‘Billgrims’ Descend on Poland for World Youth Day

On July 15, 20 billgrims embarked on their journey from Chicago O’Hare International Airport to Warsaw, Poland to attend Magis and eventually World Youth Day.

The Magis program, which is run by the Society of Jesus to precede World Youth Day, sent participants on Ignatian “experiments” throughout Poland, Lithuania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.  Magis began with a sort of jamboree of pilgrims at the ?ód? Technical University in ?ód?, Poland.  The pilgrims were given a care package that included a drawstring bag, water bottle, t-shirts with the Magis 2016 logo, and a prayer book including readings and reflections on the gospels for the duration of the two week program.  For three days, the Magis participants slept in the dormitories at the university, explored the city of ?ód? and celebrated the Eucharist together.  The masses were said in English with the petitions read in a multitude of  languages to accommodate the many nationalities present.

Following the opening three days in ?ód?, the pilgrims were dispersed to the their many Ignatian experiments, which included hiking in the scenic Zakopane mountains, living on sailboats for a week, helping nuns make jam and retreats in Jesuit residences.  Wyatt Kernell’s (A&S ‘16) experiment was in the Zakopane mountains.  He began his day with eight-hour hikes in single-file lines and silence with his fellow experimenters.  Wyatt’s group was comprised of people from Jesuit schools throughout the United States, Chile, Columbia, France and the island nation of Mauritius.  When asked about his overall experience, Wyatt said “For me when I was heading to Magis, I was really only looking forward to hiking through the Zakopane mountains.  The conversations with people from all over the world about God and life in general were what really made the experience special.”

After the completion of their experiments, the students reconvened in Cz?stochowa, Poland for the closing ceremonies of Magis.  A pilgrimage was made to the Jasna Gora Monastery, where Eucharistic adoration, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and a vigil with the sacred image of Our Lady of Cz?stochowa is located.  Magis 2016 closed with Mass and the students made their way to Krakow via train.

Due to poor planning and malfunction, the train ride from Cz?stochowa to Krakow was a four-hour standing-room-only ordeal.  This began a theme of trying times for the billgrims in Poland.  The group’s accommodations were in a parish’s gymnasium in the Krakow suburb of Chrzanów and required a two hour train ride outside of the city center.  The billgrims were fairly positive with the Lenten lyric “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was often sung in sarcasm about the many tiring days in Krakow.

The World Youth Day events culminated with a pilgrimage to the vigil site outside of Krakow.  The pilgrimage required a six-mile walk with backpacks packed to the brim through the July afternoon heat.

Upon arrival to the vigil site, students were required to either hike the three mile round trip to retrieve the group’s food for the next two days or set up the camping site.  After the tumultuous trip to get food, the billgrims began to mingle with pilgrims from all over the world that were staying in the same section.

Pope Francis arrived in his popemobile surrounded by a barrage of cameras and armed guards.  The night kicked off with a series of performances meant to display various Catholic themes that ranged from intricate dances to strung out musical ensembles.  The Pope closed the night with Eucharistic adoration and returned the next morning to celebrate Mass with over 3 million pilgrims.

At the conclusion of the Mass, it was announced that the next World Youth Day would take place in Panama, much to the eccentric cheering of the many Panamanian pilgrims in attendance.