Laura Szczepankiewicz came to Krakow to meet as many people as she could. And she has the photographic proof to show she met her goal.
Even before World Youth Day officially began she had met people from a dozen countries. On a tram back to her hotel she rattles off a list that includes Uganda, Ireland, Ecuador, Poland, Romania, France, Malaysia, Britain, Vietnam, Germany, Mexico and Italy. The pilgrims at WYD are so eager to meet each other that all one has to do it raise a flag and people will flock for a photo op with the foreign friends.
Szczepankiewicz, 17, traveling with St. Amelia Parish from Tonawanda, walks through the city square holding her Star Spangled Banner wide to show off. Immediately, people flock to her wanting a photo, and since nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd, more people join.
"We'll be taking a picture, then people from other countries will run in and take it to. At one point, I was so overwhelmed that I almost started crying because I was so excited," she said.
Pilgrims come from all over the globe, many speaking some English. She tries to talk to them, asking their names and what they look forward to during the next week. She hopes to keep in touch with them through social media.
For now, she is happy to share buttons and pins from back home.
While taking pictures with a group from Ecuador, she gave some Niagara Falls pins to her new friends when she received a memorable gift in return.
"They said they didn't have anything (to trade). I said, 'That's fine. Thanks for the picture,' and this guy said, 'Wait hold on. I have something.' He pulls out this sign from his bag and he says that he hitchhiked all the way here from Ecuador. This is the sign he used to get people's attention on the streets. It has all these Polish cities on it," she recalled, "He gave it to me to trade, and was very excited to do it."