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Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to attend the World Youth Day welcoming ceremony in Blonia Park in Kraków July 28. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Two Million Gather in Poland for World Youth Day 2016

July 30, 2016 — World Youth Day 2016 kicked off on July 26 in Kraków, Poland, with millions of young adults from around the globe gathering to celebrate their Catholic faith with Pope Francis.

The event, which runs July 26-31, is expected to bring up to two million pilgrims from 187 countries to the southern Polish city. Nearly 50 cardinals, 800 bishops and 20,000 priests from around the world are also attending.

"We come from every nation under heaven, like those who came in great numbers to Jerusalem on Pentecost Day, but there are incomparably more of us now than 2,000 years ago, because we are accompanied by centuries of preaching the Gospel," Kraków Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz said during the July 26 opening Mass.

World Youth Day is a worldwide encounter with the pope and is typically celebrated every three years in a different country. The previous WYD was celebrated in Rio de Janeiro in 2013. The gathering is an opportunity for young adults to experience the universality of the church and to deepen their faith and grow closer to Christ, by means of prayer and the sacraments, together with other young people.

The youthful face of God’s mercy can change the hearts of people who have lost hope, Pope Francis told thousands of young men and women July 28 at the WYD welcoming ceremony in Kraków. A young person who is touched by Christ is “capable of truly great things.”

Pope Francis arrives in procession to celebrate Mass to mark the 1,050th anniversary of the baptism of Poland near the Jasna Gora Monastery in Czestochowa, Poland, July 28. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) 

Pope Francis said his visit to Poland is inspired by mercy during this Jubilee Year, and the World Youth Day theme is in line with the year: "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy."

Pope Francis celebrated Mass outside the Marian shrine of Jasna Góra in Czestochowa on July 28. The Mass marked the 1,050th anniversary of the baptism of Poland. Hundreds of thousands of Poles lined the street leading up to the shrine, which houses the famed icon of the "Black Madonna," traditionally held to have been painted by St. Luke the Evangelist.

On July 29, Pope Francis paid silent tribute to the victims of one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century. He visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp in Oswiecim, an area now blanketed by green fields and empty barracks lined by barbed wire fences, remnants of a horror that remains embedded in history.

Crossing the gate inscribed with the infamous motto "Arbeit macht frei" ("Work sets you free") the pope quietly sat on a small bench for 10 minutes with his head bowed, occasionally glancing somberly around before closing his eyes in silent prayer.

Pope Francis enters the main gate of the Auschwitz Nazi death camp in Oswiecim, Poland, July 29. (CNS photo/Alessia Giuliani, pool)

The pope later made his way to Block 11 to greet a dozen survivors of the camp, including a 101-year-old violinist, who survived by being in the camp orchestra. Pope Francis greeted each survivor individually, gently grabbing their hands and kissing their cheeks.

On July 30, Pope Francis held a prayer vigil the evening before the closing Mass of World Youth Day, which was expected to draw more than 1 million people, according to government officials. He also visited a Jesuit community in Kraków, speaking with those involved in the Jesuit-organized MAGIS program for young adults held immediately prior to World Youth Day. 

Beginning in Lódz, Poland, and ending in Czestochowa, MAGIS ran from July 15-25 and sent over 2,000 pilgrims across Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Lithuania on "Ignatian experiments," service, spiritual, pilgrimage or artistic expression activities based loosely on St. Ignatius' life. Participants also heard from Jesuit Father Adolfo Nicolás, Superior General of the Society of Jesus (in a personal video message for MAGIS), and made a pilgrimage to the shrine of Jasna Góra in Czestochowa.

During the events of World Youth Day, MAGIS delegations were housed together in locations across Kraków. Jesuit-run "MAGIS Cafes" in Kraków were set up at the Akademia Ignatianum w Krakowie, or the Jesuit University of Philosophy and Education Ignatianum, and at the Southern Poland Province office near the Main Market Square. MAGIS participants (and anyone else attending World Youth Day) were invited to listen to Ignatian-focused lectures and discussions, and adoration and evening examens were offered in the campus basilica.

The entrance of the MAGIS Cafe located at the Jesuit University of Philosophy and Education Ignatianum in Kraków.

Terry Mintaek Hong, a MAGIS participant from South Korea, was housed at the Ignatianum during World Youth Day events with the rest of the MAGIS delegation from his country. "I think the MAGIS Cafe is a nice place where you get to see other MAGIS people," he said. "It cheers me up because it's a different, smaller environment than World Youth Day. I get to meet more MAGIS people and see familiar faces here."

The fifth annual Iñigo Film Festival, coinciding with World Youth Day every three years, was held in front of the provincial office near the main square from July 26-29. The Jesuit Conference of the European Provincials awarded prizes for narrative fiction, animated and documentary short films created by young filmmakers on the theme "City of God." Seventeen short films were selected to be screened at the festival from a pool of over 1,200 submissions worldwide. 

From left: Audience Award Winner Mingzhu Ma; 1st Prize Winner Shu-Wei Chang; Chen Zeng-You (Actor “YOYO”, 1st Prize); Fidel Goetz Emerging Film Maker Award Winner Jedrzej Michalak; Assistant Director Artur Prus, SJ; Award for Best Humor and Spirituality: Estelle Darnault; Festival Director Christof Wolf, SJ. (Photo by Tony Homsy, SJ)

The 2016 WYD celebration marks the 30th anniversary of when St. John Paul II, the former archbishop of Kraków, invited bishops all over the world to hold an annual event for youth in their dioceses. The first international gathering was in 1987 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where Pope Francis was born and ministered before becoming pope.

[Sources: CNSCatholic, CNS, MAGIS 2016, The Iñigo Film Festival]

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