, from St. Brendan's.
St. Brendan's youth group, the Underground, have also held lock-ins, adoration and reconciliation opportunities to help the parish prepare.
Courtney Nowacki, 19, St. Brendan's on the Lake, Newfane, keeps the icon where she will see it the often.
"I put in on my dining room table where it mostly stayed, because that's where I do all my homework," Nowacki said. "It was definitely very nice having it there. It felt like I was getting ready, I was getting prepared, it was coming. I can't wait for it."
Jim Cantella, 27, will be going with his father and sister. He set the icon on his dinner table.
"For mealtime it was always the center of the table," he said. "We prayed in front of it. It was the focal point. It brought everything back to center. So, prayer became a bigger part of our day. Our ritual with our son was to say the same prayers with him before we set him in his crib. Afterward, after we didn't have the icon anymore, we became more mindful of it, when we sat down before every meal you were grateful in that mentality of appreciating what you have."
St. John the Baptist in Alden received the other cross and icon, and plans to pass it along to the homes of about 10 of the parish's 19 pilgrims on a weekly basis.
"I hope this will prepare them spiritually, but that they would pray as a family, they would pray for our pilgrimage, and because Mary is there, it will open up their home spiritually to whoever comes to their home," said Jean Czerniak, youth minister from St. John's.
Czerniak came up with the idea of sharing it with her pilgrim group after seeing the effect the pilgrim statue had on her family.
"I've had the Our Lady of Fatima (statue) at our home; our home schooling group would do that," Czerniak said. "That was very powerful for our family to have the statue of Our Lady of Fatima and pray. Do you know what the neat thing was? People would come to our door, they'd come in for a visit and they'd end up in front of the statue and we'd pray the rosary together. When you open your home, or you have it at your home, God's going to do some mighty wonder and he's going to open it up to the rest of your neighborhood and community. He's going to touch other people, not just your family."
Brandon Adkins, St. John's assistant youth minister, carried the icon during the May 14 walk from St. Brendan's on the Lake to Fatima Shrine to share it with the other pilgrims. He will also carry it during the foot pilgrimage in Krakow to Campus Misericordiae, where Pope Francis will celebrate Mass.
Interestingly, the cross and icon have their roots in another foot pilgrimage. A year ago, Father Michael Czyzewski, OSPPE, administrator of Corpus Christi Parish in Buffalo, walked from his home diocese of Radom, Poland, to the Jasna Góra Shrine in Czestochowa.
"This is six days walking," said Father Czyzewski. "On the second day, I met Bishop Henryk Tomasik from Radom. He is in charge of World Youth Day in Poland. I tried to make contact with him. One week before the pilgrimage, in my hometown parish, was this kind of cross. I asked the pastor of this parish and explained to me that he received this cross from the bishop of Radom. When I had the chance to meet him, I tried to make conversation. I ask, 'Bishop, listen, I am from Buffalo and they know some people who will go to World Youth Day celebration and to see the pope. Would it be possible to receive from you the cross like you gave to the parishes in the Diocese of Radom?'"
At the end of the walk, Bishop Tomasik found Father Czyzewski among a crowd of 300 priests and offered him four crosses, which were shared and blessed by members of the crowd.
"I gave the opportunity to the people to touch the cross and the icon. It was from the beginning of the group almost to the end. So many people touched the cross and, of course, pray for the people of Buffalo," Father Czyzewski said.
One cross was given to the Pauline Fathers in Manhattan and another to Our Lady of Czestochowa Shrine in Doylestown, Pa. Father Jozef Dudzik from St. Brendan's on the Lake Parish in Newfane also received one for the group he will take to WYD. The last cross sat in Father Czyzewski's office for eight months, before it made its way to St. John the Baptist Parish in Alden through a friend of a friend.
The cross and icon are modeled after the official World Youth Day Cross St. John Paul II given to the young people at the first World Youth Day in 1984. They have traveled around the globe from one WYD site to the next.