World Youth Day reminds us of the risks and rewards of our faith

World Youth Day pilgrims wait in the rain for Pope Francis to arrive at Blonia Park in Krakow, Poland (CNS)

The train door opened, revealing a man brandishing a very long, very sharp kitchen knife. For a moment I remained paralysed. Should I run away? But the… train steward? …greeted me pleasantly, so I smiled back and went on my way as though my heart wasn’t performing uncomfortable antics in my chest. Back in my seat, a member of my group said they’d seen the steward making sandwiches earlier. Knife explained; false alarm. But having just – belatedly – heard about the martyrdom of Fr Jacques in France, cooking wasn’t the first thing that came to mind on a train, and this totally insignificant incident was actually, for me, a moment of profound challenge.

World Youth Days are always great schools of the virtues, especially patience. Queuing for meals, queuing for Confession, waiting for events… Annoyance or opportunity, it depends how you choose to take it. But I think after this summer of violence, there is a very particular challenge to every 2016 pilgrim, one which each accepted unconsciously when they took the decision to attend.

Still, with police cars at every junction of Kraków and army helicopters circling overhead, few European pilgrim won’t have thought at least once, however briefly: if something happens here, just because we are Christians, are we willing to pay that price? (Let’s not forget that to pilgrims from some parts of the world, attending WYD may be the safest thing they’ve done in ages…)

We were reminded at catechesis this morning that the early Christians spread the faith through the witness of their lives. But not only their lives: let us not forget that ‘the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians’. Can we not hope and pray that this new wave of martyrdoms might lead to the re-evangelisation of the West?