Given that it’s a religious event organised by the Catholic Church, you might think that World Youth Day (WYD) is all about praying and going to Mass. But that’s not the case at all, as students from Maryknoll Convent School (MCS) found out when they attended this year’s WYD in Krakow, Poland, from July 26 to July 31.
The event, where young people from all over the world come together to celebrate and strengthen their faith, is a time to meet people from other cultures, explore another country, and challenge themselves – both spiritually and physically.
Five adults and 11 students from MCS were chosen to join the three million other people taking part in this year’s celebration.
Stephanie Young, 16, was one of the successful applicants from MCS and she spoke to Young Post about her experience.
Different people join WYD for different reasons, but like a lot of people, Stephanie was keen to go there to get back in touch with her faith.
“It was to strengthen my own faith in my religion. I wasn’t exactly the best Catholic, honestly, as I rarely attended Mass or went to church and stuff. We live in a hectic world, and it’s really difficult to be able to truly devote time to your spiritual healing.”
And, like many people, Stephanie expected the event to be serious religious reflection – not a holiday.
“I expected it to be boring. But it turned out to be one of the most fun trips I’ve ever been on. There were so many new experiences; for example, it was the first time I had lived with a host family,” says Stephanie.
For a lot of people, one of the highlight is the vigil – an evening prayer service with the Pope himself on the last night of the pilgrimage. But getting there wasn’t as easy as Stephanie had imagined. “There was also a lot more walking than I expected,” she laughs. “We walked 7km to get to the vigil and 7km back. Actually we walked everywhere because transport was usually packed as so many people were in Poland for WYD,” Stephanie says.
But it wasn’t just the amount of exercise that was unexpected. Participants lived with host families, but they also had to brave the outdoors. “On the night of the vigil, all of the pilgrims had to sleep in sleeping bags under the stars, regardless of the freezing night air and the slithering worms and crawling bugs ... that night was memorable. Did I mention that the bugs were huge?” Stephanie adds.
Apart from WYD, they also travelled around Poland. “The funny thing is,” says Stephanie, “We weren’t supposed to act like tourists. We were supposed to be acting like pilgrims; after all, we were there to worship and strengthen our faith. But we were having so much fun that we felt like regular tourists.”
The experience also helped Stephanie grow as a person.
“It surprised my friends to see that I was so eager to socialise with people and take selfies with strangers, as I’m not usually an outgoing person. Sometimes these experiences make you realise that you have a lot of hidden qualities,” says Stephanie.
But most importantly, WYD is about celebrating diversity.
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“We met people from all over the world. Some people that I met were from places that I’ve never even heard of before. Meeting different people helps your social skills and broadens your own way of thinking as well,” she says.
The next World Youth Day will be held in 2019 in Panama City, the first WYD to be held in Central America. Stephanie encourages other people to consider joining.
“It’s great if you’re a Catholic, or if you want to learn more about this religion,” she says. “World Youth Day really lets you feel the passion and love that people have for Catholicism, and it’s rare that you feel such intense love for a religion in Hong Kong. But religion aside, it’s a great chance for you to test your own boundaries and step out of your comfort zone. I’m already looking forward to the next WYD!”