The real meaning of a pilgrimage
To begin with, I would like to say a big Thank you to everyone who made my World Youth Day experience come true. Our journey began in Taipei; we travelled through Shanghai, Rome, Vienna and finally arrived at Krakow. I'm especially grateful to each and every person who helped us along the way. Without them, my journey would not have been fruitful.
I am sure that the WYD is a pilgrimage. Yet, it is not an ordinary pilgrimage since it is infused with so much youthful passion and vitality.
Just to explain further, a sightseeing trip is very different from a pilgrimage. The former allows us to visit touristic places that one is interested in, and its benefits will be felt more through great food and services. Whereas in a pilgrimage, one has to follow a certain schedule day after day, and among them there is morning meditation followed by Mass, Angelus, praying the Rosary and later on, another meditation. In the beginning, I had great difficulty following the schedule. But, I already paid a huge sum for the flight, so, I wanted to enjoy Poland to its fullest by exploring the exotic specialties and discovering its unique culture. However, to be a WYD pilgrim was not as I imagined at all. WYD taught me that to be a pilgrim is to convert and offer sacrifices.
Yet, little by little, I gave up my unruliness and got myself accustomed to being a pilgrim. I came to realize that the beauty of prayer is revealed to me through meditation. I learned to listen attentively and savour slowly each and every word of the prayers. The pondering time I shared with God helped me reflect on my sins and wrongdoings. These reflections enlightened my mind and strengthened my will. I became more aware of how my actions might influence others.
To be honest, I am a rebellious type and do not like to “lose my freedom of movement” due to group activities. For instance, after the prayers of each day, despite physical tiredness, I did not want to just be idle for the rest of the day. So, when most of my companions hurried themselves to bed, I hoped to learn more about the city of Krakow and try more of its exotic food.
After meeting the Pope, hundreds of thousands of youngsters walked towards the town centre. After that event, all my companions were so exhausted that they returned to the dorms. Nonetheless, I asked our Group Leader about making a quick tour of the city. For two hours, I looked around and took many photos like a little kid. I also enjoyed a delicious Polish dinner. In my view, if I came all the way from Taiwan to Europe, I better learn about the place as much as I can and not waste time. Unfortunately, on my way back to the dorm, the bus broke down. I asked directions from the local people of Krakow and I finally arrived to our Residence close to midnight. Thanks to this experience, the local transport system became so familiar to me that I could return to the Residence safe and sound wherever I went.
Besides getting to know more about God, I met many people during the WYD. Due to the small number of Taiwanese pilgrims (there were only five of us!), we teamed up with the pilgrims from Shanghai. In the dorm, we met people from Hong Kong, Macau and Korea, so we formed a large group of East Asians. Interestingly though, there were great differences among East Asians from different regions. For instance, the Hong Kongers were warm and amicable. They were quick to initiate conversations with everyone, regardless of gender or race. The Shanghainese were religious, all so committed serving Our Lord. They were extremely dedicated in areas concerning spiritual formation. In comparison, the people of Macau were less talkative, but their thoughtfulness was shown in detailed planning and guided actions. Their effort allowed our group to run smoothly. Last but not least, the Koreans are practical experimenters, being the earliest to leave and the last to return to the Residence. They were always ready to explore and could be out of sight within seconds. Yet, no matter where we were from, we had one common identity: We were all Catholics. We gathered together in the name of Christ, just like a family.
Apart from the Asians, many WYD participants were from European countries; Spaniards, Italians and French were the majority. These participants made me realise the importance of languages. What can we do when the Spaniards were praising the Pope, the Italians were clapping and the French were singing la Marseillaise? Even if I do not share a common cultural background with the Europeans, I am able to use English as a medium of communication. Being with the Europeans ignited my interest in learning foreign languages. Talking to Spanish friends, I learned that Philosophy was a compulsory subject in their high school. Philosophy investigates the root of all things. Without it, Chemistry nor Physics would not exist, because Philosophy gave rise to the spirit of investigation.
Moreover, I have a teammate who speaks Chinese, English, Italian, Spanish, and German at only 16 years old. He may not know much about Natural Sciences nor Social Sciences yet. However, he was able to easily fit into different groups of people and make friends with foreigners. He does not need to worry about his future as the languages he speaks already gives him a strong foundation for success (he might even be the best non-official diplomat of the country)! Through WYD, we learned that knowing other languages is extremely useful, as they play an important role in making friends, communication and interaction. Needless to say, English is important in Europe. It is a pity that I can not even speak it well!
I believe that, like many others, young people who went to WYD, attending weekly Mass and praying devoutly are already the greatest demonstrations of our Catholic Faith. Before joining WYD, I did not understand what we do during Catholic ceremonies. I rarely went to Confession. I questioned God. I even doubted whether I truly believe in His Church. Having heard all my questions, God showed me through WYD, what faith is.
St Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, said that d aily you receive the Holy Communion, but you don’t even know when to kneel. I have gained so much from this pilgrimage than from many camps and doctrine classes. I learned more not only about God and His Holy Church, but also about prayer and pilgrimage. I finally start to discover its meaning.
Pope Francis hopes that young people gather together. He prayed and consecrated us during a Mass for our unity. Furthermore, His Holiness celebrated WYD 2016 in Krakow, Poland, with hopes of sharing a “merciful and adventurous” heart with the youth.
We also met the Prelate of Opus Dei (Bishop Echevarria) in a get-together. According to him, everything starts small; anything that is born huge, is monstrous. As a tiny Church prospers into a diocese over time, youngsters get to know God little by little. I am confident that all of us will grow to discover more about God. The Church places her hope on young people who will be her future pillars, and World Youth Day is a glimmer of hope.
Jerome Mao is a first year student of Architecture in the Chung Yuan Christian University. He lives in Hsin-tien District, New Taipei City, Taiwan.