Young people gear up for World Youth Day in Poland

By Michelle Martin
Sunday, July 10, 2016

Emilia Walasik knows what she’s most looking forward to when she travels to Krakow, Poland, for World Youth Day later this month.

Walasik, 22, has been selected to sing during the overnight vigil before the Mass with Pope Francis that will close World Youth Day on July 31. She got the word in early June, more than a year after first getting in touch with World Youth Day organizers to volunteer to share her musical gift.

“I just went on their website and searched through for who to contact,” said Walasik, who started singing in the choir at St. Ferdinand Parish when she was 6. In January, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Dominican University, majoring in vocal performance and minoring in theology. “I wrote and asked if there were any possibilities for young people from outside Poland to share their gifts. It was a dream I always had when I watched other World Youth Days on TV.”

Walasik also signed up to travel with the archdiocesan pilgrimage being organized by the Young Adult Ministries office and served on its spirituality program.

“I was going to go no matter what,” she said. For Walasik, World Youth Day offers an opportunity to strengthen her own faith as well as an opportunity to join hundreds of thousands or even millions of young Catholics in witnessing to their faith.

“When so many of us appear together, it’s testimony that we believe in Jesus Christ and the church and we love our faith,” Walasik said. “I want to be part of that bigger movement. I can’t even imagine how it’s going to be. I’m really looking forward to being part of that sea of people.”

Kent Leiderbach serves on the spirituality committee for the pilgrimage as well, working on how to break the large group of pilgrims — about 120 — into smaller communities to foster faith-sharing. The group leaves July 24 and will return after the event ends on July 31.

Leiderbach, a leader of YAM-Lake County and a parishioner at St. Mary of Vernon, Indian Creek, said he has high expectations for the pilgrimage.

“I’ve never really experienced the universal church,” he said. “I’ve experienced a few parish communities and school communities, but never the whole church coming together. I’m really looking forward to that. I’ve heard stories about how passionate people get for the faith.”

All of the pilgrims who are traveling to Krakow have been invited to a several catechetical sessions ahead of time. While in Poland, pilgrims will participate in more catechetical sessions, liturgies and other opportunities for prayer, music, visits to religious sites and fellowship. The week concludes with the Saturday vigil which lasts all night and leads up to Mass celebrated by the pope on Sunday.

That’s when Walasik will sing. She doesn’t know exactly when, just that it will be before the evening eucharistic adoration with Pope Francis, or what, but she’s not worried about the details.

“You just go with it,” she said.

The pilgrims all say they know that not everything will go according to plan, and their will likely be lots of time to wait for things and get to know the other people around them.

“You have about 2 million people who aren’t usually there descending on Krakow,” Leiderbach said. “You have to plan for the unexpected.”

That sense of being one of a sea of people all expressing their faith appeals to Melissa McGlynn, 29, who leads youth group at St. Genevieve Parish and also serves on the spirituality committee.

McGlynn said she went to Philadelphia in September when Pope Francis was there and soaked up the energy.

“I don’t always see a lot of young adults — people my age — active in the church,” she said. “I want to be part of it. The opportunity presented itself, and I’m kind of over saying no to things.”


  • pope francis
  • pilgrimage
  • st. genevieve
  • st. ferdinand
  • poland
  • world youth day 2016
  • youth ministry
  • dominican univeristy
  • st. mary of vernon

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