My Pilgrimage to World Youth Day in Krakow

I have been waiting and praying and hoping to come here to Poland since the last World Youth Day in 2013. I have painted, worked at Franciscan University, cleaned houses, and anything else I could come up with in order to be able to come here. I was also blessed to receive some donations. It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago (3 years)… time has gone by so quickly! Before I knew it, we were counting down the days from day 30. Within the blink of an eye, it was the day before we were to leave and I was still my usual disorganized and procrastinating self who was still not all the way packed.

And as I packed, it finally began to sink in how much my life would change. Yes, before this I knew my best friend would leave my country to go back to hers. Yes, I knew some friends would move away. And yes, I knew that I would change and grow. But there is something about packing, something about collecting together the most necessary items and placing them in this portable “closet,” something that makes one think of what is really important in life…more important than your clothes and toothbrush.

So I looked around my room at the many pictures of memories with friends, my family, and the many taped-up pieces of paper with my favorite quotes written in my best calligraphy. I glanced at my favorite books on my shelf, noting that I probably should have dusted them before I left for two months. I looked at some notebooks from this past school year and thanked God that it was done for now. I even stumbled upon some old notes from friends…most of which brought some tears to my eyes.

All of these beautiful little things made me realize how beautiful life is. But the realization of this beauty—of the many good things in my life—was very bittersweet. As I turned 18 just a few days before my trip, I closed the door of my childhood with some tears as I realized the days of making mud pyramids and swinging on the rope swing and rolling in the grass were gone. Now I was expected to wear shoes, brush my hair and be tidy, vote, work, pay taxes, go to school, be well mannered, and all other basic requirements of maturity. I finally understand why Peter Pan wanted to be a boy forever!
And of course, with these thoughts, fear set in. Fear of the unknown, fear of losing the friends I cherish the most, fear of the struggle of life ahead, and so on. I felt like an emotional roller-coaster as I went from total excitement for this pilgrimage, to an almost-paralyzing fear that wanted me to just freeze in time, if not go back in time to my happy childhood.

But I am here. I finished packing, got in the car, then into the plane and flew over an ocean. I experienced my first flight, which was awesome. I have met amazing people. (Not to mention that the food is VERY good!) We visited several churches and walked around the beautiful city of Wroclaw. It is wonderful!

But I cannot help but still feel a little bit afraid of how things will unfold. But this is why I am on pilgrimage. I am not here because I am doing wonderfully. I am not here because I am healthy and have no need of healing.

I am on pilgrimage because I am afraid to trust, I am in need of healing, I am a sinner. We were asked to give a reason why we wanted to come to World Youth Day…and I think I have begun to finally know why.

I am in need of grace. Bottom line. The grace to accept the fears, the grace to trust, the grace to persevere when I feel hopeless and surrounded by darkness. I am in need of the grace to overcome my sins. I may not receive all of these graces today. I may not receive any tomorrow, or the next day. I may not even receive them at World Youth Day or perhaps even this year. But I know I will receive one thing for sure: the Father’s mercy.

This mercy I receive every day. This mercy was given to me by a Father who loves me unconditionally, despite my failures.

So in this Year of Mercy, as I join over 1 million other followers of Christ at World Youth Day in Krakow, I will open my heart and prepare to receive God’s new mercies, which He has for us, every day. I will be challenged and strengthened as I try to show mercy to others just as God has shown mercy to me. I will not be afraid, for God is my Father and the Guardian of my heart. I am His child and He is my hope.

May God bless you! Pray for me as I pray for you.

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Christiana Lee is a homeschooled high-school senior and is currently finishing up her senior year of high school as well as her freshman year of college. She plans to enter Franciscan University as a sophomore in the fall of 2017, where she wants to study theology and catechetics, with a focus in youth ministry. She hopes one day to become a youth minister. This summer, she will participate in World Youth Day in Krakow as well as make a pilgrimage to Rome for Blessed Mother Teresa's canonization on September 4th.

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