This week, Pope Francis will make his 15th apostolic visit outside Italy, and his first to the Eastern European nation of Poland. He arrives Wednesday and departs Sunday, here for the World Youth Day already underway.
In an exclusive interview with ZENIT this week in Krakow, Father Pawel Rytel-Andrianik, the spokesman of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, shared not only what’s on the agenda, but some scoops.
ZENIT: What should we expect this World Youth Day (e.g. How many people, from which countries, countries sending the most, etc)?
Father Rytel-Andrianak: We expect at least 1.5 million people to come to Krakow, mostly from Poland, but many from Italy, France, the United States (which is number five in terms of countries sending the most), the UK and Portugal. In fact, the “least young” person to be registered in the World Youth Day is 71, from one of the countries in Latin America, which just goes to show that youth is not counted by age but by heart. [smiling] For the first time in Poland’s history, for one meeting, people are coming from at least 187 countries and regions. The people accredited to the World Youth Day are more than those [nations with a diplomat] accredited to the Holy See, which just goes to show that this event, the World Youth Day, is going beyond diplomacy. This will be one of the most well-attended World Youth Days.
Something really worthy of noting is that this WYD will be different than all those before this one in that it will be very “social.” Now the main source of everyone’s information will be in their pocket, if you will, their cell phones, through social media, all its forms, but especially Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, among others. You cannot ignore World Youth Day. This is significant because on these social networks, which now reach an unprecedented number of people, the people who see the posts are not just Catholics, but anyone connected. Hence, this makes it possible to transmit these messages of this WYD and the Pope beyond religion, but to touch the peripheries and those who are different, as Pope Francis wants. So this is very unique, and marks a new start and a new era of the World Youth Days.
ZENIT: Are there any specific ‘social network’ initiatives taking place that come to mind?
Father Rytel-Andrianak: There should be about 60 young people who through the Bishops Conference of England and Wales are coming to Krakow and through social media will make it possible for all those who wish to follow the events, but can’t be present, to keep up through their social media postings. They’ve prepared and been trained specifically to do this. To further lead and spiritually strengthen the young people, there will be bishop catechists leading discussions. Looking at prelates present, there should be 801 bishops participating as catechists and nearly 50 cardinals present from around the world.
ZENIT: What is the significance of it taking place in John Paul II’s homeland, especially now that he is a saint?
Father Rytel-Andrianak: This is following in the footsteps of John Paul II. As Pope Francis said in his video-message before his visit to Poland, “John Paul II is the architect of the World Youth Day.” Pope Francis really underlines that this initiative is of JPII as the mind behind this occasion bringing the world’s young people together.
ZENIT: How is the Jubilee of Mercy impacting this year’s World Youth Day?
Father Rytel-Andrianak: This Jubilee for Young People is celebrated in the Capital of Mercy and it shows the human face of John Paul II, because the Mass will be in the Shrine dedicated to John Paul II, where there had been the salt mine, where Wojtyla worked. Also, the fact that he will hear confessions in the Shrine of Divine Mercy, dedicated to St. Faustina, who Pope John Paul II canonized is also very significant this Jubilee Year.
ZENIT: How are Christian youth from the persecuted countries (Middle East, Northern Africa, Holy Land, Ukraine, etc) participating or being considered, remembered?
Father Rytel-Andrianak: They’ll find the Church in Poland to be very supportive because the Church in Poland, in the Second World War, saw every fourth or fifth priest be killed. And, in Poland, 6 million Poles were killed or died. Of this number, 3 million were Jews and the other half, the other 3 million, were mostly Catholics. During the Holocaust, in addition to the 3 million Polish Jews killed, there were another 3 million Jewish people from other countries of Europe killed, so about 6 million Jews killed in total. We understand. We welcome those who experience persecution and suffering now and we will see youth from such countries present and participating, for example from Syria, the Middle East, and Africa, particularly South Africa. For example, a young man who will speak and ask Pope Francis a question is from Syria. So this will make his voice heard in the world. There also will be many Ukrainians.
ZENIT: How is the Holy Father participating? Why is his presence significant?
Father Rytel-Andrianak: This is Pope Francis’ first visit to the country and, taking a look at all his travels in Europe, outside of Italy, it marks the first time he has passed more than 24 hours in a given country in the continent. He will pass some days here. His presence and participation shows his love for the young people and for Poland, for the beloved land of his saint-predecessor … I think Pope Francis looks at Poland through the lenses of John Paul II.
ZENIT: For the events of the WYD, who are some of the famous people, artists, who will perform? Be present?
Father Rytel-Andrianak: There will be various personalities, but I wish to point out one in particular that will be incredibly memorable. Achinoam Nini Noa, the Israeli artist who sang Ave Maria in the presence of Pope Francis. Before Sunday’s Mass, for the first time in history, she will sing Ave Maria in Hebrew and in English. She has prepared this specifically for the World Youth Day. This was organized by the institutions of the Catholic Church in Poland and the Israeli embassy. This is very good and important.
ZENIT: What do you think will be some of the highlights this year? What have been some of the challenges?
Father Rytel-Andrianak: What I’d consider the highlights would be the events in Krakow, especially the main Mass in the Campus Misericordia on Sunday, and Czestochowa, for the 1050 years since the Baptism of Poland. Pope Paul VI wanted to be in Poland for the 1000th anniversary but the Communist Party government forbid it. But, it was worth waiting, because now Pope Francis is coming and will celebrate Mass during his visit. Obviously, there is Auschwitz, and notably his silence there, is significant. Pope Francis’ silence at Auschwitz will be like a cry for peace. Actually, that day, there is a moment many may not be aware of. There is a woman who, on the 28th, will have her 101st birthday, and, the next day, will meet Pope Francis at Auschwitz, because she is a survivor of it. Before this encounter, in the days leading up to her moment with the Pope, she’ll, interestingly enough, be hosting a World Youth Day pilgrim herself. This Catholic woman, Helena Niwinska, who lives in Krakow, was a singer and also wrote the book ‘The Ways of My Life.”
But let’s also not forget the joyful moments, like Francis riding the tram –at least in Poland – for the first time.
As far as the challenges, I would say logistics. This is especially because Krakow has never had more than 1 million people for such an extended period of time, as its number of inhabitants is roughly 750,000. But we are used to seeing lots of pilgrims, so we are pretty used to handling lots of visitors and pilgrims, so we feel confident we have it covered.
ZENIT: Are there security concerns? What is being done?
Father Rytel-Andrianak: The Minister of Internal Affairs Mariusz Blaszczak confirms that there is no signal of any danger in Poland. The Polish government ensures that there are not threats or concerns and that all is expected to take place in a safe and professional manner. The places of celebrations will be some of the safest places in the world at that time.
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