By Kenneth J. Souza
HYANNIS, Mass. — As a four-time veteran of World Youth Day, Father Ron P. Floyd could be considered something of an expert in the pilgrimage that was initiated by St. John Paul II in 1985.
But the latest week-long experience — held from July 26-31 in Krakow, Poland — was particularly gratifying.
“I might be biased, because I’m Polish, but I think this was the best one yet,” Father Floyd recently told The Anchor. “The kids had an awesome time.”
Having previously attended WYD in Cologne, Germany in 2005; Sydney, Australia in 2008; and Madrid, Spain in 2011, Father Floyd recently ventured to his ancestral home with a group of young faithful from throughout the diocese along with Father Jack Schrader, parochial vicar at St. Mary’s Parish in Mansfield, and seminarian Matt Gill of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Attleboro.
“We invited all the seminarians this year, but with their busy schedules, (Matt) was the only one who was able to commit,” Father Floyd said. “He really added an element of joy to our group. And Father Schrader went with me last time to Madrid while he was still a seminarian, so to now see him there as a priest was a nice thing as well.”
In addition to a closing Mass with Pope Francis, Father Floyd said highlights of the trip included visits to the shrines of St. John Paul II and St. Faustina; the cathedral of St. Stanislaus, the patron saint of Poland; and the Black Madonna Sanctuary in Częstochowa.
“I had been to the St. John Paul II Shrine before it was done, but this time it was really moving,” Father Floyd said. “There’s an exhibit off the side that displays the cassock he was wearing when he was shot in 1981 — and to see that, with his blood, a first-class relic, just sitting there — it was really moving for me. Just remembering his great love for the youth and the fact that they all got to be there (for World Youth Day) and be at his shrine.”
During the excursion, the group from the Fall River Diocese had the advantage of having a personal tour guide in Father Floyd — who has been to Poland many times before — along with the benefit of not one but two translators.
“The kids all commented that they liked having their own personal translators, because Father Jack Schrader and I took turns translating the Italian and the Polish, respectively, during the Holy Father’s homily,” Father Floyd said. “I remember Father Schrader was laughing because at one point the Holy Father said we have to ‘not be a people of the couch,’ which translated means ‘couch potatoes’ in English. The pope was trying to explain how some modern conveniences tend to distract us from real living. I thought that was a beautiful notion for the kids to hear.”
The group also had two opportunities to share the pilgrimage with Cardinal Séan P. O’Malley, OFM, Cap., of Boston — once during a catechesis session he led on Wednesday evening at the Tauron Arena, and then again during Mass on Saturday morning, before they traveled to the Campus Misericordia in Brezgi.
“Bishop Robert J. McManus (of Worcester) was also a hit, although I didn’t hear what he said to the kids,” Father Floyd said. “He did a question-and-answer period on Friday and the kids really seemed to like that.”
Although it was sometimes very hot in Poland and the accommodations weren’t always as comfortable as they might have liked, Father Floyd said it was all part and parcel of being on a pilgrimage.
“We focused really from the beginning that there was going to be a certain amount of suffering involved,” Father Floyd said. “In fact, one of the kids said they were sort of scared, but then they found that it wasn’t all that bad. We were walking, on average, 14 miles a day. We were housed in dorm rooms at a college, but they weren’t air-conditioned and things were a little bit tight. So I think that was a little bit of purgation for them.”
Despite these minor inconveniences, Father Floyd said everyone in the group “gelled really well” and he was impressed with the camaraderie that developed during the week.
“I think they were all looking out for each other, and I was really happy about that,” he said. “Sometimes group dynamics can be iffy, especially when you have groups of people coming together from different places. But they all seemed to mingle and take care of each other really well.”
“We didn’t always know what we were doing, but things seemed to work out,” he added. “That’s Divine Providence and that’s part of the pilgrim experience — it’s all about not being in control and being away from your comfort zone. You just have to put your trust in God, which is in reality what we experience every day, we just forget it.”