Junior Nate Sarmir will always remember the overnight vigil at this year’s World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland. After a day that included walking more than 10 miles, Sarmir and the group of Catholic University students he was traveling with were getting ready to spend the night outside awaiting a Mass with Pope Francis the following morning. During the night, the group spent time in prayer alongside an estimated 2 million Catholics from around the world.

“We were in the middle of adoration with the Pope and they did a nice thing where they handed out candles and everyone lit each other’s,” Sarmir said. “I just remember turning around and looking around at the sheer number of people behind me in awe. It was incredible to see people from 180 different countries together at that moment, each of them holding a candle and praying.”

Catholic University students at World Youth Day 2016Sarmir, a civil engineering major from Allentown, Pa., was one of 17 Catholic University students to travel to Krakow, as part of a pilgrimage that was organized by the Office of Campus Ministry. In addition to attending the events last month surrounding World Youth Day, the students spent several days in Rome and visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland. University President John Garvey joined the students on the trip.

For Sarmir, the trip marked one of the few times he’s ever been out of the United States. Though the physical aspects of the trip were demanding — sleeping on the ground and walking at least 10 miles every single day — Sarmir said he was inspired seeing so many faithful young people in one place.

“I was able to talk to people from all over the world, and that gave me a better perspective of what’s ahead for me,” he said. “There were millions of other people out there publicly praying and it showed me I don’t need to be ashamed of my faith.”

Junior Lauren Hand said she was also impressed by the number of countries represented at World Youth Day. As an international studies major, Hand thought it was amazing to encounter so many diverse cultures gathered peacefully in one place.

“Getting to see that global world in action in front of me made me see that what I am learning has a purpose, like what I’m studying can make a difference,” she said. “It was amazing to get there and see this global religion and how interconnected all these countries are. How even through six continents and 180 countries, we’re all in this together.”

Both Sarmir and Hand said they were grateful for the experience to grow in their faith through daily catechesis and Masses offered during World Youth Day. They also enjoyed hearing Pope Francis speak on the week’s theme of mercy. During the final Mass, the Pope called young people to not let their souls grow numb, but to “aim for the goal of a beautiful love which also demands sacrifice.”

“World Youth Day really helps give you a better understanding of the world around you, the Church around you, and how big the decisions you make really are,” Sarmir said. “Going to Rome and Krakow was something completely new to me and it changed my perspective, allowing me to meet people from Australia, China, and the Middle East. It gives you better perspective of the faith life in the world.”