Editor's Note: Midway through last month's World Youth Day celebration, Bishop Malone captured his thoughts as he traveled to Poland to join Buffalo pilgrims at the event.
Saints... you can sense their influence, in a mysterious way even their presence, everywhere in Kraków. St. John Paul II and St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, of course, are prominent. Then there is the cell at Auschwitz that memorializes St. Maximilian Kolbe, who gave his life so that another prisoner could live. Today I offered catechesis and celebrated Eucharist with hundreds of pilgrims from Ireland in a parish church dedicated to the great St. Casimir. We prayed at the tombs of St. Stanislaus, bishop and martyr, and St. Hedwig, queen - and also king - of Poland (check that one out!) in Wawel Cathedral, seat of the Archbishop of Kraków, currently held by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who was secretary to Pope John Paul II for many years. The litany of Polish saints and Blesseds goes on and on. How appropriate that George Weigel, major biographer of St. John Paul II, entitled his "pilgrimage to John Paul's Kraków" City of Saints.
Then there are the hundreds of thousands of young Catholics - saints on the way, we pray (and I believe) flowing through the streets with their nations' flags proudly waving, their voices raised in festive song, and their faces alive with the energy of joy - if wearied with a bit of pilgrimage fatigue. (Remember, we remind them, a pilgrimage is not a vacation!) Our young church is such a source of hope for me. I tell that to our teens and young adults often, and I mean it sincerely. We have wonderful youth and young adult ministry leadership and resources at the diocesan level. I am so grateful to the parishes that share my personal commitment to our young church and use those resources to build flourishing pastoral care and formation for our young.
Since our arrival in Poland a few days ago, we have experienced many powerful moments. Our Buffalo pilgrims spent several solemn hours touring the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. In conversations with our young pilgrims, I was moved to see that while they uniformly found heavy and grim the experience of standing on ground where over a million men, women and children (mainly Jews) were murdered, they all believed that it was a very important part of our trip.
I write on Wednesday afternoon. The Holy Father arrives later today. Thursday afternoon our Buffalo contingent of nearly 200 folks will join the throng of others at Blonia Park for the papal welcome ceremony. There are a number of other scheduled or optional events before the high point of the World Youth Day week - the Saturday night vigil and Sunday morning Mass with Pope Francis at Campus Misercordiae, a nearly 10 mile walk for our pilgrims.
A religious pilgrimage reminds us that a Christian's entire life is a pilgrimage - a journey of faith that encounters bad weather and good, wrong turns and recoveries, disappointments and victories, exhaustion and elation. The key point of the whole thing - pilgrimage and life journey - is that it is all about Jesus. He is our faithful companion all along the road, the shepherd who leads us to green pastures and one day to heaven. I thank God and our pilgrims and, in a special way, our diocesan youth and young adult ministry staff and the volunteers and chaperones, who have served so generously to make this experience of grace as fruitful as it has been. Thank you. God bless you. Our WNY church will be stronger because of the grace of renewal our returning Kraków pilgrims will bring home.