World Youth Day Armed Forces Pilgrimage

World Youth Day (WYD) is an international meeting of young people from all over the world who gather together with their catechists, priests, bishops and the Pope, in faith once every 3 years.

World Youth Day 2016 took place and in the beautiful city of Krakow in Poland and was attended by over 3.5 million young pilgrims from 187 different countries.

The objective of WYD is to experience the great community of the Universal Church, to gather in peace, to promote harmony and to celebrate faith in joy and fellowship, with the theme of this year’s World Youth Day being Mercy.

Listening to the Word of God, receiving the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist as well as joyfully proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

This year for the first time 32 members of the Armed Forces from across all services aged between 18 -35, of all faith and spiritual denominations gathered together to undertake the pilgrimage.

The pilgrims participated in several activities during the pilgrimage with visits to Colditz to explore military heritage and ethos during the journey, as well as Auschwitz and Birkenhau during the week.

During the main event the group attended several huge open air events including the opening ceremony, catechesis and the Youth Festival. This culminated in the overnight concert, Vigil and morning Mass with the Pope which completed the World Youth Day celebrations.

As any pilgrim knows, there is always some pain in the journey both spiritual and physical and this pilgrimage was no exception.

As we departed on day 1 we travelled to Paderborn Barracks in Germany, however what actually happened was that we sat parked on the M20 just outside Dover for 24 hours due to issues with French Customs at Dover.

Every human emotion possible was experienced as the mammoth delay unfolded in the heat of the summer.  Surrounded by thousands of fellow travellers stranded without support or information.  This was the moment when the forethought of packing emergency 24hr rations packs came to fruition. The sight of our group sharing water and food with those surrounding us in this extra ordinary situation exemplified the journey of pilgrimage.

24 hours later a very weary group arrived in a crammed Calais. Having managed to book the last hotel room in town for our drivers the rest of the group slept on the bus or went off to explore.

We gathered together later that afternoon for Mass in the historic Englise Notre-Dame Calais. We returned from our Mass to find that 2 migrants had strapped themselves under the coach trying to get into the UK, while a larger group stalked from a short distance.  After politely informing the refugees that we were in fact driving to Poland via Germany they quietly left without a fuss and we could continue with our journey.

Now with our delay having thrown our itinerary into chaos, we headed directly to Colditz Castle trying to regain some of our programme. However with traffic, accidents and the Belgian road network our 9 hour journey took 12 and we arrived a very tired group at 0600.

Exhausted and sore from our epic journey we slept for a few hours before exploring the Castle and the historic town. Our hosts took great care of us and following a meal we were taken on a guided tour of the castle, giving us the chance to see the tunnels and items used in the escape attempts, while learning about some of the more famous escapees.

As we departed Colditz for Krakow we heard rumours of a 7-10 hour delay at the border German/Polish boarder but thankfully by the time we arrived all had cleared and we had a straightforward run to Krakow.

Day 4 saw us exploring the city, registering and collecting our pilgrims packs, we then headed towards Blondi park with around 1.5 million other pilgrims for the opening ceremony and Mass.

That evening the group explored the festival sites, concerts and the city. The streets were packed with young people from every nation, singing and waving flags. Christian rock bands, even one made up of monks and priests who sang rock songs, including Pulp Fiction and Pink Floyd, interlaced with modern hymns, meant the atmosphere was electric.

The next day was a far more sobering experience as we visited Auschwitz and Birkenhau. It is difficult to describe the experience for those who have never been, it is sorrowful, humbling, thought provoking and terrifying all at once. With talks and discussions on the history and nature of these atrocities, as well as deeper moral and spiritual questioning it was a day none of us will ever forget.

Day 6 was a quieter day with a tour of the city, including the Jewish Ghetto and Shindler’s factory, before heading back to Blondi park for the welcoming ceremony for the Pope, with a truly inspiring ceremony and speech from the Holy Father. The journey back through the huge crowds was eventful and a taste of things to come.

The next morning we started early leaving the city centre for the Touron Stadium via tram. This indoor stadium had been turned into the Mercy Centre, a huge venue of catechetical education for English speaking nations. With charismatic Christian music and witness this was again an experience many of us had never had before.

Saturday was the big day, the is the vigil and concert in Campus Misericordia, a huge park outside the city prepared for the 3.5 million who would attend.  But first we had mass in the courtyard of our hotel with Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham and Bishop Ralph Heskett of Hallam and representatives of the Bishops Conference of England and Wales.

With the sheer number of pilgrims making their way to the Campus, we split into 4 groups and made our way by tram and foot, again all part of the discomfort expected in the pilgrimage journey. With trams crammed full of bodies and the highway closed to enable it to be given over to a sea of humanity walking towards the venue.

The crush of the crowds was at times frightening, and the sheer immensity of the event was overwhelming. We found our coral and made ourselves comfortable as the crowds just kept on coming.

The Popes address and Benediction was beautiful but I cannot put into words the sight of 3.5 million people at the vigil holding candles, and holding hands as the Pope asked us to pray for peace and mercy in our world. It was awe inspiring.

Then the concert began and people sang and danced into the night even after the music was finished.  We lay down where we stood got out our sleeping bags and talked until we fell asleep.

Sunday morning broke with the most beautiful sunrise and the sound of a group of Argentinians nearby singing Morning Prayer.  There was another morning concert of Christian music to enliven the day before we packed up and prepared for the closing Mass with the Pope. Again another truly awe inspiring experience I am sure I will never forget or repeat.

With no trams running on the Sunday it was a very long and hot walk back to the hotel, but again all part of the pilgrimage experience, aided by plenty of water and some ice cream along the way.  But the people we met along the way also helped us the finish the journey.

After some sleep and a much needed shower we gathered for our last team meal in Krakow at the Hard Rock Café and a great time was had by all.

It was another early start the next morning as we began our journey home via Paderborn and again some delays, including checks by German Customs officers. Another very long and eventful drive saw us arrive at Paderborn in the evening, so team Pizza was the order of the evening before bed and another early start.

Up and on the road at 0500, heading to Calais through Germany, Netherlands and Belgium, border stops in fact nothing significant during the drive until 30 miles from Calais, were there were French army and police checkpoints and massive security.

We made our ferry in good time and the onward journey back to Marham was thankfully uneventful. Exhausted and weary the pilgrims disembarked and said their farewells.

A group of service men and women who had never met, from different backgrounds and services. Different ages and experiences, differing levels of faith and denomination, set off on an adventure, a pilgrimage together.

There was fun and laughter, there was sorrow and pain, there were challenges and thought provoking moments, moments of stunned silence, moments of shouted song and joy. Each individual experience different from the other, some drawn by Charismatic worship and witness, some by quiet faith. Some challenged by the sheer mass of humanity, or the exuberant out pouring of faith. Many reflecting on their own lives, futures and vision of the world.

That is pilgrimage, it’s a challenge, it can shock us from our comfortable view, it can make us look at the world through new eyes. It can fill us with joy and exaltation, it can set up on a new path. Because its all about the journey, the shared journey, the journey of our pilgrimage and the journey of our lives. It’s about those we meet and the experiences we have, experiences that make us think just a little bit differently in the future.

World Youth Day 2016 took place and in the beautiful city of Krakow in Poland and was attended by over 3.5 million young pilgrims from 187 different countries.

The objective of WYD is to experience the great community of the Universal Church, to gather in peace, to promote harmony and to celebrate faith in joy and fellowship, with the theme of this year’s World Youth Day being Mercy.

Listening to the Word of God, receiving the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist as well as joyfully proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

This year for the first time 32 members of the Armed Forces from across all services aged between 18 -35, of all faith and spiritual denominations gathered together to undertake the pilgrimage.

The pilgrims participated in several activities during the pilgrimage with visits to Colditz to explore military heritage and ethos during the journey, as well as Auschwitz and Birkenhau during the week.

During the main event the group attended several huge open air events including the opening ceremony, catechesis and the Youth Festival. This culminated in the overnight concert, Vigil and morning Mass with the Pope which completed the World Youth Day celebrations.

As any pilgrim knows, there is always some pain in the journey both spiritual and physical and this pilgrimage was no exception.

As we departed on day 1 we travelled to Paderborn Barracks in Germany, however what actually happened was that we sat parked on the M20 just outside Dover for 24 hours due to issues with French Customs at Dover.

Every human emotion possible was experienced as the mammoth delay unfolded in the heat of the summer.  Surrounded by thousands of fellow travellers stranded without support or information.  This was the moment when the forethought of packing emergency 24hr rations packs came to fruition. The sight of our group sharing water and food with those surrounding us in this extra ordinary situation exemplified the journey of pilgrimage.

24 hours later a very weary group arrived in a crammed Calais. Having managed to book the last hotel room in town for our drivers the rest of the group slept on the bus or went off to explore.

We gathered together later that afternoon for Mass in the historic Englise Notre-Dame Calais. We returned from our Mass to find that 2 migrants had strapped themselves under the coach trying to get into the UK, while a larger group stalked from a short distance.  After politely informing the refugees that we were in fact driving to Poland via Germany they quietly left without a fuss and we could continue with our journey.

Now with our delay having thrown our itinerary into chaos, we headed directly to Colditz Castle trying to regain some of our programme. However with traffic, accidents and the Belgian road network our 9 hour journey took 12 and we arrived a very tired group at 0600.

Exhausted and sore from our epic journey we slept for a few hours before exploring the Castle and the historic town. Our hosts took great care of us and following a meal we were taken on a guided tour of the castle, giving us the chance to see the tunnels and items used in the escape attempts, while learning about some of the more famous escapees.

As we departed Colditz for Krakow we heard rumours of a 7-10 hour delay at the border German/Polish boarder but thankfully by the time we arrived all had cleared and we had a straightforward run to Krakow.

Day 4 saw us exploring the city, registering and collecting our pilgrims packs, we then headed towards Blondi park with around 1.5 million other pilgrims for the opening ceremony and Mass.

That evening the group explored the festival sites, concerts and the city. The streets were packed with young people from every nation, singing and waving flags. Christian rock bands, even one made up of monks and priests who sang rock songs, including Pulp Fiction and Pink Floyd, interlaced with modern hymns, meant the atmosphere was electric.

The next day was a far more sobering experience as we visited Auschwitz and Birkenhau. It is difficult to describe the experience for those who have never been, it is sorrowful, humbling, thought provoking and terrifying all at once. With talks and discussions on the history and nature of these atrocities, as well as deeper moral and spiritual questioning it was a day none of us will ever forget.

Day 6 was a quieter day with a tour of the city, including the Jewish Ghetto and Shindler’s factory, before heading back to Blondi park for the welcoming ceremony for the Pope, with a truly inspiring ceremony and speech from the Holy Father. The journey back through the huge crowds was eventful and a taste of things to come.

The next morning we started early leaving the city centre for the Touron Stadium via tram. This indoor stadium had been turned into the Mercy Centre, a huge venue of catechetical education for English speaking nations. With charismatic Christian music and witness this was again an experience many of us had never had before.

Saturday was the big day, the is the vigil and concert in Campus Misericordia, a huge park outside the city prepared for the 3.5 million who would attend.  But first we had mass in the courtyard of our hotel with Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham and Bishop Ralph Heskett of Hallam and representatives of the Bishops Conference of England and Wales.

With the sheer number of pilgrims making their way to the Campus, we split into 4 groups and made our way by tram and foot, again all part of the discomfort expected in the pilgrimage journey. With trams crammed full of bodies and the highway closed to enable it to be given over to a sea of humanity walking towards the venue.

The crush of the crowds was at times frightening, and the sheer immensity of the event was overwhelming. We found our coral and made ourselves comfortable as the crowds just kept on coming.

The Popes address and Benediction was beautiful but I cannot put into words the sight of 3.5 million people at the vigil holding candles, and holding hands as the Pope asked us to pray for peace and mercy in our world. It was awe inspiring.

Then the concert began and people sang and danced into the night even after the music was finished.  We lay down where we stood got out our sleeping bags and talked until we fell asleep.

Sunday morning broke with the most beautiful sunrise and the sound of a group of Argentinians nearby singing Morning Prayer.  There was another morning concert of Christian music to enliven the day before we packed up and prepared for the closing Mass with the Pope. Again another truly awe inspiring experience I am sure I will never forget or repeat.

With no trams running on the Sunday it was a very long and hot walk back to the hotel, but again all part of the pilgrimage experience, aided by plenty of water and some ice cream along the way.  But the people we met along the way also helped us the finish the journey.

After some sleep and a much needed shower we gathered for our last team meal in Krakow at the Hard Rock Café and a great time was had by all.

It was another early start the next morning as we began our journey home via Paderborn and again some delays, including checks by German Customs officers. Another very long and eventful drive saw us arrive at Paderborn in the evening, so team Pizza was the order of the evening before bed and another early start.

Up and on the road at 0500, heading to Calais through Germany, Netherlands and Belgium, border stops in fact nothing significant during the drive until 30 miles from Calais, were there were French army and police checkpoints and massive security.

We made our ferry in good time and the onward journey back to Marham was thankfully uneventful. Exhausted and weary the pilgrims disembarked and said their farewells.

A group of service men and women who had never met, from different backgrounds and services. Different ages and experiences, differing levels of faith and denomination, set off on an adventure, a pilgrimage together.

There was fun and laughter, there was sorrow and pain, there were challenges and thought provoking moments, moments of stunned silence, moments of shouted song and joy. Each individual experience different from the other, some drawn by Charismatic worship and witness, some by quiet faith. Some challenged by the sheer mass of humanity, or the exuberant out pouring of faith. Many reflecting on their own lives, futures and vision of the world.

That is pilgrimage, it’s a challenge, it can shock us from our comfortable view, it can make us look at the world through new eyes. It can fill us with joy and exaltation, it can set up on a new path. Because its all about the journey, the shared journey, the journey of our pilgrimage and the journey of our lives. It’s about those we meet and the experiences we have, experiences that make us think just a little bit differently in the future.

World Youth Day 2016 took place and in the beautiful city of Krakow in Poland and was attended by over 3.5 million young pilgrims from 187 different countries.

The objective of WYD is to experience the great community of the Universal Church, to gather in peace, to promote harmony and to celebrate faith in joy and fellowship, with the theme of this year’s World Youth Day being Mercy.

Listening to the Word of God, receiving the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist as well as joyfully proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

This year for the first time 32 members of the Armed Forces from across all services aged between 18 -35, of all faith and spiritual denominations gathered together to undertake the pilgrimage.

The pilgrims participated in several activities during the pilgrimage with visits to Colditz to explore military heritage and ethos during the journey, as well as Auschwitz and Birkenhau during the week.

During the main event the group attended several huge open air events including the opening ceremony, catechesis and the Youth Festival. This culminated in the overnight concert, Vigil and morning Mass with the Pope which completed the World Youth Day celebrations.

As any pilgrim knows, there is always some pain in the journey both spiritual and physical and this pilgrimage was no exception.

As we departed on day 1 we travelled to Paderborn Barracks in Germany, however what actually happened was that we sat parked on the M20 just outside Dover for 24 hours due to issues with French Customs at Dover.

Every human emotion possible was experienced as the mammoth delay unfolded in the heat of the summer.  Surrounded by thousands of fellow travellers stranded without support or information.  This was the moment when the forethought of packing emergency 24hr rations packs came to fruition. The sight of our group sharing water and food with those surrounding us in this extra ordinary situation exemplified the journey of pilgrimage.

24 hours later a very weary group arrived in a crammed Calais. Having managed to book the last hotel room in town for our drivers the rest of the group slept on the bus or went off to explore.

We gathered together later that afternoon for Mass in the historic Englise Notre-Dame Calais. We returned from our Mass to find that 2 migrants had strapped themselves under the coach trying to get into the UK, while a larger group stalked from a short distance.  After politely informing the refugees that we were in fact driving to Poland via Germany they quietly left without a fuss and we could continue with our journey.

Now with our delay having thrown our itinerary into chaos, we headed directly to Colditz Castle trying to regain some of our programme. However with traffic, accidents and the Belgian road network our 9 hour journey took 12 and we arrived a very tired group at 0600.

Exhausted and sore from our epic journey we slept for a few hours before exploring the Castle and the historic town. Our hosts took great care of us and following a meal we were taken on a guided tour of the castle, giving us the chance to see the tunnels and items used in the escape attempts, while learning about some of the more famous escapees.

As we departed Colditz for Krakow we heard rumours of a 7-10 hour delay at the border German/Polish boarder but thankfully by the time we arrived all had cleared and we had a straightforward run to Krakow.

Day 4 saw us exploring the city, registering and collecting our pilgrims packs, we then headed towards Blondi park with around 1.5 million other pilgrims for the opening ceremony and Mass.

That evening the group explored the festival sites, concerts and the city. The streets were packed with young people from every nation, singing and waving flags. Christian rock bands, even one made up of monks and priests who sang rock songs, including Pulp Fiction and Pink Floyd, interlaced with modern hymns, meant the atmosphere was electric.

The next day was a far more sobering experience as we visited Auschwitz and Birkenhau. It is difficult to describe the experience for those who have never been, it is sorrowful, humbling, thought provoking and terrifying all at once. With talks and discussions on the history and nature of these atrocities, as well as deeper moral and spiritual questioning it was a day none of us will ever forget.

Day 6 was a quieter day with a tour of the city, including the Jewish Ghetto and Shindler’s factory, before heading back to Blondi park for the welcoming ceremony for the Pope, with a truly inspiring ceremony and speech from the Holy Father. The journey back through the huge crowds was eventful and a taste of things to come.

The next morning we started early leaving the city centre for the Touron Stadium via tram. This indoor stadium had been turned into the Mercy Centre, a huge venue of catechetical education for English speaking nations. With charismatic Christian music and witness this was again an experience many of us had never had before.

Saturday was the big day, the is the vigil and concert in Campus Misericordia, a huge park outside the city prepared for the 3.5 million who would attend.  But first we had mass in the courtyard of our hotel with Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham and Bishop Ralph Heskett of Hallam and representatives of the Bishops Conference of England and Wales.

With the sheer number of pilgrims making their way to the Campus, we split into 4 groups and made our way by tram and foot, again all part of the discomfort expected in the pilgrimage journey. With trams crammed full of bodies and the highway closed to enable it to be given over to a sea of humanity walking towards the venue.

The crush of the crowds was at times frightening, and the sheer immensity of the event was overwhelming. We found our coral and made ourselves comfortable as the crowds just kept on coming.

The Popes address and Benediction was beautiful but I cannot put into words the sight of 3.5 million people at the vigil holding candles, and holding hands as the Pope asked us to pray for peace and mercy in our world. It was awe inspiring.

Then the concert began and people sang and danced into the night even after the music was finished.  We lay down where we stood got out our sleeping bags and talked until we fell asleep.

Sunday morning broke with the most beautiful sunrise and the sound of a group of Argentinians nearby singing Morning Prayer.  There was another morning concert of Christian music to enliven the day before we packed up and prepared for the closing Mass with the Pope. Again another truly awe inspiring experience I am sure I will never forget or repeat.

With no trams running on the Sunday it was a very long and hot walk back to the hotel, but again all part of the pilgrimage experience, aided by plenty of water and some ice cream along the way.  But the people we met along the way also helped us the finish the journey.

After some sleep and a much needed shower we gathered for our last team meal in Krakow at the Hard Rock Café and a great time was had by all.

It was another early start the next morning as we began our journey home via Paderborn and again some delays, including checks by German Customs officers. Another very long and eventful drive saw us arrive at Paderborn in the evening, so team Pizza was the order of the evening before bed and another early start.

Up and on the road at 0500, heading to Calais through Germany, Netherlands and Belgium, border stops in fact nothing significant during the drive until 30 miles from Calais, were there were French army and police checkpoints and massive security.

We made our ferry in good time and the onward journey back to Marham was thankfully uneventful. Exhausted and weary the pilgrims disembarked and said their farewells.

A group of service men and women who had never met, from different backgrounds and services. Different ages and experiences, differing levels of faith and denomination, set off on an adventure, a pilgrimage together.

There was fun and laughter, there was sorrow and pain, there were challenges and thought provoking moments, moments of stunned silence, moments of shouted song and joy. Each individual experience different from the other, some drawn by Charismatic worship and witness, some by quiet faith. Some challenged by the sheer mass of humanity, or the exuberant out pouring of faith. Many reflecting on their own lives, futures and vision of the world.

That is pilgrimage, it’s a challenge, it can shock us from our comfortable view, it can make us look at the world through new eyes. It can fill us with joy and exaltation, it can set up on a new path. Because its all about the journey, the shared journey, the journey of our pilgrimage and the journey of our lives. It’s about those we meet and the experiences we have, experiences that make us think just a little bit differently in the future.

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