Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims have been making their way to Kraków this week. The World Youth Day opening ceremony is taking place on Tuesday afternoon so those who have been arriving early have been exploring the Old Town of Krakow, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre boasting hundreds of historical buildings from medieval churches to Art Nouveau edifices, as well as the Divine Mercy Sanctuary and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial – both within an hour of the city.
Rio saw an unprecedented number of pilgrims descend on Copacabana Beach, but WYD 2016 is offering pilgrims an altogether different experience to enliven the young faithful. The Campus Misericordiae, or ‘Field of Mercy’, is just outside the centre of the city and will host the main events during the week. The Festival also has a programme of more than 200 different events from art expositions to sporting competitions.
The 31st World Youth Day is placed in the heart of the Jubilee Year of Mercy and as such, becomes only the third time that an international gathering of young people takes place during a Jubilee Year. The first was during the Holy Year of Redemption when St John Paul invited young people to join him for Palm Sunday and the second was in Rome at the 15th World Youth Day during the Great Jubilee of 2000.
I am on my way to Krakow with a group of pilgrims from South London. After hearing the testimonies of friends who went to Rio in 2013, of the phenomenal sense of unity between young people from diverse corners of the globe, I was adamant that I would make the somewhat shorter journey to Krakow. In 2013 I had not yet been received into the Church, doing so in early 2014 through the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. Having recently completed my degree, passed through the ‘honeymoon phase’ of conversion and entered the world of work, I feel ready to dust off the scallop shell and staff that journeyed with me to Compostela two years ago.
Speaking to someone who lived in Rio three years ago, I was astounded to hear that she knew little of what was taking place until she saw the crowds of people wearing t-shirts and backpacks sporting the WYD logo. For her the legacy of WYD was witnessing to the love that spread beyond continental boundaries rather than the cleansing of public space that she has seen in preparation for the Olympics.
Hopefully the young people of Krakow will be aware of the events taking place over the course of the next week – they are sure to be reminded by the millions of pilgrims who will pass through their historic city and will hopefully be able to give testimony to the extraordinary spirit of mercy ahead of the next World Youth Day.
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