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More than two million expected to attend Kraków World Youth Day

A flag bearing the name of Krakow at the last World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)

A new airport, improved road and rail links, a fleet of “dream buses” and a youth Bible are among features projected for the Catholic Church’s 14th international celebration of World Youth Day in Kraków, Poland, in 2016.

Mgr Bronislaw Fidelus, a co-organiser of the event scheduled for July 26-August 1, said: “It’s still 16 months to go, but the planning is well advanced.”

“There’s huge interest abroad, and we’ve already registered large Church groups from the US, Europe and Latin America. We’re sure the theme of Divine Mercy, chosen specially by the Pope, will create a real openness to Christ among young participants,” Mgr Fidelus said.

World Youth Day organisers expect the 13th international event will attract more than two million people from around the world.

Mgr Fidelus said the programme was approved on March 13 by a Vatican delegation under Cardinal Stanisław Ryłko, president of the Pontifical Council for Laity, adding that the Polish Church counted on the five-day event to renew the faith among young Catholics everywhere.

Meanwhile, a local official said work was underway to expand the city’s communication and transport network and road and rail links with Europe, as well as to renovate local schools to accommodate pilgrims.

“Having hosted several pilgrimages by the late St John Paul II to his home city, Kraków is well equipped and prepared for large-scale events like this,” Filip Szatanik, spokesman for the Kraków city council, told the US Catholic News Service.

“It’s also a great church city, full of sacred buildings and objects and closely linked to Poland’s Christian history. We can count especially on this side of its character to make this a major promotional opportunity,” he said.

Launched by St John Paul II in 1985, World Youth Day is celebrated annually on a local level and every two or three years with an international gathering with the Pope.

Kraków was announced as the 2016 venue by Pope Francis at the last World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in 2013.

World Youth Day will have the theme, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Mt 5:7), and will follow April 2016 Church-state celebrations of the 1,050th anniversary of Poland’s Christian conversion.

Pope Francis is scheduled to lead a televised Way of the Cross procession from the city’s Divine Mercy Sanctuary, followed by a prayer vigil on youth issues near the Wieliczka Salt Mine, and a final Mass in Kraków’s Błonia Park.

The World Youth Day website said the festival would feature a tent museum with Vatican exhibits and concerts, and exhibitions at more than 100 locations, as well as “wayside catechesis” sessions in 30 languages and a “reconciliation zone” with several hundred confessionals.

It added that Poland’s 16 archdioceses and 28 dioceses had so far pledged accommodation for 373,000 foreign visitors, and said the organising committee had been asked to add canoe trips and mountain hikes to enable foreign pilgrims to sample the life of St John Paul II, who was Archbishop of Kraków from 1964 to 1978.

Pope Francis also has been invited to visit Wadowice, where John Paul II was born in 1920, during his visit.

Organisers said the youth Bible, under preparation at the Catholic University of Lublin, would present the New Testament in contemporary language without “archaic expressions”.

They added that the “virtual prayer marathon”, launched on March 13, would enable young Christians to show where they were “praying to change the world,” or requesting prayers, by clicking on the Pray for WYD website.

Beginning in July, a fleet of yellow “dream buses,” chartered by young Catholics at Poland’s Kalwaria Zebrzydowska Marian sanctuary, is to travel throughout Europe to publicise the celebration.

Meanwhile, a World Youth Day cross, made in 1983, has been taken to the Jasna Gora national sanctuary and the former Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. It was to tour Poland until the festival.

Fr Tomasz Kijowski, World Youth Day spokesman, predicted the event would also have an “activating effect” on young people in Poland.

“The young have been leaving the Church here – we need some shock, some impulse, to halt and reverse this trend,” Fr Kijowski told KAI, Poland’s Catholic information agency.

“I wouldn’t want to suggest we’re working out some vision for a Christian Poland, but we want to initiate certain processes which will continue after the World Youth Day, instead of ending when the Pope flies out.”