2016-08-11 / Neighbors

World youth inspires local woman

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – A local resident traveled to Krakow, Poland to participate in her fourth World Youth Day, a pilgrimage convened every two or three years by the pope, since its founding in 1985 by Pope John Paul II. Maureen Provencher, the diocesan coordinator of youth and young adults for the Diocese of Portland, said 1.5 million young people attended the July 31 Mass on the Field of Mercy – the largest World Youth Day yet.

Provencher said the first World Youth Day gathering she attended was in Denver, Colorado in 1993, at which 500,000 young people attended. Attendance has continued to increase each time.

Provencher said she attended the event with 34 other people from Maine, as well as Bishop Robert Deeley.

“It was an amazing experience, very hopeful, incredibly spiritual, and everyone was on a high,” she said. “How great it is to hear from the Holy Father, who believes so much in young people in the church.”

At the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, Provencher said, “It was quite moving because all along the walls, you could see that people have left their crutches and walking sticks as evidence of the miracles that have happened.

Provencher said the group visited Aus- chwitz Memorial and Museum where the 1.1 million people who died in a Nazi Germany concentration camp there are memorialized. The group also visited a St. Maximilian Kolbe monastery. St. Maximilian Kolbe was a Catholic priest who was captured and taken to Auschwitz camp, who gave up his life in place of a man who had a family, Provencher said.

“He was starved to death. Everyone else who was starved with him had already passed and they ended up having to give him poison,” she said.

At the childhood home of Pope John Paul II, Provencher said she discovered a “taste of home” – a bakery behind his home where a bakery was selling Pope John Paul II’s favorite pastry, a puff pastry filled with crème.

“I took a bite and was like, oh my God, it’s Reilly’s bakery,” she said. “I went and told everyone (from Maine) and they ran in to try. It was like a piece of home.”

Provencher said she got pretty close to Pope Francis in his Popemobile, and praised him as an inspiring leader for the world’s youth.

“I think he does (resonate with young people) in a lot of ways,” Provencher said. “John Paul II had an incredible love of young people and was so empowering. The thing with Francis is, he really does focus on the social justice agenda. If you look at the U.S., it’s the young people that are making the difference. It’s the young people doing the service.

“He really does speak their language, saying, ‘Get off the couch and off the phone and go out there and make a difference. He’s opened a lot of doors. This whole year has been about God’s mercy. He’s not preaching judgment, he’s preaching mercy and compassion – sounds a lot like Jesus to me.”

Provencher said in Pope Francis’ first homily at World Youth Day, he called upon young people to “take down the barbed wires and take down the walls,” to seek unity more than division.

“It was really powerful because we were just a few hours away from Auschwitz, where you can see the walls, the barbed wires, and the violence and division,” Provencher said. “It was so neat to be in the city of Krakow, where the Jewish ghetto was. Schindler’s factory was there. There’s so much history and so much of the violence that Poland has experienced in her history and to be there in so much of a jubilant event.”

Provencher said the people of Poland also reminded her of Maine.

“Poland isn’t one of those places where people say, ‘Oh, hey, let’s go to Poland,’ so the people are very warm and hospitable.”

Provencher said each time she has attended World Youth Day, she returns home spiritually rejuvenated and inspired into service. The event is only held every few years, as called for by the pope. Pope Francis has already announced that the next World Youth Day will be in Panama in 2019.

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