The act of barbarity that was inflicted on Fr Jacques Hamel, the Church and the people of France yesterday has ricochet through Kraków as young people have been hearing of the news.
Increased security has been felt throughout the city following the attack although many of the young people I have spoken to are feeling defiant against the threat. The Archbishop of Rouen made a statement addressing the World Youth Day pilgrims. In it he asked the young people, the “future of humanity”, not to give in to the violence but instead become apostles of the civilisation of love.
I heard of the news shortly after Mass at the Jasna Góra Monastery in Częstochowa. The Monastery is Poland’s National Shrine and is home to the precious image of the Black Madonna. The number of people present at Mass was an amazing sight to behold. As many as 14,000 people visit the Shrine each day throughout the year and it felt as though that number had crammed into the small chapel for Mass as I rubbed shoulders with Spanish, American, Brazilian and Italian pilgrims.
Many people had yet to hear of the news however, following the distribution of Holy Communion, a hymn was sung quietly and an incredible sense of solidarity flowed through the hearts of pilgrims united in prayer. The silence that followed demonstrated an awesome reverence for the Mass – a scene seldom depicted in the media. Upon returning to Kraków we prayed for Fr Jacques Hamel and Mass will be offered for the repose of his soul today.
On Monday the group I am travelling with visited Auschwitz. The trip to the Memorial was shortened by authorities due to security risks but it was an important and inexpressible visit which the Pope will undertake on Friday. A plaque at Auschwitz-Birkenau reads: “For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity.” The acts of terror that have taken place both in the West and the East over the last few years serve to show how little humanity has learnt from the horrors of the twentieth century.
Our growing interconnectedness has only proved to dissolve the seeds of unity sown in Europe following the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Church played a central role in overcoming the evils then and must do the same now under a different nevertheless charismatic leader. She must stand firm and defiant as her youth sing together this evening in the cobbled streets of Kraków. As the Archbishop of Rouen told us yesterday, we must use the weapons of prayer and brotherhood.