The World Youth Day pilgrimage to Krakow, Poland, saw nearly 2.5 million people from across the world join in communion with each other. They shared Mass and catechesis. They sang and prayed together. They made friends and learned about foreign cultures.
For one small group, World Youth Day took on a different aspect, one of true family as Rachel Tibold joined three of her daughters on the trip that took them through five Polish cities over a span of 11 days.
The Tibolds hail from Marilla and attend the Church of the Annunciation in Elma, where they volunteer with various charity projects. The Tibold children have been involved in both their parish youth group and on a larger diocesan level. Veronika served on the Youth Board two years ago, and now Maria has followed in her footsteps.
Although called World Youth Day, the event actually lasts a week and is open to all people, with a focus on teens and young adults. The celebration, which began 30 years ago with Pope John Paul II, offers catechesis sessions led by bishops from around the world, prayer opportunities, talks, and youth festivals with art and music. One of the highlights at each event is the Saturday night vigil and Sunday morning Mass with the pope. After John Paul's death, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have kept the tradition alive.
Host sites create a local flavor by offering visits to nearby shrines and churches. During the Poland trip, visits to Warsaw's Old Town, the Jasna Gora Monastery in Czestochowa, and the Divine Mercy Shrine in Krakow filled up the itinerary.
The girls had heard from teachers and youth ministers that had taken part in past World Youth Days that it is a life-changing experience.
"I decided to go because it was Poland, and I feel like I would never go there on my own, and to take this experience is a good thing," said Maria Tibold, 17, the first of her family to decide to join the diocesan pilgrimage. Once her sisters and mother saw her excitement, they too wanted to take part.
"I thought it would be a good way to meet a lot of different cultures and strengthen my faith. When you are around a lot of people the same faith as you it kind of connects you more with your inner self, I guess," said Veronika, 18.
Their mother, Rachel, thought it would be a good experience for the family. "I wanted to go because I knew that meeting Pope Francis would be a once-in-a-lifetime chance and sharing that experience with my daughters, I could enrich our faith as a family. I know we can bring it back home," she said. "The Year of Mercy is the theme, and together we do a lot of things within our township, merciful things, like we do the clothing drive, we do Habitat for Humanity, we do Goodwill. We help out a lot. So, I wanted to help that by showing them what it's like to be part of World Youth Day and to bring it back home."
Rachel served as a group leader for her parish, watching over her daughters and fellow Annunciation pilgrim Olivia Biernat.
They came excited to meet people of the same faith but different cultures, hoping to see people like themselves who had a strong faith and were not afraid to speak up about thier beliefs. In Krakow's Main Market Square, they took photos with strangers, shared pins and high fived groups as they passed by.
Planned activities included daily catechesis, adoration and reconciliation at the Tauron Arena.
"There's two things that stuck out to me," said Veronika. "(First) the catechesis at the arena. There were like 17,000 people there listening to the different priests' and bishops' talks and speakers, all their messages about mercy and giving and receiving mercy, God's mercy and love was really powerful. Also, adoration with everyone in the entire arena was a powerful experience as well."
Maria also enjoyed Adoration. "It was really powerful and I could feel God's presence. Even though I was with a lot of people around me, 17,000 I think Veronika said, I also felt alone. Not in a bad way alone, but that God was listening to me and I wasn't being distracted by a bunch of other things."
For Julia, being at Campus Misercordiae, an open field of mercy where pilgrims gathered for the Saturday vigil led by Pope Francis, stands out as a solemn moment.
"I like the candle vigil with the pope. Jesus is always represented as the light of the world. When 2.5 million people are just holding a candle, it was really moving to see," the 15-year-old said.
Sitting at the Chopin Airport in Warsaw two days after the final Mass, the Tibolds considered the long-term effect of making a pilgrimage such as this, which required sacrifice and physical exertion as they walked nine miles in the sweltering heat to Campus Misercordiae and thundering downpour on the way back to their hotel. They also showed a willingness to forgo individuality and become part of a larger unit as they prayed together and listed to the words of Pope Francis.
"As an adult and as a parent, I saw hope. I saw hope in the younger generation to see that many young people in the same faith coming from around the world. It really gave me hope for the future," said Rachel.
Julia will take this back to her public school and share the experience with her friends.
"It makes me feel less embarrassed to spread my wisdom, I guess you could say, to other people about God. A lot of my friends are Catholic, but some I know are atheist. I pray for them a lot to get in touch with God. If they ask me about Poland and how cool it was. I'll be like, 'It was great, and I got in touch with God. It really helped through a lot of stuff,'" said Julia.
The family is already planning the next World Youth Day pilgrimage, to take place in Panama in 2019. "We're Panamanian. My mother was born in Panama, My grand mother was born in Panama. So, we're very excited that Panama is the next destination for World Youth Day 2019," explained Rachel.
The Tibolds would like to thank their fellow parishioners at Annunciation for their support and fundraising. "We could not have done it without the support of our parish," said Rachel.