By Jaime Garnica
Upon arriving in Europe, we first got to see St. Peters Basilica in Vatican City, and got a tour of Rome. The following day we flew to Krakow, Poland for World Youth Day. While in Poland, we visited the Divine Mercy Shrine, the Sanctuary of St. Pope John Paul II, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Wadowice, the monastery of Jasna Góra in Częstochowa, and spent a majority of our time in Krakow. We were also blessed to have Pope Francis pass right in front of us in his first audience in Błonia Park. During our stay in Poland, there were two precise moments which moved me not only as a young adult, but as a young Catholic adult who is living in an ever more secular world which not only tries to push God out of society, but also tries to impose “values” which simply go against our consciences. The first moment was in Auschwitz-Birkenau when we were walking through the camps and a friend asked “How can God have allowed this to happened?”. I had been asked that question before concerning other events, but for the Holocaust I could not think of an answer. I myself found it difficult to wrap my mind around the fact that millions of innocent people were systematically killed in the very grounds which we were walking on, just for being who they were. I did not know what to respond with then, but the only thing I could think of, was to pray and hope to have the same faith and courage that many of those victims had. To have courageous faith like that of St. Maximillian Kolbe who volunteered to take the place of a man who was going to be executed was all I could think of while there. Since then, I have only noticed myself asking more and more for his intercession; to have courageous faith, indiscriminate of the circumstance or the consequences.
The other moment was when we went to Czestochowa to visit the monastery of Jasna Góra. While we were waiting outside, a group from the Neocatechumenal Way (“the Way”) were singing and praising. Some from my group and I joined them and while we were praising, another group from the Way arrived and joined us. Their instrument players went to the center of the crowd, tuned their instruments, and got in sync with the group that was already playing. The other members formed another dancing line and also got in sync with us. These were young Catholic adults who were from completely different cultures and backgrounds, yet we were all praising in unison the same true God. It was no more than twenty minutes, but in that short time I was able to witness just a portion of what I would continue to see while in World Youth Day: a young, vibrant, universal church full of energy and ready to set the world on fire.
Not long after WYD, we flew to the Holy Land to begin our spiritual journey in the land where Jesus lived, died, and resurrected just two millennia ago. The day we arrived, we celebrated mass in a retreat house by the Sea of Galilee and it was after celebrating mass that it was starting to hit us that we were actually in the Holy Land. Growing up you imagine what it looks like and what the Holy Land is, so it was a bit difficult for me to actually realize that I was actually in the land where Jesus Christ used to be. Not long into our trip, our tour guide asked me how I felt and I told him that I felt strange knowing I was in the Holy Land. The advice he gave me was simple and straight to the point: “Forget what you think you know. You are here where our Lord Jesus Christ lived and walked. Forget what you imagined as a child, you are here now and as a Christian this is your home”. Throughout our trip there we would be reminded that the Holy Land was our home as Christians, that Christianity is the salt of the land.
When we were staying in Bethlehem, we were able to visit the major churches and got to do the Via Crucis through Jerusalem and we ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Many of the pilgrims were in tears while we were there but for me, I felt a sense of sadness while at the Church of the Nativity. At the Nativity, we were able to do a procession and celebrate mass but the entire time we were there, I knew that this little child which came into our world was going to have a fate which no man should have to go through: he would be falsely accused, betrayed by his friends, tortured, and killed- all this while his mother watched. I saw the baby Jesus as an incredible gift to us and yet we would only betray and sin against him. At the Holy Sepulcher, I saw joy: Christ dies but he resurrects- he conquers death.
Near the end of our trip and realizing that we would be leaving, I only had gratitude for everything that I was able to experience. I got to know people from my group who were once strangers but are now family, with people from where my ancestors came from (Spain), and also with fellow Americans from around the US. I learned a variety of things from them, but what we all had in common was that we all sought Christ, in one way or another. They have hope in Martin, all seminarians, and I that we would be formed to be another Christ and that we would not be one with the times, but instead stand out just as Jesus did and help others. The pilgrimage let me see the universal church active and alive during World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland. We ended with visiting the Holy Land, the place where a man named Jesus Christ would come to challenge the status quo, and to teach us of the infinite mercy and love of God. The pilgrimage did what any pilgrimage would hopefully do and it reminded me of the amazing, loving God that we all have, and reinforced my trust in the Lord that the vocation I am following may truly be mine. I do not know why God may be calling me to the priesthood but what I do know, is that there is a void that cannot be filled with material objects or anyone on this Earth, but only with Christ. If I am able to help in the mission to bring others to the peace and love which I found in Christ, then I humbly answer the call and hope that it is truly what God asks of me.