In midst of Syrian war, young people celebrate World Youth Day

Young people in Aleppo, Syria, gathered at Santa Matilde church for a parallel World Youth Day celebration. (CNS photo/courtesy Krakow 2016 International Media Team)

Young people in Aleppo, Syria, gathered at Santa Matilde church for a parallel World Youth Day celebration. (CNS photo/courtesy Krakow 2016 International Media Team)

As World Youth Day pilgrims gathered for a July 30 prayer vigil with Pope Francis in Poland, about 1,200 young people came together in Aleppo, Syria, to celebrate their own version of the international event.

The July 29-30 gathering in Aleppo was organized with the approval of local bishops. More than 30 associations, church groups and schools were involved.

“Doing something like this is not easy in times of war. We had a lot of difficulties but try to overcome them,” said a Salesian priest who was one of the organizers of the Aleppo gathering. He made the comments in a statement released by World Youth Day organizers in Krakow.

The Aleppo event had as its theme “Move the Heart,” accompanied by the Gospel phrase “Blessed are the merciful, for they will have mercy.”

Confessions were part of the parallel World Youth Day celebration in Aleppo. (CNS photo/courtesy Krakow 2016 International Media Team)

Confessions were part of the parallel World Youth Day celebration in Aleppo. (CNS photo/courtesy Krakow 2016 International Media Team)

It took place in the Salesians’ Santa Matilde church. Like the Krakow World Youth Day, it included catechetical sessions on the face of mercy and the dynamics of mercy; the opening of a Door of Mercy just for the event with the presence and blessing of Bishop Georges Abou Khazen of Aleppo; eucharistic adoration and the sacrament of reconciliation; prayer for peace in Syria and in the world; and a celebration and sharing of experiences.

The young people in Aleppo addressed greetings to Pope Francis and posted video and other images of their gathering online.

In Krakow, the plight of the Syrian people was never far from the World Youth Day pilgrims. At the Field of Mercy, they heard testimony from 26-year-old Rand Mittri of Aleppo, who shared the pain and sorrow that comes from seeing her city “destroyed, ruined and broken.”

The situation in Syria also was recalled during the Way of the Cross July 29 at World Youth Day in Blonia Park in Krakow.

The first station — Jesus sentenced to death — related to sheltering the homeless and refugees who share in that same suffering through humanity’s indifference. A couple who fled Syria was among those who helped carry the cross.

Pope Francis, who had watched from the stage, began his address by welcoming the Syrian refugees “with fraternal affection and friendship.”

“By embracing the wood of the cross, Jesus embraced the nakedness, the hunger and thirst, the loneliness, pain and death of men and women of all times. Tonight, Jesus — and we with him — embrace with particular love our brothers and sisters from Syria who have fled from the war,” he said.

Young Syrians gather outside Santa Mathilde church in Aleppo for a World Youth Day celebration; they could not travel to Krakow, Poland. (CNS photo/courtesy Krakow 2016 International Media Team)

Young Syrians gather outside Santa Mathilde church in Aleppo for a World Youth Day celebration; they could not travel to Krakow, Poland. (CNS photo/courtesy Krakow 2016 International Media Team)

Twice lucky: Young Pole spends time with Pope Francis

Andrej Witas, 26, with his father, Tadeusz, holds the rosary he received from Pope Francis July 28 when they both rode a tram through Krakow, Poland, to the welcoming ceremony for World Youth Day. (CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski)

Andrej Witas, 26, with his father, Tadeusz, holds the rosary he received from Pope Francis July 28 when they both rode a tram through Krakow, Poland, to the welcoming ceremony for World Youth Day. (CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski)

By Dennis Sadowski

KRAKOW, Poland — For the second day in a row, Andrej Witas got to spend some time with Pope Francis at World Youth Day.

Witas, 26, sat in his wheelchair with his father in a special section for people with disabilities to the left of the stage at the Way of the Cross in Blonia Park July 29. The previous day, he joined Pope Francis on his tram ride through the city. He was selected to by Klika, a Catholic organization sponsored by the Dominican order for people with disabilities their family members and friends.

Pope Francis greets a young man while riding a tram to reach the World Youth Day welcoming ceremony with young people in Blonia Park in Krakow, Poland, July 28. (CNS photo/Alessia Giuliani, pool)

Pope Francis greets a young man while riding a tram to reach the World Youth Day welcoming ceremony with young people in Blonia Park in Krakow, Poland, July 28. (CNS photo/Alessia Giuliani, pool)

“It was a spirited experience,” Witas told Catholic News Service the tram ride was “a spirited experience.”

“I will never forget it,” he said, beaming.

Witas’ father, Tadeusz, pulled a brown leather-like pouch from his pocket. Inside was a rosary, a gift from Pope Francis.

Tadeusz Witas said Pope Francis was the second pope his son had met. In 2008, he met Pope Benedict XVI in Rome as part of a program organized by a local foundation.

The Witas family planned to see the pope one more time: at Field of Mercy July 30 as the overnight vigil for World Youth Day pilgrims gets underway.

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

Downpour doesn’t dampen enthusiasm of WYD pilgrims

Pilgrims sporting ponchos the color of World Youth Day did not have their spirits dampened by rain July 26. (CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski)

Pilgrims sporting ponchos the color of World Youth Day did not have their spirits dampened by rain July 26. (CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski)

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.

Pilgrims walk along the Wisla River in Krakow, Poland, on their way to the open Mass for World Youth Day July 26. (CNS/Dennis Sadowski)

Pilgrims walk along the Wisla River in Krakow, Poland, on their way to the open Mass for World Youth Day July 26. (CNS/Dennis Sadowski)

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.

 

 

At Krakow airport, volunteers sport smile, deep sense of faith

Paulina Tempinska of Krakow, Poland, helps a World Youth Day at John Paul II Airport. (CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski)

Paulina Tempinska of Krakow, Poland, helps a World Youth Day at John Paul II Airport. (CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski)

By Dennis Sadowski

KRAKOW, Poland — If it wasn’t Michel Zak’s smile that World Youth Day pilgrims noticed as they arrived at Krakow’s John Paul II Airport, they were sure to see the enormous baby blue foam hand he was waving.

Zak, 25, who lives in France, wanted to make sure the first impression the pilgrims had was positive, and if it took waving a strange looking hand, so be it.

One of a crew of 70 young adult volunteers welcoming people from around the world to World Youth Day, Zak said he had been helping French-speaking people communicate with their Polish hosts. He said it was a way to live out his faith in a diverse world.

Volunteers were easy to spot and not just for their smiles. They wore bright blue polo shirts with a large “V” emblazoned on the back in white; a small World Youth Day logo was on the front.

Jacinta Ching of Sydney was handing out single-decade rosaries made of bright red and gold rings and a reproduction of the cross St. John Paul II carried throughout his priesthood.

“Seeing all the people coming in sure gives a lot of excitement,” said Ching, 26, who works in the treasury department for New South Wales. “It’s really cool to be here as the world is coming here. Coming here from a secular country and every couple of blocks you have a Catholic church in a country that is unapologetically Catholic is inspiring.”

Jacinta Ching of Australia, Augustin Woronoff of Belgium, Jeanne Danson of Switzerland, Lucia Hoppanova and Marianna Burbova, both of Slovakia, were among 70 volunteers greeting World Youth Day pilgrims at John Paul II Airport in Krakow, Poland. (CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski)

Jacinta Ching of Australia, Augustin Woronoff of Belgium, Jeanne Danson of Switzerland, Lucia Hoppanova and Marianna Burbova, both of Slovakia, were among 70 volunteers greeting World Youth Day pilgrims at John Paul II Airport in Krakow, Poland. (CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski)

The volunteers included young adults from Belgium, Poland, Slovakia, Switzerland, New Zealand and elsewhere. Several said they wanted to step up because World Youth Day doesn’t happen every year.

Paulina Tempinska, 20, of Krakow, who is studying law at Jagiellonian University, said she found the time volunteering — 10 hours and counting July 24 — worthwhile.

“I love helping people. I love to see how they react. I love to see their emotions. I feel so blessed when I help them. I also want to meet people who believe in God,” she said before returning to the information booth to answer questions from pilgrims.

Jeanne Danson, 29, of Switzerland explained that her reason for volunteering focused on her faith and returning something to the church, especially when her life is filled with work requirements.

Danson, a pilgrim to World Youth Day in Rio de Janiero in 2013, said she wanted to see what it was like working “from the inside” to see what was going on. What she said she found was God working on the inside.

“That’s the mystery of these days. There’s so many individuals really. We’re all here for Jesus. God is so big. God is so vast. When you listen to people and even if they live so far away, God lives in their lives. God is everywhere.”

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

World Youth Day pilgrims from Lima, Peru, pose for a photo in front of an image of St. John Paul II after arriving July 23 at John Paul II International Airport in Krakow, Poland. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

World Youth Day pilgrims from Lima, Peru, pose for a photo in front of an image of St. John Paul II after arriving July 23 at John Paul II International Airport in Krakow, Poland. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Pilgrim cheat sheet for World Youth Day in Krakow

St. Leonard's Crypt below Wawel Cathedral dates to the 11th century. It holds the tombs of Polish royalty and military heroes. Father Karol Wotyla (St. John Paul II) celebrated his first Mass as a priest in the crypt. The city, once the royal capital of Poland, will host the international World Youth Day in July. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

St. Leonard’s Crypt below Wawel Cathedral dates to the 11th century. It holds the tombs of Polish royalty and military heroes. Father Karol Wotyla (St. John Paul II) celebrated his first Mass as a priest in the crypt. The city, once the royal capital of Poland, will host the international World Youth Day in July. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

There’s so much to experience in Krakow and its surroundings that it’s difficult to parse a list of helpful tips and favorites. However, while traveling with Poles around Poland last year, CNS contributor Nancy Wiechec was able to come up with a short list to pass on to World Youth Day pilgrims. Print out or save to your phone for quick reference.

Key Polish words

Dzień dobry (Jeyn dob-ry) Hello or good day, formal

Cześć (Chesht-sh) Hello or goodbye, informal

Spoko (S-poko) Cool, no problem

Dobrze (Dob-sheh) Good or well

Dziękuję (Jen-koo-yeah) Thank you

Magiczny Kraków (Ma-geech-nih Krah-koof) Magical Krakow

Obwarzanki for sale in central Krakow. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Obwarzanki for sale in central Krakow. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Foods to try

Pierogi: These Polish dumplings come filled with savory meats, cheese or seasoned cabbage and mushrooms. There are also fruit-filled varieties. They come boiled, fried or baked.

Kabanosy: Thin, dry smoked pork sausages that are a good on-the-go snack. Think jerky. Krakowski Kredens Tradycja Galicyjska in Krakow sells them and other Polish delicacies.

Obwarzanki: These chewy dough rings, sometimes shaped like a pretzel, are sprinkled with salt, poppy and/or sesame seeds. Get them fresh in the morning from street carts across Krakow. At about 1.5 Polish zloty (40 cents), they are a bargain.

Zapiekanka: A toasted half sandwich roll topped with melted cheese, mushrooms and ketchup was a Communist-era omnipresent street food. It’s made a comeback with better quality and a seemingly infinite variety of toppings.

Zurek: Poles love a good soup. This savory broth of soured rye meal and herbs is often made hearty with fresh Polish sausage, hardboiled eggs and bacon.

Kremówki papieskie: A favorite of St. John Paul II from his hometown of Wadowice, papal cream cake is now a sought-after sweet across the country.

This is an interior view taken in early September of St. Mary's Basilica in Krakow, Poland. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

This is an interior view taken in early September of St. Mary’s Basilica in Krakow, Poland. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

 

Must-see sites

Main Market Square and St. Mary’s Basilica

Wawel Castle and Cathedral

Jewish Quarter

St. Peter and Paul Church

Sanctuary of the Divine Mercy

Why rain in Spain is to blame for student’s new odyssey to Rome

By Elliot Williams

VATICAN CITY — As Pope Francis released his annual message for World Youth Day last week, I couldn’t help but recall my own experience as a pilgrim four years ago. The trip was surreal. I had barely traveled anywhere in the United States on my own, and certainly had never been abroad. Yet, I refused to be held back by the fear of the unknown, so in the summer of 2011, I went along with Auxiliary Bishop Michael J. Fitzgerald of my local Philadelphia Archdiocese to Madrid for World Youth Day. As a leader in an archdiocesan youth group, I was blessed enough to be chosen as one of five students to embark on the pilgrimage.

sanctuary of loyola spain

Villanova student and CNS intern, Elliot Williams, in front of the Sanctuary of Loyola in Azpeitia, Spain, in 2011, during World Youth Day celebrations. (CNS photo/Elliot Williams).

I kept a journal, took pictures, and reveled in the bliss of Europe as we traveled through Lourdes, France; Lisbon, Portugal and Burgos, Spain, visiting sites where the Blessed Mother appeared to those suffering from poverty and war. Throughout the 10-day excursion, we spent many hours listening to motivational speakers who spread messages of love, self-control, and the value of young lives — much like the message Pope Francis shared with the youth in preparation for WYD 2016, to be held in Krakow, Poland next summer.

Our trip culminated with a message from Pope Benedict XVI, which focused primarily on building faith. Four years later, the message from Pope Francis suggests a resemblance to the former, but centers mostly on the Beatitudes, and seeking happiness through the Lord. For those attending WYD in Krakow, this spiritual journey will be life changing, unprecedented for most young people, especially for those who have never seen the Holy Father speak in public before.

1storm wyd

An aide holds an umbrella for Pope Benedict XVI as rain and wind moves through the Cuatro Vientos airfield in Madrid during the World Youth Day vigil Aug. 20. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

I will never forget camping out on a massive lawn of soil with a sea of fellow pilgrims, and watching as the sky turned from a promising blue, to a menacing red, threatening to end the entire event. Pope Benedict XVI spoke for as long as he could before the wind and the rain made it nearly impossible for him to continue (or for his cap to stay on his head). The wild storm persisted, after temperatures had peaked in the 100s (Fahrenheit) a few hours earlier.

I hardly fell asleep that night. Scared, wet and confused, I laid cocooned in a sleeping bag as the pope’s words about remaining strong, despite the rain, churning in my head. After a long night, we awoke to an unexpectedly clear sky. I dare say it was one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen. Firefighters were circling the field, spraying pilgrims with refreshing water to keep us cool. Pope Benedict’s message about remaining firm in the faith was coming to life right before our eyes. The brightest days often come after the stormiest nights, right? Quite the cliché if you ask me. However, I believe that everyone who witnessed that fascinating event four years ago was profoundly impacted.

Now, a third-year student at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, I am interning for Catholic News Service’s Rome Bureau, about a stone’s throw from St. Peter’s Square. What can I say? I just can’t stay away from pontifical goings-on. I would be lying if I said that WYD 2011 isn’t the reason I’m sitting here in Rome, writing this post. Perhaps it is the beauty of Christ, which Pope Francis often speaks of, that so attracts me. Or maybe it is the delicious food that has brought me to Rome.

In either case, I believe the real answer can be found in the remarks of St. John Paul II — who created World Youth Day 30 years ago — spoken at WYD 2000, “It is He who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise.”

I urge those attending WYD 2016 to keep an open heart, to embrace the universal message of change that Pope Francis hopes to share, and in case there is a nasty thunderstorm… pack a poncho.

sunrise

The sun rises as pilgrims prepare for the final Mass of World Youth Day at Cuatro Vientos airfield in Madrid Aug. 21, 2011. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Elliot Williams is a Communication major at Villanova University. He is originally from Abington, PA, and is studying abroad at Roma Tre University, while interning for Catholic News Service’s Rome bureau. Elliot is an avid Nutella fanatic.

Official prayer, logo for World Youth Day 2016

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican and the Archdiocese of Krakow — host of WYD 2016 — unveiled today the official logo and prayer for the international youth gathering that’s set for July 26-31, two years from now.

logo-400

Both the prayer and the logo focus on Divine Mercy and the theme chosen by Pope Francis from the Gospel of St. Matthew: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”

Here’s a handy breakdown of the logo, describing what it means:

wyd symbols mean

Graphic distributed on the Facebook page of the official World Youth Day website: http://www.krakow2016.com/en/

The Archdiocese of Krakow is the former see of St. John Paul II and is home to the Divine Mercy sanctuary. St. John Paul had a great devotion to the Divine Mercy, the recognition of God’s mercy as demonstrated in his sending his son to die for the sins of humanity.

Here’s the official prayer (in English and Spanish), which begins with a line from the homily St. John Paul II delivered at the dedication of the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Krakow in 2002.

 

Prayer for World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow

“‘God, merciful father,
in your son, Jesus Christ, you have revealed your love
and poured it out upon us in the Holy Spirit, the comforter,
we entrust to you today the destiny of the world and of every man and woman.’

We entrust to you in a special way
young people of every language, people and nation:
guide and protect them as they walk the complex paths of the world today
and give them the grace to reap abundant fruits
from their experience of the Krakow World Youth Day.

Heavenly Father,
grant that we may bear witness to your mercy.
Teach us how to convey the faith to those in doubt,
hope to those who are discouraged,
love to those who feel indifferent,
forgiveness to those who have done wrong
and joy to those who are unhappy.
Allow the spark of merciful love that you have en-kindled within us
become a fire that can transform hearts and renew the face of the earth.

Mary, Mother of Mercy, pray for us.

St. John Paul II, pray for us.”

 

Oracion para la Jornada Mundial de la Juventud de Cracovia 2016

“’Dios, Padre misericordioso,
Que has revelado tu amor en tu hijo, Jesucristo
y lo has derramado sobre nosotros en el Espíritu Santo, consolador,
te encomendamos hoy el destino del mundo y de todo hombre.’
Te encomendamos en modo particular
los jóvenes de toda lengua, pueblo y nación.
Guíales y protégeles en los complejos caminos de hoy
y dales la gracia de poder cosechar abundantes frutos
de la experiencia de la Jornada Mundial de la Juventud de Cracovia.

Padre celestial,
haznos testigos de tu misericordia.
Enséñanos a llevar la fe a los que dudan,
la esperanza a los desanimados,
el amor a los indiferentes,
el perdón a quien ha obrado el mal
y la alegría a los infelices.
Haz que la chispa del amor misericordioso
que has encendido dentro de nosotros
se convierta en un fuego que transforma los corazones
y renueva la faz de la tierra.

María, Madre de Misericordia, ruega por nosotros.
San Juan Pablo II, ruega por nosotros.”

 

 

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