Polish Scouts Head to WYD Lisbon Via the Way of St. James

The 250 Scouts of Europe will attend the youth gathering as volunteers, seeking to reflect the deep Catholic identity of their nation.

These 250 scouts will serve as WYD volunteers, drawing on the spiritual strength of their Polish identity, which in life permeated John Paul II, the initiator of the World Youth Day.
These 250 scouts will serve as WYD volunteers, drawing on the spiritual strength of their Polish identity, which in life permeated John Paul II, the initiator of the World Youth Day. (photo: Pawel Przypolski photos)

What better way to prepare to live more intensely the experience of communion and universality that World Youth Day represents than to walk in the footsteps of the apostle St. James to the heart of the spiritual roots of the Old Continent? 

It is indeed to participate fully in the living tradition of the Church that 250 young Polish scouts will gather in Lourdes on July 22 and set off through the towns and countryside of France, then Spain, to Santiago de Compostela. From there, they will head for Lisbon, where they will take part as volunteers at World Youth Day (WYD) Aug. 1-6. 

Although they are taking part in this major global gathering to experience a Christian fraternity that transcends borders, these young people are no less determined to bear witness to the vibrant faith that is the identity of the Polish people — a people still fully imbued with the legacy of their compatriot Pope St. John Paul II, the initiator of this event.


From Lourdes to Santiago de Compostela

This pilgrimage, organized by Scouts of Europe, will gather walkers ages 17 to 19 — belonging to designations for young adults known as “Rangers” and “Rovers” — from all over Poland. Also open to non-scout Catholics, the group will combine female and male units, who usually follow separate national itineraries. 

After a first stop in Lourdes, the scouts will visit various historical towns in France and Spain that are part of the Camino de Santiago itineraries, such as Bétharram, Arudy, Oloron-Sainte-Marie, Saint-Jean Pied-de-Port and Burgos, all of which are home to treasures of the world’s Catholic heritage. 

Visits, Masses, torchlight processions, and evenings spent around the campfire will give a special meaning to their weeklong walk, which will be marked by “simplicity, humility, resourcefulness, trust in God’s protection and in human kindness,” as Jakub Rožek, president of Scouts of Europe in Poland, pointed out in an interview with the Register. “This journey is a step into the unknown, an adventure on a road, the Camino, which has been sanctified by centuries of pilgrimage, by prayers and the joy of meeting God through a time of openness to difficulty, exigency and encounter with others. It’s a place where you can breathe and immerse yourself in the simplicity of daily toil and rhythm.”

The pilgrims will reach the final stage of their journey, Santiago de Compostela, where they will attend Mass in its famous cathedral on the evening of July 27. They are due to arrive by bus in Lisbon on July 29, to help set up the WYD celebration venues with local organizers.

Polish Scouts 2
The scouts focus on faith and service.(Photo: Pawel Przypolski photos)


Autonomy and Service

For the coordinator of the women’s branch of the participating scouts, Małgorzata Mynett, the originality of this trek lies in particular in the great flexibility and freedom that will be granted to the young people both during the pilgrimage and during the WYD. 

Divided into groups of around 40 people, and equipped with handbooks for daily Bible readings, prayers and meditations, they will be able to manage their walking and spirituality times independently.

“We want to help these young people develop a greater sense of responsibility and initiative, and the more unpredictable nature of these peregrinations in a foreign and international context is ideal for this,” she told the Register.

Mynett herself discovered Scouts of Europe at WYD Madrid in 2011. Her participation had also been preceded by a similar pilgrimage on the Camino before heading to the Spanish capital as a volunteer. This experience left a profound mark on her life and later inspired her to get involved with the scouts at a national level. 

“This is the approach I try to instill in the young people I accompany, and whom I encourage to remain at all times attentive to the needs of others, despite the physical and sometimes moral difficulties that such a journey can represent,” she told the Register. 

“I often tell these young people that this openness of heart suggests that they do not condition service to others on their role as volunteers or on their own idea of service in a given situation,” Mynett added. “Having attended WYDs in Madrid, Krakow and Panama, I know from experience that the variety of situations that arise means that we never have a strict approach to our mission of service and that we assist others anywhere, anytime and in any way, which also represents a tremendous opportunity for spiritual growth in everyone’s life.”


Reflecting Polish Identity

And to manifest this thirst for service to the Church community, these 250 volunteers will be able to draw on the spiritual strength of their Polish identity, which in life permeated John Paul II, the initiator of the WYD in 1985. 

The sainted Pope, known for his missionary zeal, remains a leading spiritual figure for young Polish Catholics, who are always well represented at the various sessions of this global event. 

“Despite the geographical distance and the cost that such a trip represents, the WYD in Panama recorded a very strong Polish participation [more than 3,500], and this will continue to be the case for Portugal, which remains relatively remote from Poland,” Mynett said. 

She highlighted the fact that WYD remains a particularly popular event for Poles, who associate it with their deep-rooted culture and religious practice. 

According to the latest official figures available, some 25,000 Poles are expected to attend the upcoming Lisbon meeting. This puts Poland in fifth place, in terms of event registrations, after Spain, Italy, France and Portugal.

“This gift of John Paul II to the universal Church has come to illustrate the best of the Polish people,” Mynett concluded — “that is their hospitality, their openness to encounter and their ability to bear witness to the beauty of their faith even in the most hostile contexts.”