When Pope Francis spoke from the Archbishops’s residence in Krakow Wednesday night, he paused and asked for silence as he paid tribute to a 22-year-old World Youth Day volunteer from Poland who died on July 2 from an aggressive form of cancer.
Maciej Szymon Cieśla was a graphic design with a promising career who quit his job in 2014 to work full-time as a volunteer for World Day 2016. Cieśla helped design the banners that hang all around the city of Krakow announcing the celebrations, and he was one of the people behind the welcome kits that every pilgrim and volunteer receives when they arrive. He also helped build the event’s website.
According to Fr. Tom Rosica from the Holy See Press Office, at the time Cieśla joined the organizing committee “he had lost his faith in the Church, but decided to help because he wanted to believe that there was still some good in it.” He apparently found it again in the friendship and support he discovered in the people he met and worked with on the World Youth Day events. He was even scheduled to travel with Pope Francis on a tram ride during the festivities.
Cieśla was diagnosed with cancer in November 2015, and after many kinds of treatments, doctors had to amputate one of his legs in May. Before that happened, he wrote in his Facebook profile:
“How fast life and priorities change! And how different our dreams are… some dream with a career and fame, promotion, a new job, wealth or for World Youth Day to be a success. For the last 150 days, I’ve been dreaming of only one thing: I’d like to live. Nothing else.”
Sadly, Cieśla died three weeks before World Youth Day began, but he helped up until the last moment he could.
In his words about Cieśla, Pope Francis noted the faith of the young volunteer and told all those listening that Cieśla “was looking down on them.” As Fr. Rosica reports, “The Holy Father went on to ask the young people to pray in their hearts, reiterating that the young man was with them and that this was a grace.”
May Maciej Szymon Cieśla, and all the faithful departed, rest in peace.