Local students return from WYD in Poland with message of merciful love

By Sarah Catherine LaBorde
LSU student

Four students from the Diocese of Alexandria recently experienced a once-in-a-lifetime journey across the world to be part of the 2016 World Youth Day, July 26-31, in Krakow, Poland.

They were among 34 pilgrims who travelled to Krakow with the Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows from Lafayette.  The 14-day trip began on July 20.

Sr. Nina Vincent, OLS, has led youth pilgrimages to WYD for several years and volunteered to help lead this pilgrimage two years ago.  Because she was the guidance counselor at Holy Savior Menard at the time, she opened up registration to Menard students.

Through tireless fundraising and fervent prayer, recent HSM graduates Leah Aldridge, 19; Nick Scalfano, 18; Sarah Catherine LaBorde, 18; and Cameron Erickson, 18; joined the sisters and other youth from the Lafayette area on this pilgrimage.

Pope John Paul II hosted the first World Youth Day in 1986 in Rome.  According to the official website, “World Youth Day is a worldwide encounter with the Pope which is typically celebrated every three years in a different country.  This event is an opportunity to experience in first person the universality of the Church.”

This year, youth from across the globe were given the amazing opportunity to travel to Krakow for the worldwide celebration of faith and camaraderie.

Traveling to a foreign country, particularly as a young person, can be a challenge.  But these young adults and their parents trusted in God’s loving and protective nature.

“On the news, you’re almost always seeing something horrible going on in the world,” LaBorde said. “So, of course I was a little uneasy about going overseas alone, but I knew that I was meant to go on this pilgrimage.  I knew that if God placed it on my heart to go and he gave me the financial and practical means to get there, there was a reason I was going; and He would protect me while I was there.”

After almost two full days of air and bus travel, the group arrived in Poland, and began their 12-day journey across the Country of Mercy.

They visited six Polish cities and toured sacred sites including Wadawice (the home of Pope St. John Paul II), Auschwiz concentration camp, the Shrine of Divine Mercy, and countless other breathtakingly beautiful churches, shrines, and castles.

More than 35 saints and venerated persons are connected with Poland, the best-known being St. Faustina, St. John Paul II, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati.

“Being in Poland was profound,” said Scalfano, “Walking in the footsteps of these great saints made me realize that I can become a saint too, in my own personal way,” he said.  “Seeing the words ‘Jezu ufam tobie’ (Jesus, I trust in You) on the original Divine Mercy painting Brough me to tears.  The world needs so much mercy, and we can’t just let it live in Poland, but we have to bring it to the whole world.”

The theme for this year’s celebration was “Blessed are the Merciful,” a very fitting them for this Jubilee Year of Mercy.

The official WYD festivities spanned over four days and included multiple interactions with Pope Francis and culminating with Mass at Campus Misericordiae (Field of Mercy) where more than 3 million pilgrims shared in the sacrifice of the Mass.

Scalfano described his experience.

“It was a glimpse of what heaven is, and what Earth should be,” he said.

“Seeing thousands of people, all from different countries with different backgrounds and ideals, come together and offer peace to one another in the name of Jesus was something I will never forget,” said Erickson.

“I felt like I was a part of a great plan, immersed in God’s love and grace,” Aldridge added.

LaBorde said the thing that best sums up the trip is something the Holy Father said during the Saturday prayer vigil: “Jesus is the Lord of risk, of going beyond, not of comfort or convenience.  It is necessary to go down new paths following the craziness of our God.”

“This trip definitely made us take risks and get outside of our comfort zones in the best way possible, and all in the name of Jesus,” LaBorde said.

“It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Erickson said.

In the words of the Holy Father, “Let yourself be moved, because happiness sprouts and blossoms into mercy.  Launch us into the adventure of mercy!  Here we are Lord, send us to spread your merciful love.”

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