“You are the future of this world. You are the hope of the Church. You are my hope!”
St John Paul II spoke these words on the day of his election to the See of Peter, addressing them to the young people who had gathered in St Peter’s Square and also to all those young people watching around the world on television. Young people were, clearly, very special to the Holy Father.
At the close of the Holy Year of Redemption in 1984, around 300,000 young people had gathered in St Peter’s Square on Palm Sunday in response to the Pope’s invitation to come and celebrate an International Jubilee of Youth. Here, he entrusted to the young people what would later be known as the World Youth Day Cross. He wanted them to take it throughout all the world, as a symbol of the love of Christ. A similar event took place on Palm Sunday of the following year, 1985, and in December of that year, the Holy Father announced the beginning of the official World Youth Day. The first official World Youth Day took place in 1986. It has continued every three years ever since. The last one was celebrated in Rio de Janeiro in 2013.
This year, World Youth Day will take place in Krakow, Poland, beginning on Monday of next week, 25th July 2016.
Poland, of course, was the homeland of two very special Saints of our times – St John Paul and St Faustina. Faustina would remain quietly in a convent, living a life of prayer and sacrifice for the Church and for the world – and here, the Merciful Lord would reveal to her the new form of devotion to Him as Divine Mercy. Later, this devotion would be approved fully by the Church and from Poland, it spread across all the world, becoming a means of great graces and mercy for souls, drawing them ever closer to the Merciful Heart of Jesus. Later still, Pope John Paul would beatify and finally canonise Sister Faustina, making her the first Saint of the third millennium. Five years later, he would join her in Heaven before he, too, was proclaimed a Saint.
And so, this World Youth Day can be absolutely certain of the very special – and very powerful – patronage of two of the greatest Saints of our era, both of whom are intimately connected to Krakow.
Young people from every part of the earth will travel to Krakow. Prior to their departure, there have been preparations in the dioceses from which they have come. Recently, I have been reading of the departures of groups from all parts of the United Kingdom, including the Diocese of Wrexham in England, and the Diocese of Motherwell in Scotland. No doubt these young people are all being well supported by the prayers of a great many of the faithful across the world. There has also been an online spiritual conference entitled ‘For Us And For The Whole World‘, focussing on the Works Of Mercy as a spiritual preparation for World Youth Day.
Already, the Twitter feeds of many dioceses are filled with images on young people en route to Krakow or already there.
Once at Krakow, there is a busy schedule of events due to take place. Today, many of the youth are visiting Auschwitz, a place where mercy existed despite the inhumanity of man to his fellow man. There are numerous catechetical sessions, which have been taking place in the days prior to the official opening of the event and will continue during it, as well as walking pilgrimages, the Sacrifice of the Mass, and prayerful devotions such as the Stations of the Cross. There will also be a youth festival. And of course, on Thursday, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, will arrive. He will host a Vigil on Saturday evening, then Mass on Sunday morning.
For these young people, an event such as this – preceded by spiritual formation and preparation – will certainly have long-lasting effects. These young people will come back changed and transformed, touched by the mercy and grace of the living Lord, toward Whom all of this is directed. It will plant seeds of grace in the souls of these young people; and in time, these seeds will grow and, God willing, bear good fruit. The sheer numbers taking part should be a comfort to all who worry about the future of the Church. St John Paul knew that it was safe in hands such as these, who he called “the future of the world, the hope of the Church”.
May all of us take a moment to pray for these young people and for all who lead, support and sustain them, that this event will truly be a moment of grace for them, for the Church and for the whole world.
Saint John Paul, pray for them. Saint Faustina, pray for them.