Pope Francis took part in religious celebrations on Saturday at sites tied to two saints cherished in Poland — St John Paul II and St Faustina, a mystic who had been a source of comfort to him.
Francis, who devoted the day to the theme of mercy, arrived early at the imposing Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Lagiewniki, a district of Krakow.
The 82-year-old John Paul II consecrated the new basilica during his last visit to his homeland in 2002, by anointing its white marble altar and celebrating prayers there. He stressed then his special attachment to St Faustina whose accounts of visions of Jesus have led to the spread of devotion to Divine Mercy.
On Saturday, nuns and priests, singing and waving little banners, greeted Francis as he entered the vast church. He then prayed before the chapel of St Faustina, where she is buried.
Francis met and blessed children and the infirm who were waiting for him in the church.
Later he went to the nearby Sanctuary of St John Paul II, also in the Lagiewniki district, consecrated in 2013 and dedicated to the late pope who is still the source of great pride in Poland. The lower church houses the relics of John Paul, who died in 2005, while his body is entombed inside St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.
The close proximity of the two major shrines has drawn some surprise criticism, as it has resulted in crowds splitting up between the two during ceremonies.
Francis is taking part in World Youth Day, a global celebration of hundreds of thousands of young Catholics, during his five-day visit to Poland.
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