By Dennis Sadowski
KRAKOW, Poland — What’s a little summer downpour among friends?
Priscilla Ho and her friends from St. Francis Xavier Church in Vancouver, British Columbia, took an afternoon thundershower in stride as they made their way through Krakow’s Old City to the opening Mass for World Youth Day.
“It shouldn’t bother anybody,” she said near the city’s famed Planty, a park that encircles the Old City. “I’m here to get to know God a little better and be inspired by the city of Pope John Paul II.”
Seas of pilgrims in bright red, blue and yellow ponchos — the colors of World Youth Day — made their way through the city in waves toward Blonia Park for the opening Mass.
Doreen Kempf, 24 and her cousin, Chiara Titze, 17, both of Trier, Germany, stayed dry under red ponchos. “The rain doesn’t hurt,” Kempf said.
“The people are from different countries and we practice peace and we have the same belief in God and the same values. That’s all that matters,” she said.
Lucas Krobeth and a group of 13 of his friends from Klagenfurt, Austria, stood outside of the Basilica of the Holy Trinity as the last raindrops fell before walking to the Mass.
“I’m here because there are so many young people who pray and we will pray together,” he said. “We pray together and you see you are not alone praying to God.”
Pilgrims jammed buses and trams and joined special programs of music, faith-sharing and study in parks and squares across the city in the hours before the Mass. North of the central city, in Krowoderski Park, a group of about 100 young people from France listened to a midday concert of contemporary inspirational music. Nearby another 20 young people involved in the Global Catholic Climate Movement gathered for a prayer service to inaugurate the World Youth Day eco-village.
They planned to spend time gathering signatures on a petition — the same one endorsed by Pope Francis — asking world leaders to take immediate action on climate change and to protect the planet. Their goal is 1 million signatures; the GCCM reports about 900,000 names to date.
Allen Ottaro, 32, executive director of Catholic Youth Movement for Environmental Sustainability in Africa, said he wanted to bring the concerns expressed by St. John Paul II and Pope Francis to as many young people as possible.
“In his time here he (St. John Paul) spent a lot of the time in nature, hiking in the mountains and skiing,” Ottaro told Catholic News Service.
“Now in 2016 we have Pope Francis, who chose the name Francis to show his concern for the ecology. We can have this opportunity to reach out to young people to continue the mission of St. John Paul II and Pope Francis,” he said.
A few tram stops from the park, at rondo Mogilskie, Gavin Gima, 25, who lives in the Diocese of Miri, Malaysia, was making his way to meet friends from his homeland for the opening Mass after spending the day exploring Krakow.
Gima is nearly finished with coursework in dentistry and said he was “still sorting out what God wants me to do.” Coming to World Youth Day, he said, might help provide an answer.
Nearer to the Mass site at Blonia Park, as the clouds thickened and grew darker, pilgrims seemed to take over the city. At one tram about 30 Belgians were dancing and singing. At another stop outside the main post office, a group of friends from Alliance of Mercy Parish in Lisbon Portugal, took cover under a tram stop shelter as the rains hit.
Jose Landim, 27, one of Lisbon pilgrims, said it was Pope Francis that attracted the 14 people with whom he was traveling. “You can see we’re diverse,” he said, noting that the pope appeals to young people of many different backgrounds. He made a point to say those in the group had parents who were born in Ghana, Cape Verde, Brazil and elsewhere.
Suddenly more thunder rumbled over the city. It didn’t dissuade a group of Canadians passing Landim and friends. They cheered. Blonia Park was ahead.
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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.