Catholics Gather in Poland for World Youth Day
By: Deni Kamper
This week hundreds of thousands of Catholic youth are making a pilgrimage to Krakow, Poland in celebration of World Youth Day. The weeklong festivity kicked off on Tuesday with a Holy Mass followed by musical events and prayer. Over the course of the week, there will also be opportunities for youth to participate in sports and arts activities, receive vocational advice, go to reconciliation and attend masterclasses led by bishops.
Pope John Paul II initiated the tradition of World Youth Day in 1985 and the first international celebration was held in Rome in 1986. Since then, the Catholic Church has invited youth to gather every two or three years in cities all over the world including Buenos Aires and Denver. Three million youth attended the last World Youth Day in Rio de Janiero, Brazil in 2013.
At the end of the festival in Rio de Janiero, Pope Francis announced the theme of this year’s World Youth Day would be “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” from the Book of Matthew. This is one of the 8 Beatitudes, or proverb-like blessings from the Sermon on the Mount. The pope encouraged youth to read the Beatitudes and put Jesus’ words into action.
Pope Francis arrived in Krakow on Wednesday and is expected to welcome the youth during a ceremony on Thursday evening and will preside over a Mass on Sunday. There has been some concern over how Pope Francis will be received in Poland. The Holy Father does not enjoy the same popularity in Poland that he does in many other nations due mainly to his more progressive teachings. The Church in Poland is one of the most conservative in the world and the nation’s bishops have not been shy about their disapproval of Pope Francis’ stances on divorce and homosexuality. Poland, which is nearly 90% Catholic, preferred the more traditional doctrine of Pope John Paul II, who was the archbishop of Krakow before becoming pope in 1978.
Despite the tension between the pontiff and the Catholic leadership in Poland, more than 300,000 Catholic pilgrims have registered for the festival and attendance for Sunday’s Mass is expected to top 2 million.