World Youth Day Kraków, From a Catholic Mom Who’s Been There

World-Youth-Day-KrakowHave you heard of World Youth Day? Most people haven’t, unless they have attended one or lived in a city that has hosted one. Well, news flash … there is one going on right now, in Kraków, Poland, and over a million people are going to be there.

World Youth Day comprises days of encounter between the pope and the youth of the world. It’s a yearly event on a local level, held every Palm Sunday. But every two or three years, the pope calls for young Catholics from around the globe to gather in a city for what some have called “Catholic Woodstock,” but it’s far more than just a party (although a lot of fun is had there, too).

In December of 1985, Saint Pope John Paul II formally instituted World Youth Day (WYD), and the first was held in Rome in 1986. The next international WYD was held in 1987 in Buenos Aires, Argentina (home town of our current pope – there’s some foreshadowing for you).

Since then, they’ve been held in Santiago de Compostela, Spain (1989); Czestochowa, Poland (1991); Denver, USA (1993); Manila, Philippines (1995); Paris, France (1997); Rome (2000); Toronto, Canada (2002); Cologne, Germany (2005); Sydney, Australia (2008); Madrid, Spain (2011); Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (2013); and currently, Kraków.

WYD was created as a tool of evangelization for a demographic that needed special attention in the modern age. Since then, WYDs have been the cause of many conversions and vocations to the priesthood and religious life.  They draw crowds of millions of youth from all around the world, has even drawn the second largest crowd assembled in human history – 5 million in Manila in 1995.

It’s no wonder conversions happen, and that millions attend. Happiness abounds, from the moment that the small groups of youth – wearing their custom made T-shirts – gather in the airport of departure to the host city. Once arrived, there are even more small groups walking up and down streets with their guitars, singing their songs of praise to God, as they go to their next youth talk, holy site, Mass, or WYD event.

Already for the Kraków event, there are YouTube videos chronicling trips, and visits to special places in Poland, most notably Auschwitz. The city is fully alive and taken over by Catholicism, in its most youthful and positive sense.

Here’s the video of the opening Mass, with Pope Francis …

Historically there has been reluctance on the part of secular media outlets to say positive things about Catholic events. At least that was the case in 2008, when I had the privilege of producing the coverage of the Sydney WYD for Catholic TV, radio and digital network EWTN.

It was Pope Benedict XVI’s second World Youth Day. He was still relatively new to the papacy. There were lingering, unfounded doubts about his past World War II Germany, and, there he was, about to arrive to Australia, one of the most liberal nations on earth.  The hostility was palpable, from the rumored demonstration that was set to take place (which ended up being only a handful of people) to one-sided news reports and headlines we would see around the city.

But Australians, known for their openness, were changed by the groups of joyous pilgrims that would chant happy songs as they walked from event to event, being loving and respectful. The Aussies reciprocated by singing along to their chants on the side of the road, by giving rides to the misplaced WYD pilgrims, and even by accommodating the accidentally unsheltered ones.

As the week of WYD festivities progressed, the news reports we would watch got increasingly positive about the young visitors, the pope, and even the Church.

The same is sure to happen in Kraków, and you and your family will be able to “be” there as well. There will be coverage on many Catholic channels. However, I highly recommend the EWTN coverage, due to their access to the different Catholic speakers and artists that will be attending, and also their connections to the ministries, and religious orders that will be represented.

Father Mark Mary, MFVA, is the host of his fifth WYD coverage; Joining him on set are Chris Stefanick of Real Life Catholic, and Jason Evert of the Chastity Project, both seasoned and highly experienced speakers for the youth.

They are hosts for papal events, with play-by play-commentary. They’re also interviewing pilgrims, and providing in-depth coverage of the youth concerts, talks, and festivals taking place throughout the week. Here is the link to the EWTN coverage schedule that will be posted daily. These are events your whole family is sure to enjoy.

The change I witnessed in Sydney has been typical for all host cities where the pope has encountered the youth – and the changes stand the test of time. The youth do not forget the messages of the Vicar of Christ on earth. The large numbers show that they are searching for something more, and desire to create a better more just and loving society.

WYD was truly one of the greatest innovations of inspiration in the history of civilization. It’s unfortunate that the secular media too often fails to perceive or acknowledge the astounding reality of these events, as some of the greatest and largest gatherings of the human community.

It’s all because one man, inspired by the Faith and, no doubt, the movements of the Holy Spirit, chose to innovate how the Church approached and evangelized young people, who are seeking meaning, love, and of course, Christ.

Image: Courtesy Holy Cross Family Ministry President Father Willy Raymond, C.S.C.

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