Cathy Crudden of St Charles Catholic Sixth Form College in west London recounts her trip to Poland to meet the Pope
AS THE 16 of us set off at the start of August in our blue mini bus, our home for the next three weeks, no one knew quite what to expect. We all had our different hopes and expectations. Some wanted to see different countries and meet new people, some to strengthen their faith, others to get a suntan.
We arrived in Paray le Monial three days later. On the journey we'd been getting to know the other people in our group, as well as stopping off at Tours and Nevers. At Paray le Monial we met lots of young people, many of whom would be travelling with us on the pilgrimage to Czestochowa as part of the Emmanuel Community.
From Paray le Monial we drove overnight to Altotting, the German shrine of Our Lady. Pilgrims have been travelling to this place on foot for over 500 years. There we were joined by many Germans, Austrians and Dutch.
Next stop was Velherad in Czechoslovakia, the shrine of Ss Cyril and Methodius,bringers of Christianity to the Slavic peoples. Here we saw for ourselves the differences between the prosperous West we had just come from and the poorer East. Although our hosts had less than us in material terms they were very friendly and generous and did their best to make us feel welcome. We seemed to be a big hit with the local children. One of the guys in our group taught them to sing Walk in the Light. It was a very moving
experience, singing and dancing together despite the language barrier.
After Velherad we travelled to Czestochowa going part of the way on foot. In Czestochowa we stayed in a factory, which wasn't very comfortable. Compared to the conditions some people had to put up with though it was
luxury. A group of 70,000 Russians from the Ukraine had come on foot with only a glass of milk a day to sustain them.
On the eve of the feast of the Assumption we attended an open air mass led by Cardinal Lustiger of Paris. Then we made our way to Jasna Gora, the shrine of the Black Madonna, to see the Pope.
We managed to grab a few hours sleep the night before, getting up at 2.30 in the morning to join the procession to Jasna Gora. The walk didn't seem as long this time. All along the roadside there were people coming out to see the Pope, waving and cheering as we walked by. It was such a wonderful feeling.
It was still early in the morning when we arrived at our places and some even managed to get more sleep on the hard road we were sitting on.
When I woke a little later I
was greeted by a magical sight. As I looked behind me there were millions of people as far as the eye could see. There were flags and banners waved by those there to celebrate mass with the Holy Father on the Assumption. It left me speechless. I had never seen anything like it in my life. The mass started at 9.30 am and it lasted for four hours. We were all hot tired, hungry and uncomfortable but that didn't matter. All the discomfort and hardship were now forgotten. What was important was that we were there on the sixth World Youth Day with other young people from all the continents of the world.
Although we may not share the same language, we shared in faith, hopes and fears, and in the love of Jesus Christ.
I'm glad that I had the chance to be there, and, in a small way, to become part of history.