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The saintly madness of WYD pilgrims

WyD16 Jeff Bruno

Anna Sosnowska - Poland - published on 07/29/16

They each went way out on limbs in order to get there

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The World Youth Day was to be in Sydney. Ania knew that she just had to be there. She didn’t have a penny to her name, yet she made it. In a sense she bought her ticket with…trash.

The World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, or wandering across Tibet in search of meaning; this was Dominik’s choice. What happened was, he believes, miraculous. It completely transformed his life.

The World Youth Day in Kraków. Ola’s family home is only 60 kilometres away yet she herself lived over a thousand kilometres from here. Work or a pilgrimage? The choice was obvious and she made it.


Ania: The year is 2008. I am on a plane; destination Australia. I am crying like a baby because I was actually living the biggest dream of my life! Well, nothing came about of itself; I sort of helped it.

Aleteia: Right. This was a tall order really. One of your parents was on the dole, and you were paying for college yourself. Did anyone know of your dream?

Everyone knew! (laughter) I bent over backwards thinking of how to raise the unimaginable money for the trip. I had a mere 100 zloty for a rainy day.

What did you spend it on?

This was my widow’s penny. I resorted to bribery. The word “contract” sounds better, though (laughter). I entered into a contract with Saint Anthony. I learned that this saint is a bit of a businessman: you give him cash and he asks for a hundred times more for you. So I promised to give him my last penny for the poor, if he would help me raise money for the airfare.

What was the first sign confirming that your collaboration really had taken off?

The first sign was a telephone call from a priest I knew, who offered money for the [savings] pool. This was a real incentive, especially since no one knew of my tacit agreement with Anthony. Later I was selling recyclables: used paper and scrap metal. And then, suddenly, I landed some lucrative jobs; these were the signs from God.

We can safely say, then, that you bought your plane ticket for the WYD for selling trash?

Precisely! I am not embarrassed at all! This was a time when I was extremely determined, a time of faith and the discovery of small miracles in everyday reality, the discovery of the good-naturedness of people. My family and friends chipped in to give me a birthday present and this was a nice experience of a larger community. Later on, I got an unexpected bonus from my boss and …

And step by step you made it: you actually landed on a far-off continent. Do you remember the first thought or emotion when your plane touched down in Australia?

I vividly remember that I was in tears all the time. I knew that my parents cried at home because they were happy for me. And I knew that St. Anthony is, on the contrary, in stiches because of my tears (laughter). This was a wonderful feeling!


What made you choose the World Youth Day? This an extreme option if you compare it against the silence of the Tibetan monks.

I was born and raised in a Catholic, non-practicing family. I had a lot of contradictions in my life. I lived on shifting sands. I felt like I lived on a spiritual raft — I did not know what to believe in or whether to believe in something in the first place. I felt anger surging up within me. I wanted to change something, to find meaning.

How did you make the decision: did you write down the advantages and disadvantages on a sheet of paper or did you draw lots?

Actually, I did neither. This was a long process. It all started with Pope Francis and his transparent gestures and simple words. I looked at this elderly man and something changed within me. He intrigued and attracted me. I guess even people with leftist views and those on the borderline of faith feel it. Well, I was one of them.

It is a long way, though, from being intrigued by Francis to actually buying a ticket for the WYD in Rio.

A long and twisted one. I had a feeling that God had taken advantage of my heart, which was not sealed tight against Him, and through some crack in it, He instilled in me a desire to participate in the WYD. All of a sudden I kept meeting people who would talk of nothing else but WYD. Whenever I looked I found websites, graphics and recordings connected with Rio. You know, one thing led to another…

That’s it? You simply gave in?

Noooo. I do not think this happens just like that. However, I was not a practicing Catholic. I was a wishy-washy Catholic. God and I were two opposite extremes. Therefore I bought a ticket to Nepal. I was to go there with my girlfriend in search of life’s meaning and happiness. This was to be a vacation of my lifetime…


It turned out to be the demise of the old man and the birth of a new man. The people talking about the WYD I mentioned proved to be my signposts. I became friends with one of them. Through him I met a priest, a totally cool guy. We talked a lot. We got to know each other. Finally, I heard [interiorly] that I need to choose, to take a clear stand. This was purifying. I called off my flight to Nepal, I broke up with my girlfriend, whom I hurt a lot and whom I was unable to love in a mature manner; I lost many friends who had dragged me down, made a confession concerning all my life and bought tickets to Rio.

You paid for them dearly.

Right, this is the price for my new life. A life in God.


When you hear about the World Youth Day you …

… are reminded of my childhood and of my cousin, who would often participate in meetings of young people with the Holy Father. I wanted to be like her! Very much! I was only waiting for the moment when “I am a big girl”.

You did grow up a few years ago…

And therefore my dream about the WYD came true and I went to Madrid! There I got to know people from the entire world; I am still in touch with some of them. When it was announced that the following WYD would take place in Kraków, I was sure I would take part!

Now, however, you are living in the Netherlands…

My life changed a bit. I left Poland to find work and independence. When I heard during a Sunday Holy Mass a prayer for the WYD in Kraków, a shiver ran down my spine and I grew sad. A million thoughts would chase one another in my head: should I go, should I let go, what to do? On the one hand, I was inclined to do the latter and pursue my career objectives till the end. On the other hand, I felt I would regret it if I did not go.

Yet you quit your job and decided to go to Kraków for the WYD. The choice was not easy, as we are dealing with a variable element here. What clinched it?

The awareness that the meeting of young people from the entire world would be taking place a mere 60 kilometres away from my home! I began to ask myself: what am I doing here?! A few days prior to the WYD something happened; I was given all kinds of “signs”. First I received an email from you titled “WYD – adventure, adventure!”, where you asked me if I’d done something WOW to get to the WYD, and then, when I made my decision to quit everything and go to meet Francis, a stranger offered me an entry pass!

What will you do after the WYD has finished?

A perfect question. The most difficult part of the decision-making process was the question what I will do after the WYD. I will think about it later, however. I have trust in God’s plan.

World Youth Day
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