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)

A WYD Q&A with Cardinal Tagle

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A #YoungCaritas group selfie with Cardinal Tagle in Krakow. (Photo: Caritas Poland)

KRAKOW, Poland — Michelle Hough, communications officer for Caritas Internationalis, shared her interview with Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, president of the international Caritas network.

Q: The pope gave you a big hug when he saw you on the stage after he arrived at WYD. What’s the pope like as a hugger?

(Laughing) He’s a gentle hugger. The hug is a hug of a father, but also of a friend. When he hugged me on the stage during the opening ceremony he said, “Here he is!” – a hug of recognition – and then he said, “Ma questo ragazzo, you should be there (in the audience) with the young people and not here with the cardinals.”

WYD CARITAS SERVE TAGLE

Philippine Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila claps while speaking to World Youth Day pilgrims July 27 at St. Joseph Church in Krakow, Poland. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Q: When you were introduced to Pope John Paul by Cardinal Ratzinger, referring to your youthful looks the future pope said, “Don’t worry, he’s made his first Communion.” How come you still look like a youth?

I think I don’t take myself seriously, I take the Savior seriously. There is such a great love in the one who died for us that just the thought of that should make us so joyful, energetic and hopeful.

Q: You sang the song “Where is love?” from the musical “Oliver!” following Caritas’s youth gathering the other day, do you know any other show tunes?

I grew up surrounded by music and every occasion reminds me of a song like when I saw #YoungCaritas the other day. I had no plans on referring to that song but when I saw all the young people it came back to me, “Where is love?”

When I was talking about opening ourselves to mercy to a crowd earlier this week and I thought about pride and how we sometimes say emphatically “I can do it my way,” Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” came to mind. It’s not Jesus’ way, I’ll do it MY way. The people in the crowd of my generation knew the lyrics and were dictating them to me…. These songs, the lyrics are good and they allow us to write our own words to continue the song and the melody.

Q: Have you cried yet at World Youth Day?

Yes – in every catechesis! (laughs). I don’t know, it’s not part of the script, it just comes. During the Stations of the Cross (with Pope Francis) there were moments where we just had to cry not only with, but for the many people who are crucified.

Q: What’s the hardest question you’ve received from a young person during the catecheses you’ve done over the past few days?

The questions of the youth are real questions. They’re about life and they can even be called metaphysical, but they’re framed using very simple and innocent terms. One of the most difficult questions was, “How do we forgive terrorists?” There I was confronted with the folly of the cross. We have to beg God for the grace to do this. We turn to stories, to Jesus who forgave not just terrorists from outside, but his own friends who betrayed him. Then you go to the story of John Paul II who even visited the man who tried to kill him … then you know it’s real, it’s not theoretical, you’re not talking about terrorism but coming face to face with a terrorist. That’s where the story begins.

Q: Horrific crimes against humanity took place (at Auschwitz) not far from where WYD is being held in Krakow. How do we forgive without forgetting?

I am a firm believer that you don’t need to forget in order to forgive. In fact remembering might help us forgive. Remembering first the horror of these crimes and that we make a commitment to never allow that to happen again and never to participate in any horrific action. We also remember, not only the victims but also the perpetrators who are also made of dust, like us. Like them, we are all sinners. So in the mystery of sin and failure, we are brothers and that’s why God can be forgiving because God always remembers we’re made of dust and we have to be picked up again and again. I think we need to condemn horrible acts of terror. In fact, we need to hate terrorism. We need that strong feeling. But at a certain point we need to hate hatred itself.

Q: What resources do Polish youth have to face the future?

I really admire the tenacity and strength of the Polish people. I think every generation of Polish people should cherish this legacy of love and country and of culture, love of the earth and of their identity. They should discover over and over again the secret of this strength and they should treasure it, make it grow and pass it on.

Q: How many selfies have been taken with you at World Youth Day?

(Laughs) I don’t know! I think for the young people it’s a way of being present with them. It’s their way of connecting with you.

Q: You have a very busy schedule. Do you ever want to just go home, put your feet up and have a cup of tea?

The one thing I miss terribly is just being by myself and being a regular person, but it’s becoming much more difficult to do that even at home. People think that I’m an extrovert and I know how to handle crowds but I’m really an introvert and very shy. But for me it’s a mission.

Q: One sentence on what it means to be young?

Being young is a grace, it is a gift, and it is a gift to be shared.

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, July 31, 2016

"Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God." -- Luke 12:21

“Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.” — Luke 12:21

 

July 31, Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23

      Psalm 90:3-6, 12-14, 17

      2) Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11

      Gospel: Luke 12:13-21

 

By Jean Denton
Catholic News Service

“All things are vanity!” we read in Ecclesiastes this week as our Scriptures warn us of the spiritual dangers of greed, possessions and worldly pleasures.

Ecclesiastes, with its exclamation points, decries “things” as selfish desires that suck dry our time and energy and leave us with nothing of lasting value.

Jesus’ teaching in Luke’s Gospel is more direct: “One’s life does not consist of possessions,” he says, then tells a parable about a rich man spending his time eating, drinking, being merry and storing up earthly treasure. But Jesus emphasizes there’s no guarantee that treasure will be maintained after one dies.

Strangely, “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” has become a popular catchphrase used to encourage people to avoid worrying about life beyond here and now. But it carries a significantly different message for those who believe in a deeper existence in relationship with God.

My friend Susan is one such believer whose radical rejection of material concerns showed me the greater joy that comes of a commitment to the things of God.

A single mother with a successful career as a professional editor, Susan had built a comfortable life for herself and her daughter. She owned a nice home on several acres of property.

I met her at a crucial time in her life. We were together on her first ever mission trip among the poor. I could see Susan following God’s urging as she daily searched for the meaning of this experience in her life.

A few years later, she joyfully told me her daughter was expecting a baby. Then everything changed for Susan.

Her grandchild had multiple disabilities that brought enormous challenges to the young family.

Susan didn’t think twice as she took early retirement so she could help care for her granddaughter. She managed the consequent financial pinch by selling her home and most of her furniture and accumulated possessions.

She misses none of them, because Susan was changed years earlier among the poor when she discovered the deeper, lasting things of God’s life.

Now she relishes the abiding pleasures of being an essential part of her daughter’s family and watching her granddaughter progress and thrive every day.

QUESTIONS:

What worldly possessions or selfish concerns take your time and energy away from your relationship with God? What things of eternal value are missing from your life?

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.

“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.

Replay: Today’s papal visit to Auschwitz

Since many Americans were sleeping when Pope Francis visited the Auschwitz concentration camp earlier today, here is an easy-to-skim look at how the event unfolded via Twitter:




 




 

[Read our full story here:]

 

[Video:]

Poles can’t help comparing Pope Francis to their favorite son

Pope Francis prays in the chapel of the Black Madonna at the Jasna Gora Monastery in Czestochowa, Poland, July 28. (CNS photo/Grzegorz Galazka, pool)

Pope Francis prays in the chapel of the Black Madonna at the Jasna Gora Monastery in Czestochowa, Poland, July 28. (CNS photo/Grzegorz Galazka, pool)

By Jonathan Luxmoore

CZESTOCHOWA, Poland — Jurek Najgebauer attended Pope Francis’ Mass at the Jasna Gora national monastery. Although police said about 200,000 people attended the Mass, Najgebauer said there were far fewer than when St. John Paul II was there, when there was “no spare place anywhere.”

He said Poles would appreciate Pope Francis’ appeal to humility and simplicity, and against being “attracted by power, by grandeur, by appearances.” However, he also said that some might be offended that the Argentine pope had chosen to stand, rather than kneel, before the fabled Black Madonna icon in Jasna Gora’s Lady Chapel July 28.

“We respect Pope Francis, but he’ll always be a guest here, and there can be no comparison with John Paul II, who was Polish in blood and bone and had a divine gift, as head of the church, in being able to speak directly to each of us.”

Grazyna Swierczewska, a Catholic from Warsaw, said she also believed Pope Francis was being well received in Poland and had chosen his words well “at a time when there’s so much division and aggressiveness, lack of love and faith.”

However, she added that reactions to the pope were a lot less enthusiastic than under his Polish predecessor, who had been able to “speak directly to the nation.”

Pope John Paul II prays in front of the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Poland in this 1999 photo. (CNS photo courtesy Pope John Paul II Cultural Center)

Pope John Paul II prays in front of the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Poland in this 1999 photo. (CNS photo courtesy Pope John Paul II Cultural Center)

“Of course, we’re listening and considering what he says in our own way — but when John Paul II preached, he caught us with every word,” said Swierczewska, who left the Polish capital at 4 a.m. to reach Jasna Gora.

“We’re still here, in this special place for Poles. But the atmosphere is clearly quite different now.”

A Catholic priest from Belarus, who was in Czestochowa during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit in May 2006, said he also thought the pontiff’s homily had been well received.

“The pope understands people here because he understands the church,” said Father Pawel Wikary, who came with a large group of Belarusian Catholics. “People in our region know what it means to be considered small and humble alongside the world’s big powers. So his carefully appeal to unity and identity will suit people well.”

However, recently retired Auxiliary Bishop Antoni Dlugosz of Czestochowa said he believed Francis had a “deep understanding of popular feelings,” as a Jesuit and former parish priest.

He added that prayers recited at the Mass for Poland, on the 1050th anniversary of its Christian conversion, had been “well expressed and welcomed.”

“Coming from Buenos Aires, he knows about wealth and poverty and is fearless in asserting the need for divine mercy, whatever the media may say,” Bishop Dlugosz said. “The pope’s words were concrete and challenging, and I think he’s been well prepared when it come to the situation in Poland and the rest of Europe.”

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.

– – –

Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

 

 

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