Cardinal Seán's Blog

Cardinal Seán O’Malley shares his reflections and experiences

Father Matt Williams reflects on this year’s WYD in Kraków

This week I have been participating at the yearly retreat for the bishops of the New England Province. We usually go to Saint Edmund’s on Enders Island in Connecticut but this year we changed locations and spent the week at the Franciscan Guest House in Kennebunkport, Maine.


With the bishops of the Province

I asked Father Matt Williams, who led a group of Boston youth to Kraków in Poland for World Youth Day, to chronicle the pilgrimage. As you know if you follow my posts, I also participated at the event and met there with them several occasions, but I thought it would be good to learn about the event from their perspective.

clip_image002With Father Matt at the Mercy Center in Kraków


The last time the Church celebrated an Extraordinary Jubilee Year was in 1983-1984, commemorating the 1950th anniversary of Redemption. During this Holy Year, Pope St. John Paul II invited the young people of the world to join him on Palm Sunday for a special celebration. At this gathering he entrusted a special cross that was made for the jubilee year to the youth of the world. This cross would eventually become the World Youth Day Cross, an iconic symbol of this international gathering, which travels throughout the world as a sacred reminder of God’s love and mercy in Jesus Christ. Last month this cross came to the beloved land of St. John Paul II, as the city of Kraków hosted the 2016 World Youth Day (WYD).

Pilgrims from Australia carry the World Youth Day cross during the opening Mass July 26 at Blonia Park in Krakow, Poland. (CNS photo/Bob Roller) See WYD-OPEN-BLONIA-MASS July 26, 2016.

The theme and location for this year’s WYD, understood within the wider context of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, was inspired by the Holy Spirit. “Blessed are the Merciful” was the theme, and this message was proclaimed in homilies, festivals, and major addresses throughout the pilgrimage. Each WYD there is a song that is written to help expound upon the theme and unite the millions of pilgrims who attend. Here is a link to the official Polish version.

The city of Kraków was the perfect location for this WYD, as it is the central place where the Divine Mercy message was given to St. Faustina. From Kraków, this message came to be celebrated and promulgated throughout the whole world. What better place to contemplate the mercy of God and our call to be merciful than this extraordinary center chosen by Divine Providence. God really knows how to do things!

As you will see below, pilgrims from all over the world, and in a particular way our Boston Pilgrims, were immersed into a fount of mercy. This country, with its great saints, beautiful churches, and devout Catholics, provided the perfect ambiance for a transformative World Youth Day Pilgrimage.

Our pilgrimage began on Thursday July 21st as over 360 Pilgrims departed on multiple flights. Our final destination was Warsaw.


Flying into Warsaw allowed us to be able to visit the capital city of Poland and also visit other parts of the country as we made our way to Kraków.

After we checked into our hotels, we went to the town of Niepokalanow, where St. Maximilian Kolbe founded a Conventual Franciscan monastery. It was here that they operated a major religious publishing center, seminary and radio station.

There is a beautiful basilica there, dedicated to Our Lady as the “Immaculate Mediatrix of Grace.” We were blessed to be able to celebrate Holy Mass here. Fr. Chris Hickey celebrated the Mass and did a great job of getting us ready for this pilgrimage of mercy. Fr. Chris has been to 8 World Youth Days!


After a sound night of sleep and a hearty breakfast, we made our way to the parish church of the Holiest Savior for Holy Mass. Fr. Marc Bishop, another veteran of World Youth Day, was the celebrant and did a wonderful job of speaking to our pilgrims about the great things God wants to do during this pilgrimage.


After Mass we visited Victory Square and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw. This Square is also known for an historic Mass celebrated by St. John Paul II in 1979. Over 1 million attended and together they spontaneously chanted “we want God.” It is believed that this Mass marked the beginning of the fall of communism in Poland.


After we visited the old city center of Warsaw, we traveled to the parish church of Bl. Jerzy Popieluszko. Bl. Jerzy was martyred in 1984 for his spiritual leadership in opposition to the communist Polish government of the time.


Our next stop was to join up with over 1,000 US pilgrims for a Polish BBQ.


After the BBQ there was a mini-rally and talk hosted by Chris Stafanick.


After his talk we gathered in a parish church named after the Divine Mercy. It was a beautiful, modern church with spectacular mosaics and three levels of seating. Once gathered we had Eucharistic Adoration and Confessions. What a great way to begin a pilgrimage!


On Sunday, July 24th we made our way to the city of Czestochowa to visit the monastery of Jasna Gora which houses the beautiful icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa (otherwise known as the “Black Madonna”), the “Queen of Poland.”


We were able to celebrate Holy Mass at the altar directly below the original icon itself. It was very crowded as all of those pilgrims from the previous day’s BBQ were here for the Mass as well.


It was a such a blessing to be with so many priests from the Archdiocese.


After Holy Mass we embarked for the “City of Saints” – Kraków. And it was so good to finally get there!!!


On Monday, July 25th we were up bright and early to head to the former Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau.


We were able to walk through these two camp sites and learn about some of the atrocities that occurred on those grounds from a special exhibit on display for WYD which included a telling of the heroic death of St. Maximilian Kolbe, and to spend some time to join hands in prayer together while there on pilgrimage.


After we visited Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, we traveled to Lagiewniki, which is the location of the Divine Mercy Sanctuary. On these grounds there is the Shrine of Divine Mercy, a center dedicated to St. John Paul II and the convent where St. Faustina lived and is buried (in a chapel that is open to the public).

Cardinal Seán celebrated the Mass at the Shrine of Divine Mercy, along with over 1,500 pilgrims from the United States. The Mass was incredible!


Cardinal Seán preached: “Indifference to pain and suffering of others is a new extension of the concentration camp. The remedy for this evil is mercy.” He also said that “the face of God is mercy. The face of the Church must be mercy. We must be the face of mercy. Blessed are the merciful.


After Holy Mass we had our “welcome dinner” with the Cardinal.


It was great having so many seminarians with us for this pilgrimage!


On Tuesday, July 26th we were invited to participate in the Pilgrimage of Mercy which began at the St. John Paul II Center and then concluded at the Shrine of Divine Mercy. Hymns, prayers and catechesis were offered, and the Divine Mercy Chaplet was prayed while walking on pilgrimage from the Center to the Shrine.


On Tuesday evening, World Youth Day 2016 officially commenced with Holy Mass celebrated by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Archbishop of Kraków and former personal secretary to St. John Paul II.

In his homily, Cardinal Dziwisz said: “Krakow is alive with the mystery of Divine Mercy, also owing to humble Sister Faustina and John Paul II, who made the Church and the world sensitive to this specific trait of God. Returning to your countries, homes and communities, carry the spark of mercy, reminding everyone that ‘blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy’ (Mt 5:7).”


Now that the WYD events had officially commenced, the Tauron Arena was the host site of our morning Catechesis for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday mornings. The morning Catechesis was structured in a very dynamic way; there was an animator who serves as the MC and was responsible for preparing the crowd for the catechesis and threading the session thematically. There were also great musicians there to lead the pilgrims in song, and a variety of people who were designated to give witness talks.


Our very own Cardinal Seán was the featured Catechist and homilist on Wednesday. After Cardinal Seán delivered his catechesis, he was then asked questions by a few young adults who had been chosen beforehand to participate. The session then concluded with the celebration of Holy Mass.


Our Boston pilgrims had special t-shirts made for this session. We were O’Malley’s bunch – and we were loud and proud!! The Cardinal told me later that he liked the shirts but he didn’t see the back of them until Mass, and when he saw his name across the back of our shoulders he “almost dropped the ciborium!”


That Wednesday evening was a night we will never forget! Matt Maher, Bishop Robert Barron, Audrey Assad and Joel Stepanek lead 18,000+ in a “Night of Mercy” featuring an “XLT”. XLT comes from Life Teen and is an abbreviation for “exalt”. It is an evening of praise and worship, a dynamic talk, and Eucharistic Adoration. While presiding over Eucharistic Adoration, Bishop Baron preached: “we want God not just for ourselves but for the world. Go forth everybody with the power of Jesus’ Cross!”


On Thursday we welcomed the Holy Father to the City of Kraków. In his welcome address, the Holy Father said, “To say that Jesus is alive means to rekindle our enthusiasm in following him, to renew our passionate desire to be his disciples. What better opportunity to renew our friendship with Jesus than by building friendships among yourselves! What better way to build our friendship with Jesus than by sharing him with others! What better way to experience the contagious joy of the Gospel than by striving to bring the Good News to all kinds of painful and difficult situations!”


On Friday we attended the Stations of the Cross with the Holy Father. During that address the Holy Father told the young people, “Humanity today needs men and women, and especially young people like yourselves, who do not wish to live their lives “halfway”, young people ready to spend their lives freely in service to those of their brothers and sisters who are poorest and most vulnerable, in imitation of Christ who gave himself completely for our salvation. In the face of evil, suffering and sin, the only response possible for a disciple of Jesus is the gift of self, even of one’s own life, in imitation of Christ; it is the attitude of service. Unless those who call themselves Christians live to serve, their lives serve no good purpose. By their lives, they deny Jesus Christ.”


On Saturday morning, prior to our pilgrimage hike to Campus Misericordia (Mercy Park) which was the location of the overnight vigil and closing Mass, we celebrated Mass with Cardinal Seán at the Basilica dedicated to Our Lady, located in the old city center of Kraków.


These priests (and their bishop) smell like their sheep!!!! It was an honor being on pilgrimage with these brother priests who have such a heart for the young people of their parishes.


Some of them were able to share their experiences and reflections about WYD.

After Mass we departed for the vigil site.

The Vigil was beautiful! During his remarks the Holy Father challenged all of us: “The times we live in do not call for young “couch potatoes”, but for young people with shoes, or better, boots laced. The times we live in require only active players on the field, and there is no room for those who sit on the bench. Today’s world demands that you be a protagonist of history because life is always beautiful when we choose to live it fully, when we choose to leave a mark.”

It might be the first time a pope has ever used the words “couch potato” in a public address. After the Vigil, the estimated 2 million gathered there participated in Eucharistic Adoration.


Then, after a very long day, it was time for bed!


We woke up bright and early on the field, ready for the culmination of WYD — the closing Mass with Pope Francis. Check out this video of Boston Pilgrims on Sunday morning after the vigil. Early on, all the priests made their way to the concelebrants’ area to get ready for Holy Mass with Pope Francis.

During his homily, Pope Francis told the young people, “We can say that World Youth Day begins today and continues tomorrow, in your homes, since that is where Jesus wants to meet you from now on. The Lord doesn’t want to remain in this beautiful city, or in cherished memories alone. He wants to enter your homes, to dwell in your daily lives: in your studies, your first years of work, your friendships and affections, your hopes and dreams.


I took a quick selfie with some of my brother priests after the Mass to capture the moment.

For half of the Boston Pilgrims, the World Youth Day Pilgrimage ended once they returned from Campus Misericordiae and boarded buses to the city of the airport they were flying home from. For the other half, we spent a couple of extra days in Zakopane. This beautiful village located in the mountains, close to the boarder of Slovakia, was a place that St. John Paul II used to take young adults and college students for hikes and camping trips. It was so wonderful to have some time to process all that happened on this pilgrimage of mercy and to do so in the beautiful setting of Zakopane, with St. JPII as our guide.

We celebrated Holy Mass both indoors…


And outdoors…


There was also time for hiking, shopping for gifts, swimming, rest, processing and prayer.

On the last night we had a special Eucharistic Holy Hour to reflect upon the week and deepen the many ways the Lord was communicating graces of love and mercy to us.


It was a great way to wrap up the pilgrimage experience before we departed for our return trip to Boston the next morning.

On August 17, 2002 St. John Paul II dedicated the Divine Mercy Shrine in Krakow. At the end of his homily he shared what was burning in his heart. “Today, therefore, in this Shrine, I wish solemnly to entrust the world to Divine Mercy. I do so with the burning desire that the message of God’s merciful love, proclaimed here through St. Faustina, may be made known to all the peoples of the earth and fill their hearts with hope. May this message radiate from this place to our beloved homeland and throughout the world. May the binding promise of the Lord Jesus be fulfilled: from here there must go forth “the spark which will prepare the world for His final coming” (cf. Diary, 1732).”

Our hope and prayer is that the two million pilgrims who attended this WYD, and in particular our very own Boston pilgrims, will become “the spark” of Jesus’ Divine Mercy to the world and thus prepare it for His final coming.

Special thank you to George Martell for providing all of these photos and videos of the Boston Pilgrims and priests. To see more photos from the 2016 Boston WYD Pilgrimage to Krakow please click here. You can also view many photos and videos on the Archdiocesan Facebook Page.

– – –

On Wednesday of next week, I will be ordaining Bishops-elect Mark O’Connell and Robert P. Reed as auxiliary bishops of Boston. This is a very exciting moment for our archdiocese!

The Pilot, our diocesan newspaper, published a special issue that details the lives of our bishops-elect and the new roles they will take on as bishops. It can be read in the August 19 publication, or online here.

Pages from Pilot_20160819_Bishops

For those of you who want to watch the ordination at home, a live broadcast of the ordination will be provided by the CatholicTV Network starting at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, August 24, a half-hour before the Mass will begin.

It will be aired on CatholicTV’s cable channels, on, and on CatholicTV’s Apple TV, Roku, and mobile applications, and it will also be available for on-demand viewing. The ordination will be rebroadcast at 8:00 p.m. later that day.

Additional information on the ordination of Bishops-elect Reed and O’Connell may be found at