KRAKOW – World Youth Day, the massive gathering of Catholic youth launched under St. Pope John Paul II, is many things, and one of them is an incubator for surreal moments that are only possible when you take scores of pumped-up Catholics from every corner of the world, put them into a concentrated space, shake, stir, and then watch what happens.
Sunday in Krakow brought a vintage example of one of those surreal, only-at-World-Youth-Day experiences.
My Crux colleague Inés San Martín and I were looking for an English-language Mass in Krakow. One wouldn’t think that would be particularly difficult, given that there are more than 300 churches in the city, but it turns out there’s only one regularly scheduled English Mass in Krakow – and, naturally, it had been cancelled on Sunday to accommodate a WYD exhibition.
As it turns out, however, we were hardly the only ones looking for a Mass, as a cluster of other would-be worshippers formed at the church. I said something to the effect of, “If only we had a priest, we’d be set,” and it turned out that one of our number was just that – Father John Herd of Adelaide, Australia, who, as it happens, spent much of his career in East Timor and is in Krakow to meet up with a group of East Timorese youth taking part in WYD.
The first thought was that perhaps Herd could say Mass for us right there in the church where the English liturgy was supposed to take place, but the security guard on-site politely but firmly told us that wasn’t going to happen.
Thus it was that our group of about 20 people, including would-be Mass-goers from Portugal, South Korea, Argentina, the UK and Australia sat off on impromptu pilgrimage through the streets of Krakow, looking for a church that would allow us to say Mass.
We were led by the indomitable San Martín, who charged through the streets crying, “Mass in English, follow us!” It says something about the spirit of a WYD that many people actually did.
At the insistence of our Portuguese friend, we first headed for a Dominican church where he claimed his status as some sort of vaguely defined Dominican tertiary would open some doors. When that failed, our group headed for the nearby Jesuit church, where the beleaguered pastor eventually found it easier simply to say yes than continue to listen to me float different, increasingly far-fetched and desperate proposals for making the idea work.
Thus it was that we were given use of the side chapel of the Blessed Sacrament at the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, a lovely baroque structure built for the Jesuits by Polish King Zygmunt III and said to be the largest in town in terms of its seating capacity.
We agreed to meet for Mass at 2 p.m., and, surprisingly enough on a gorgeous summer Sunday in one of the world’s most beautiful cities, pretty much everybody showed back up. Herd gave an inspired extemporaneous homily on the mercy of God, and proved to be very deft at celebrating in the ad orientem fashion, since the design of the chapel dictated that choice – even though he later acknowledged the last time he’d taken part in an ad orientem Mass was when he’d been an altar boy.
Buoyed by a sense of triumph, I declared that what we experienced wasn’t simply a liturgy, but the birth of a brand new movement in the Church, like the Focolare or the Community of Sant’Egidio. Naturally, I cast myself as the charismatic founder, Herd as our ecclesiastical patron, and San Martín as the brains behind the operation.
That left only one key role to fill for any movement worth its salt, which is a saint-in-the-making. Fortunately, providence filled that gap too in the form of Rosa Daeun, a 34-year-old Korean Catholic with an infectious smile, a slightly bashful but warm personality, and a remarkably good heart.
Daeun is a committed Catholic who works as a merchandiser, buying kitchenware for her company, and she happened to have a friend from the company who married a Pole and is now living in Krakow, with whom she’s staying.
Despite finding herself on Sunday in the company of Church affairs junkies whose talk quickly got deep into the weeds in terms of who’s up and down in the Vatican, what various factions make of Pope Francis, etc., Daeun was high on life and loving the whole WYD scene.
She had come to Krakow on her own, not as part of any larger delegation or group, but because she wanted to be here to share the faith, and was obviously moved by what she was witnessing – sitting at a sidewalk café and watching group after group of smiling, singing, and gyrating pilgrims waft by, at one stage she just couldn’t help it anymore and shouted: “I’m so happy to be here!”
That, in a nutshell, is the WYD spirit. I now also hereby decree it’s the charism of our new movement. (Yesterday I phrased our spirituality as, “Be Catholic and let the good times roll,” but somebody who actually knows something about spirituality probably should take a run at that before we have it printed on t-shirts.)
By the way, we’re calling ourselves the Community of Peter and Paul, after the church in which we were born. We haven’t yet figured out how we’re going to handle accepting new members, but I’ll keep you posted!