You Found Me (Thank You)

"On my knees and out of luck, I look up."

I spent my Sunday wandering around Krakow constantly looking up. It's a city where you need to keep your eyes angled towards the sun. The buildings are so close to the cobblestone streets that you can't photograph most of them in full. You stumble over the beautifully preserved pavement and you're in front of another church, another cafe, another bar. It's so lovely.

Today, a Monday, I took the bus to St. John Paul II's hometown of Wadowice, about 100 kilometres from Krakow. Pope John Paul the Second, now St. John Paul II was born in the south of Poland and studied and served in the city of Krakow for many years. He's the symbol of Krakow and perhaps all of Poland. He played a big part in liberating Poland from the Communist Regime in the 1990s. He was the first Polish Pope. He put a lot of hope in a lot of people, it seems. He put some hope in me, too.

I forgot how much of an impact this man had on me. I forgot what he taught me. I forgot what he meant to me.

I left Korea when I did, traveled through Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan and Georgia a little faster than I wanted to so I could arrive in Poland by the end of July. Why? To hear my Papa, to spend some time with him and his grandkids. I needed to get some rejuvenation that I felt I needed. I did. The summer of 2016 in Krakow, Poland was home to World Youth Day, an event where over a million people gather to meet Catholics from around the world. This event has meant so much to me and a lot of other people I know, which was started by Pope John Paul II years ago. It happens every few years in a different country and with a different theme.

All last week, as I walked the streets of Krakow I heard echoes of the chants for him "Giovanni Paolo" "Giovanni Paolo" (clap clap, clap clap clap) that we did during the World Youth Days in Toronto, my first experience years back. I remembered how we repeated them in Germany at the Days three years later, after cheering and chanting for the new Pope in front of us, Benedict the 16th.

Just like with anyone you love, just like with some people in your family, you have a personal relationship. You have things that only the two of you know about. You feel special around them. And sometimes, they remind you of how important you are.

I got off the bus in Wadowice and walked along a little street with apartments on one side and kids playing on the swings. All over Poland this summer, there are signs about the World Youth Days and posters about Pope Francis, and St. John Paul II and his message. I stopped by some on my walk to John Paul II's childhood home and church. Then as I made my way into the church I noticed all these rosaries on the wall just outside the sanctuary for adoration. Also, scattered along other parts of the church, were little flags, pins and rosaries, all typical things that pilgrims share and trade with other pilgrims when we go to World Youth Day. There were a few tours happening in the church at the time, a few people praying, and some tourists taking photos. When I stopped in front of the rosaries though, in front of the flags and memorabilia from our Youth Days, I felt like I was alone in the church. I remembered how much the Pope did for everyone, but especially young people at the time. How he had to make a special event, just for us, and it was more "successful" than a lot of the Pope's colleagues could have imagined. #visionary #badass.
Then one of the tourists stood next to me and started taking photos of the little WYD shrine. I suddenly felt annoyed, and a little possessive. He was a middle aged man with a big DSLR camera. He was looking at the WYD memories with complete curiosity. I could tell this man didn't know or realize what it was. I did, and looking at it brought back so many memories for me. Sometimes, you can't break the bond between a grandparent and their grandkid.

He told US that we were the salt of the earth.
He told and taught us to not be afraid.
He told us that we were the light of the world.

So far there have been three Popes throughout my lifetime, and I've heard all of them talk at World Youth Days. I've heard them all advise, and guide us during every Saturday evening Vigil, the night where millions sleep outside in a giant park outside of the city and meet people from all around the world. It's like meeting your grandfather or grandparent after a long time away from home. Which is something I do. I spend a lot of time away from home. And there's nothing like visiting family after a long time away. There's nothing like hugging your grandpa and telling him your stories after traveling for months.

The first time I saw my grandfather, who's still alive (99 years young) cry, was when I had just returned from Toronto years ago. Toronto is only a few hours from Montreal, but it was far away for me when I was 18. I went alone, and met hundreds of strangers. And made friends with a bunch of them. Summer of 2002 in Toronto was St. John Paul II's last World Youth Day. I was telling my grandpa about it the weekend after when I was at a family bbq. I told him how moved I was, and about some of the wise words that the Pope said. Being Irish Catholic, it was the first time my grandpa and I even spoke about something faith related, actually. He teared up as he listened to me and agreed what a special man this Pope was.

All the Popes after him know what he means to us. They are aware of what we meant to him. But you can't replicate it. Each relationship is different, personal, but one in the same. That's something sometimes forgotten when it comes to religious/spiritual/whatever talk. It's a personal relationship. It's an ongoing discovery.

And after only a two hour bus ride out of the city, finally leaving Krakow after over a week, as the sun set over southern Poland here I am in an adorable lodge/hostel in the mountains with a communist theme. Goodbye Lenin Hostel in Zakopane.  I arrived right before everyone was about to go to sleep and I had to walk about 300 metres through the forest to get here because my taxi couldn't drive through the winding road. The night sky was clear and I could almost see the Milky Way. It's been a cloudy summer, but tonight as I walked along the path to the guesthouse I hoped was at the end of the road, I took a moment and noticed some beauties up there. I have no idea what this town looks like, but that's the great thing about arriving in a new place when it's dark-you are always up for a surprise the next morning.

"I plead with you-never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid"

"Make sure that every person, of whatever background, can find in you a welcoming heart"

"Life is a journey. When we stop, things don't go right"

Thanks for teaching me, and thanks for reminding me where I need to be, Papa.

The little streets of St. John Paul II's hometown. Wadowice, Poland.

Giovanni Paolo.

The Wadowice Town Square with his childhood home and church.

Above it says "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy". 

Quote and a pic from WYD Toronto. 2002.

Pope John Paul II's first quote for World Youth Day. "I was looking for you, and now you have come to me and for that I thank you".