Jackson pilgrims reflect on World Youth Day experience

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – “My favorite part had to be being feet away and in the presence of the most holy Father, Pope Francis,” said Rodney Self, one of 18 young people from the Diocese of Jackson who made the trip to Poland for World Youth Day.
Fellow traveler Perry Leffler agreed. “My favorite part of the World Youth Day pilgrimage was definitely seeing the pope. He is just so inspiring. Everybody cheered and there was such a feeling of excitement and joy when he was there,” said Leffler.
Amelia Rizor, youth minister for Jackson St. Richard Parish, who helped organize and lead the trip, said all the teenagers were thrilled to see the pontiff. “To see the joy on all those faces made it all worthwhile. Kids who never dance were dancing,” said Rizor. She went on to say she planned the trip to be a true pilgrimage, with thoughtful stops along the way.
In addition to touring the Auschwitz Concentration camp, the group visited Krakow’s Jewish Ghetto and the factory where Oskar Schindler saved more than a thousand Jews during World War II.
“We watched the movie Schindler’s List together before the trip, so seeing the factory brought it all home. Seeing that it (the Holocaust) wasn’t just some distant history, but that it really happened and it could happen again was powerful for everyone,” said Rizor.
The young people attended catechetical sessions sponsored by World Youth Day. Andre deGruy and his wife went on the trip with their two daughters. “Every time we had Mass on the trip it was amazing. The groups of people were just so huge. Priests would just appear in the crowd and start distributing Communion. I imagine that’s what it was like to try and feed the five thousand out of a few wicker baskets,” he said. “The Polish people were so welcoming. It was hard to connect the history with that. People were so kind and helpful and you had to think – their parents lived through the horrors of communism and the Holocaust, but they were amazing,” said DeGruy.
Rizor said she wanted the members of the group to get a sense of how large and active the Catholic Church is in the world. The members of the group got the message. “I did not expect the energy the people at the large events showed. It made me want to show the same amount of energy for my faith. It made me feel proud and not nervous about showing my faith,” said Self.
Dena Kinzey, a teacher at Madison St. Joseph School, posted her reflections to a blog on the school website during the trip. During one leg of the trip, the group had to split up. Luggage was lost, and it rained during several of the outdoor events.
“In the struggles of a difficult flight situation, tired people away from home, schedule changes, no air conditioning (this is big), the moment I saw these young people tremble and cry because they were so excited to be with the man who joyfully leads our church, I knew it was all worth it,” wrote Kinzey on her blog.
“It was in that moment that I felt the Holy Spirit working. The path to God is never easy, but the rewards are great. I’m blessed to be able to do this with them,” she continued.
“I got a deeper understanding out my Catholic faith. Through different tours and discussions, I learned about my Catholic faith to a level I never could have imagined. Not only did I strengthen my faith, I also strengthened my relationship with God,” said Self, a member of Jackson Holy Family Parish.
“Being on my first pilgrimage was incredible. You’re there to grow closer to God, to grow in your faith. Touring places like Auschwitz, seeing the Jewish Ghetto, and experiencing the Sanctuary of Pope John Paul II really puts your own life in perspective,” said Leffler.
Rizor believes she will be processing the trip with the youth group for a while to come. “I really want to sit down and talk more about the experience,” she said. The tour group will host a Timely Topics discussion sometime in September at St. Richard Parish. Check the parish website for exact scheduling. The next World Youth Day will be in Panama in 2019.