At 10:30 a.m. on Friday, July 22, Greg Coogan and five other young adults piled their suitcases onto the roof and into the trunk of his white minivan, and left Sicklerville’s Saint Charles Borromeo Church for New York, where they rendezvoused with Bishop Dennis Sullivan, Camden Diocesan priests, and other pilgrims at JFK airport to catch a flight to Poland later that night.
Shortly before 9 p.m. last Monday night, the diocesan contingent returned to the United States after 10 days of experiencing World Youth Day, what some call the “Catholic Woodstock.” Krakow was the site of this year’s gathering of youth with the Holy Father, Pope Francis.
The pilgrimage to Poland was “transformative,” said Coogan.
“Coming together with youth from over 180 countries, who share the Catholic faith, demonstrated the universality of the church,” added the Director of Youth Ministry for the Diocese of Camden.
After a nine-hour flight to Warsaw, which saw them land at 8:50 a.m. local time on July 23, South Jersey’s Catholics felt at home soon after their arrival. They visited a Mlodzieszyn parish where a friend of Bishop Sullivan’s was stationed; were welcomed into locals’ homes for refreshing showers; and were treated to a welcoming ceremony that included, music, adoration and a cookout that included such country fare as kielbasa and pierogi.
The next week would be inspiring (a visit to Wadowice, hometown of Saint John Paul II); uplifting (prayer in front of the Black Madonna at Czestochowa’s Jasna Gora Monastery); educational (catechesis talks in Krakow’s “Mercy Center” with such leaders as Cardinals Sean O’Malley of Boston and Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila); and heart-wrenching (walking through the Auschwitz and Birkenau Nazi death camps).
On Thursday the 28th, the mood turned joyful, as Pope Francis joined the almost 3 million pilgrims. An overnight, outdoor adoration vigil in the Krakow fields brought together the throngs in silent prayer, before the closing Mass with the Holy Father.
Before his departure back to Rome, Pope Francis exhorted the youthful crowd to allow God into their everyday lives.
“How greatly he desires that you bring all this to him in prayer! How much he hopes that, in all the “contacts” and “chats” of each day, pride of place be given to the golden thread of prayer! How much he wants his word to be able to speak to you day after day, so that you can make his Gospel your own, so that it can serve as a compass for you on the highways of life!” he said.
Amanda Dupras, a member of the Catholic Campus Ministry at Stockton College in Galloway Township, felt the “contagious” joy of the Gospel among everyone she met, be they from Iraq, Madagascar, England, France or Spain.
“People were laughing, dancing and singing in the streets,” she said. Continuing a World Youth Day tradition, she and other South Jersey pilgrims exchanged items with other global youth. Passing out her homemade rosaries, she received pins, flags and other rosaries in return.
“I’m bringing back home the love, faith and energy in the air that I encountered in Poland,” she said.