Pilgrimaging in Poland: How Getting Lost in Poland Taught Me Joy

World Youth Day is an event for Catholic youth all over the world that was founded by St. John Paul II in 1985.  Ever since then, every two to three years millions and millions of young people embark on a pilgrimage to celebrate their faith.  I had the incredible opportunity this past summer to attend World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland!  During that time, God revealed many lessons to me in unexpected ways.


After the first day of events, the whole group was excited but hungry and ready for a good night’s rest.  We walked to the city square to find a restaurant, but they were all filled with endless lines of other hungry pilgrims.  So, we reluctantly decided to make our way back to the hotel and get something to eat nearby there.

We walked and walked to get to the public trains, but they were nowhere to be found.  We asked some volunteers and they pointed us the opposite way.  We made our way back and still couldn’t find the trains.  We asked some police officers and they pointed us in a different direction.  We walked and walked again, but still no sign of any trains.  We were lost at night in Krakow!


street-1After asking several more people and walking around the city for several miles, we finally found the trains.  Exhausted, we all plopped down in the seats and dreamed of the fried chicken restaurant a few blocks down the road from our hotel.

We ended up getting off the train too soon due to not understanding the Polish maps.  So once again, we started walking!  We finally saw our hotel and sent some people a few blocks further to make sure the restaurant was still open.  At that point, it was nearing midnight.  They returned, unable to find the restaurant.


We quickly came to the realization that the gas station next to us was going to be the only place we would get dinner.  So we scrambled inside to buy some Polish snacks, chips, and drinks.  As we sat on the curb outside the gas station, we devoured our “dinner” and rested our exhausted feet.

But you know what: I was never happier.

crowd-2Yes, seeing the Pope, being surrounded by 2.5 million other youth praising the Lord, and all of the events were amazing, inspiring, and life-changing.  But it was in the many struggles we faced like that one that God revealed to me the mystery of being joyful in all situations; how to thrive when things go well and when things don’t go well.

I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

-Philippians 4:12-13

God scrowd-1howed me how much strength He gives and how much we can accomplish when we allow Him into our lives.  Realizing that He is
present in every moment of every circumstance brings so much peace, contentment, confidence, and joy.  True joy is objective.  It rises above current situations and becomes a frame of mind.  This is what the Father has in mind for us: not happiness that is dependent on circumstances, but an everlasting joy.  This is only found in the arms of our Heavenly Father.

“Unless there is a Good Friday in your life, there can be no Easter Sunday.”

-Fulton J. Sheen

sunriseAs we were preparing for the trip, our priest constantly reminded us that this was going to be a pilgrimage, not a vacation.  It most certainly wasn’t a vacation and I’m better off for that!  We made many sacrifices while fundraising for the trip, preparing for the trip, and on the trip itself.  The bitterness of the sacrifices we faced made the experiences that much sweeter.  The “Good Fridays” of our journey made the “Easter Sundays” incredible.  The hardships gave us a little glimpse into Jesus’ Way of the Cross that gave way to His glorious resurrection.


“The Way of the Cross is the way of fidelity in following Jesus to the end, in the often dramatic situations of everyday life. It is a way that fears no lack of success, ostracism or solitude, because it fills ours hearts with the fullness of Jesus. The Way of the Cross is the way of God’s own life, his “style”, which Jesus brings even to the pathways of a society at times divided, unjust and corrupt.” 

-Pope Francis, WYD 2016

by Sarah Pressman