World Youth Day in Krakow: Fraternity Not Violence Must Prevail

The murder of a French priest by ISIS affiliated assailants overshadowed today's opening Mass of World Youth Day but the Gospel message triumphed.

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An afternoon of storms and heavy rain couldn’t dampen the spirits of the hundreds and thousands of pilgrims who have been descending on Krakow all day for the opening Mass of the 31st World Youth Day.

Chanting, cheering, and the sound of countless languages being spoken emanated from streams of young people making their way to the Mass, dressed in multicolored plastic ponchos to keep off the rain which cleared in time for the open air liturgy in a large park near central Krakow.

But the heavy downpour and muggy afternoon also matched the news coming out of France. The murder in Rouen of 86 year old Father Jacques Hamel by Islamists has naturally shaken everyone here, especially coming so soon after the Nice attack and a spate of similar atrocities in both France and Germany. Some French pilgrims chanted La Marseillaise in defiance; many others took a moment to pray.

Overall, the reaction has been to emphasize the importance of fraternity and to stress that violence will not prevail. Msgr. Olivier Ribadeau Dumas, secretary general of the French Bishops Conference, told reporters in Krakow this afternoon that the atrocity was “an unbelievable, unspeakable and heinous act.”

But he added that it means World Youth Day “needs to proceed with even greater intensity and power so young people who are the present and the future can show a path for the Church, and for being within the Church.”

“We need to see a horizon of peace, joy, brotherhood and prayer,” he continued. “We are rooted in Christ and, I repeat, we believe evil and violence will not have the upper hand.”

Noting that many young people from Rouen are in Krakow for WYD, he said they have come “to build a new civilization of love that Pope St. John Paul II had called for — we want to build it and that’s why we’re gathered here in such big numbers.”

He stressed that “anger and revenge would be the easiest ways out but all of this can crush us” and called for mercy on the perpetrators, saying that we all “live thanks to Jesus and we’re all gathered here because of the mercy he has lavished on us all.” Neither violence nor hate “are a way out”, he said, and one “cannot surrender to these sentiments,” nor to “suspicion of neighbors.”

He also recalled that in every part of the world today people are “killed because they’re Christians or Muslims, more Muslims than Christians.” Asked by the Register if what is really needed is for Muslims to hear the Gospel and convert, he said “sure”, but added that what is important now is dialogue, collaboration and fraternity.

“The answer is only love,” he said. “We cannot do anything else: love, love, love, dialogue, dialogue and also mercy for all those who are totally destroyed by the violence.” 

Msgr. Dumas and WYD organizers offered reassurances on security. "I’m sure the police authorities will do all they have to do to ensure the security of this World Youth Day," Msgr. Dumas said.

According to international media coordinator Yago de la Cierva, there are 20,000 agents providing security for the pilgrims. “Their planning has been exhaustive from the very beginning of World Youth Day preparations two years ago. They even had a general test with the NATO summit in Warsaw a few weeks ago, and all went well. They have put in place several additional measures such as police controls at the borders and suspension of Schengen agreement. It is possible to say that Krakow is probably the safest city in Europe this week,” he said. 

Father Hamel, who was martyred while celebrating Mass, and others who have died for their faith, were remembered at this evening's opening Mass.

Cardinal Dziwisz's homily

In his homily, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow drew attention to WYD pilgrims’ vast array of backgrounds. “Among us are young pilgrims from parts of the world that are ruled by violence and blind terrorism , and where authorities usurp power over man and nations, following insane ideologies,” he said. “We bring our fears and disappointments, but also our hopes and yearning, our desire to live in a more human, more fraternal and solidary world.”

He added that it is “up to us to ensure that the Gospel reaches those who have not yet heard about Christ or have not learnt enough about Him.” And he urged the estimated 200,000 pilgrims present to “share our faith, our experiences, our hopes.”

“May the flame of love engulf our world and rid it of egoism, violence and injustice so that a civilization of good, reconciliation, love and peace will be strengthened on our earth,” he said.

Various pilgrims have been sharing their initial perceptions of this year’s World Youth Day. Elizabeth from Ukraine said although there is conflict between Ukraine and Russia on a political level, on a human level there is a connection that destroys those political blocks and as just simply human beings there is friendship, love and mercy for one another.

Rosa from South Korea said she came to Krakow because back home she has no chance of meeting other Catholics and wants to meet more people with the same beliefs and feel the energy and love towards God. Rosa gave up all her vacations days in South Korea just to come to Krakow.

Jamie Hughs from South Africa initially wasn’t planning on coming to World Youth Day but was offered the chance and decided to take it. He now realizes that it was the work of the Holy Spirit. 

Lastly, Carolina from Syria said God is suffering with the people in her country and believes young people can one day rebuild their house, which is the kingdom of God. She urged her compatriots not to be afraid, stressing that God told us not to fear, and that life is not about winning and losing. She is also hoping that the Pope will offer words that will deepen relationships with others and offer the meaning to life and suffering. Carolina is one of 22 Syrians to have made it to Krakow. 

Tomorrow, at 4pm, Pope Francis will arrive at John Paul II International Airport in Krakow–Balice. In the afternoon and evening he will address authorities and diplomats, visit the Polish President, and have a private, informal meeting with Polish bishops in Wawel cathedral. The day will close with the Pope appearing in the Papal Window to greet the faithful gathered in the square in front of the Bishop’s Residence in Krakow.