“It’s war and we don’t have to be afraid to say this,” Pope Francis told journalists while he flew to Kraków for World Youth Day (WYD). Initially, I balked at such a bold statement. Hearing the word ‘war’ made me wince. Yet, after such a deliberate attack on the Faith, as the murder of Fr Jacques Hamel undoubtedly was, it also stirs feelings of fear and unease, even if, here in Kraków, the news didn’t reach all pilgrims straightaway. Minus Wi-fi and often a fully charged phone, we can be left a little disconnected.
This attack felt very close to home, an attack on us as Catholics. Though as Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil, Iraq, said this is nothing new. “This is the sort of world we are living in,” the archbishop said speaking to CNS.
You might be thinking, this seems like a bleak attitude. Of course, it’s hard not to despair – even when surrounded by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims joyous in the faith. But Archbishop Warda called us to “pray for all of ISIS so they could really wake up and know the God of mercy.”
He added: “It’s shocking, it’s sad, really sad” to know they could “enter a church, a place of prayer” and commit such violence. Imagine you enter a mosque and start killing people — but that’s ISIS. That’s the way they act. Unfortunately this is the way they’ve been trained.”
WYD can be like a bubble, a nice safe area where people feel so united in faith that they can temporarily forget the persecution, war and terrorism blighting the world at large. A barbaric act, such as the murder of Fr Hamel, which breaks that bubble, highlights why WYD is so badly needed.
The President of Poland when welcoming Pope Francis said “the world today badly needs values, it needs faith.” This year’s WYD theme is ‘mercy’. Is this the gift of WYD? The gift of our faith? There are reminders everywhere you go of the WYD theme. The confession booths in the parks, the Divine Mercy Sanctuary, the chaplets being said wherever you go… the list goes on. Perhaps the way we move on, the way we continue in the face of terrorism, is to look back before looking forward.
St John Paul II’s words on Mercy are at the core of this WYD – but they should also be a guiding light for Catholics all over the world. The former Pope once said “Where, if not in Divine Mercy, can the world find refuge and the light of hope?”
In Kraków, the home of Divine Mercy, and the current home of WYD, we should find the hope that’s sorely needed in these dark times. Yes, we are at war, but in our faith (and at WYD) we realise mercy is our weapon, and our hope.
It’s because of WYD that hundreds of thousands of pilgrims are able to say “Yes, we’re at war, and I’m not afraid to say it,” because they have their way forward – mercy and prayer.