Last Sunday we were blessed to host a party of sorts. What started as my attempt repay the “Poland daughters” who took me out to dinner for my birthday last fall turned into a mini-World Youth Day reunion, with many of the teens and a couple of the adults from our trip to Krakow a year ago.
We visited, prayed together, and shared a meal: grilled kielbasa and pierogies, pasta and sauce and salad, cookies and root beer floats. We shared our favorite memories and laughed and laughed. We talked about future plans—many of my Poland daughters are starting college this year. And I think we all longed to go back to visit the Motherland.
The next morning I thought I should re-share the post I wrote after the pilgrimage—only to realize I never wrote a recap. I thought about doing a standard Top-10 list, but no matter how I counted or grouped things together, I had too much to share.
So I’ll keep this to three moments that stand out to me above the others.
Adoration with the Pope
The day before the final Mass with Pope Francis, we marched the better part of eight miles to an open field to set up camp. The sun beat down; water and tempers ran short. When we finally reached our section of the field, we stakes our claim to the back corner, with a tower that provided some structure. We built a tarp city for shade, celebrated Mass, and watched the other pilgrims fill in around us. They sang and played soccer, spread out for confession, gathered together for meals. More and more people pressed in. Another U.S. group approached and asked us if they could squeeze in among us, and we made room.
The noise and activity were constant until evening, when Pope Francis arrived for prayer and Adoration. The field got quieter and quieter as pilgrims pondered the Holy Father’s words. Then the Blessed Sacrament was exposed upon the altar—for us, too far away to be seen, except on a big projection screen nearby. Three million people knelt and fell silent, facing Jesus in the monstrance. Volunteers distributed candles, and as twilight darkened to night, three million little flames flickered like a sea of stars stretching in all directions.
Who could hold so many young people silent and still for so long, across cultures, customs, and languages? Christ alone. I told our teens if they ever reach a point in life when they doubt the Real Presence, recall that night and how Jesus walked among that silent, kneeling crowd. Thank you, Holy Father, for bringing Christ to us that night!
Late-Night Chastity Talk
After Adoration came a mostly sleepless night. A humorless security guard demanded our teens take down the tarp shelters so that everyone could be seen. Banks of stadium lights beamed down, and large speakers rebroadcast a looping “concert” of international Christian pop stars. Pilgrims continued to arrive throughout the night, dancing, drumming, and singing. I dozed in my sleeping bag, a small umbrella shading me from the lights overhead.
As I drifted in and out of sleep, I could hear our teens talking with the other U.S. group that had joined us, and particularly their adult leader, a man I hadn’t met or even seen during the day, who was talking about St. John Paul the Great. I listened a bit as he spoke and thought, “Wow, he really knows a lot about JPII!” Then he shared a couple specific stories, and I laughed to myself: “Oh. He must’ve read that Jason Evert book.”
I dozed and woke again, and the conversation had shifted to chastity, dating, and marriage—and suddenly I was wide awake. I sat up and looked to the circle of teens nearby.
He spent a long while with our teens, answering their questions, sharing and laughing, before turning in to sleep. He didn’t have to do that. But he’s a disciple, making disciples. Thanks, Jason, for a great night and a great witness, putting a group of Minnesota teens ahead of yourself. You were off and running again early the next morning—hope you got some rest at some point!
Cardinal Tagle’s Scripture Reflection
We heard from so many great speakers at the catechetical sessions for English-speaking pilgrims, but for me, the highlight was Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, archbishop of Manila in the Philippines. He spoke to the pilgrims on the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin (Luke 15:1-10), including a rousing rendition of Frank Sinatra’s hit, “My Way” and—well, I’ll let Cardinal Tagle speak for himself below (watch for the full length version here).
I will admit, I choked up when he choked up: “But you are mine. You are mine. You belong to me.” Bless you, Cardinal Tagle—you touched so many hearts!
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We saw beautiful, ornate, and centuries-old churches; prayed in the footsteps of saints and martyrs in Warszawa, Kraków, Częstochowa, Wadowice, Niepokalanów, and Auschwitz; met Catholics from around the world; heard from our own Archbishop Hebda and Bishop Cozzens, as well as Bishop Robert Barron, Chris Stefanik, Matt Maher, Audrey Assad, and many other great speakers and musicians; and celebrated Mass with Pope Francis and more than three million faithful friends. We bought icons, chess sets, rosaries, and pipes; ate wonderful Polish food (especially the inexpensive home cooking at Grama Buffet in Wadowice); and stuck up for and leaned on each other. We sweat and walked and ached together. We share memories no one else shares. God bless you all—thank you for a sanctifying pilgrimage!