Reflections on World Youth Day 2016
By Bishop Jaime Soto
August 2, 2016
Bishop Jaime Soto attended World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, Poland. Here he offers his final reflection on the gathering. Scroll to bottom to link to all previous reflections on his travels.
Day 8 Dispatch from Kraków (FINAL) — Concelebrating Mass under the maternal icon of Czestochowa
The train has pulled out of the Kraków station in the early morning as I begin this last reflection on World Youth Day, 2016.
The city had begun to return to its normal rhythm, though there were still a good number of pilgrims moving about. At the train station groups of youth people with backpacks were squinting at the electronic board to find their next destination. I had my sights on Czestochowa to see the renowned Marian image. The reasonably good weather that had favored the jubilee week of youth continued. It was good to surrender to the soothing rhythm of the rolling train and watch the verdant countryside pass by the window.
Arriving in Czestochowa about an hour and a half later, I grabbed a taxi for a ride over to the basilica. I tried to explain to the taxi driver my destination: "basilica?" "Our Lady of Czestochowa?" A blank stare. Then he asked "Madonna?" I gave him the thumbs up and he said the Polish version of "Get in."
The structure was in a baroque style with Polish details. It's hard to describe what I mean by "Polish details." Both in the Polish religious music heard over the last few days and considering the other churches I have seen including the basilica, there is a curious mixture of both east and west. Some of the musical sounds seemed almost Middle Eastern. The affective aspects of humanity are more pronounced. The figures possess more muscularity. Their attire augments the gestures of the person. Preaching, praying, fasting, fighting, governing — all are performed boldly, vigorously, and deliberately. In the basilica of Our Lady of Czestochowa all the interior art of the church seemed to loom over the nave as if heaven had suddenly drawn close to us.
The Basilica was buzzing. All the bishops who had already visited the shrine told me how the pilgrims packed it. I chose Monday assuming I would find the place more tranquil. It was very busy. Obviously, a good number of pilgrims had the same idea. From the sacristy there were priests coming and going to celebrate Masses on the side altars. I had not made previous arrangements for such, so I was hoping to attend with one of the groups. I poked my head into an ornate sacristy whose functionality was surpassed by its exquisite baroque handiwork. Priests and ministers were vesting for Mass or unvesting from Mass. Nuns were hastily assisting everyone with Masses scheduled on the half-hours. In all this flurry of activity I saw the auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn, Bishop Witold Mroziewski, himself a Polish immigrant. He was ready to process out to offer Mass on the Altar under the very image of the Madonna. I said I would sit in the congregation for his Mass but he insisted that I concelebrate with him. He motioned to the sisters and as fast as I could say Czestochowa I was vested and processing with my brother bishop to celebrate Mass under the beautiful, ancient, and evocative image of The Virgin Mary and Child.
I cannot describe the awe of being so close to her with pilgrims walking in procession around the icon's altarpiece, many of them on their knees. This is a very Polish image, considered the heart of the Polish people. I'm sure there are aspects to it that only a Polish devotee could explain. Still, I knew I was in the presence of a mystery, a willing commingling of art, culture, history, faith, and grace that gave the Madonna's gaze an enduring while endearing quality. For Bishop Mroziewski, he had only been ordained a bishop in the past year. As a priest he had often celebrated Mass at the basilica but this was his first time as a bishop. I could see the thrill in his face.
Still, I knew I was in the presence of a mystery, a willing commingling of art, culture, history, faith, and grace that gave the Madonna's gaze an enduring while endearing quality.
All these past days, I have been an eager witness to the power of God's mercy. We know God as the Almighty who chooses to show His might with mercy. The gospel reading for the Mass under the maternal icon of Czestochowa was the wedding feast of Cana from the gospel of John, (Jn. 2.1-11). Jesus, at the petition of his mother reveals His divinity with an act of mercy that brings joy to the wedding feast. Much later in the same gospel narrative, Jesus and Mary were at another feast, the wedding feast of the Lamb of God, Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. From His pierced side would flow the new wine of the covenant sealed in His blood. Her instructions to the servants at Cana resonate even more strongly at Calvary, "Do whatever he tells you". This maternal counsel is a prelude to the mercy with which Jesus beckons us to salvation with his arms outstretched on the cross. "Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of Lamb." (Apoc. 19.9)
I hope these few reflections on the World Youth Day in Kraków give you a glimmer of the good things the heavenly Father has done through Jesus Christ, our Lord.