Pope sets off to Poland to inaugurate World Youth Day 2016


Before heading off for Poland, Pope Francis went to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore to pray for the success of his 15th Apostolic Visit abroad to Poland.  He invoked the Virgin Mary’s protection on his travels and upon the people he will visit in Poland and for all involved in World Youth Day. It is customary for the Pope to pray for Mary’s protection and intercession in the Basilica before and after his papal trips.

In the afternoon, Pope Francis met a group of migrants – nine young men and six girls of different nationalities, most of whom are still without their documents. The young people wished the Pope a safe journey and a joyous participation in World Youth Day. Though they are not going to the global event, they said they are spiritually united. Francis , his papal entourage and journalists then boarded a plane at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport. I n accordance with tradition, Francis sent telegrams to the Heads of States of the countries his plane flew over during the flight.

Pope Francis’ first visit to Poland is of special significance to the country that is proud of the late pontiff, St John Paul II, who served as priest and archbishop in Krakow before becoming pope. The sense of expectation is apparent. Papal white-and-yellow flags and images of Francis and John Paul II decorate streets all over the city. Stages have been put up in many locations for concerts and other activities that are being held for World Youth Day.

There was a heavy police presence in Krakow as crowds of young pilgrims from all over the world gathered hours before Pope Francis arrived. Security in Poland is high following the recent murder of a French priest and terrorist attacks in France and Germany. Polish authorities have deployed over 40,000 security officials to cover the papal visit, which runs until Sunday.

Pope Francis’ first address in Poland, given to government authorities and other civil leaders just an hour after his arrival, was a strong defense of the unborn, saying that “life must always be welcomed and protected. These two things go together – welcome and protection, from conception to natural death.” He emphasized the duty of the state to assist mothers in welcoming life.

In Krakow, Francis had a private meeting with Poland’s President Andrzej Duda in the Wawel Castle. He then headed to Wawel Cathedral for a private meeting with Polish bishops. There are 45 dioceses in Poland and 211 bishops. The original program for his visit originally included a formal speech to the prelates, but Francis instead decided to have an informal closed question-and-answer session with the bishops without media attention. Later that evening, Francis greeted crowds of pilgrims from his residence in Krakow.

A special Mass in French was held in St Casimir Church church for pilgrims from France, Belgium and other French speaking countries. Relics of St Mary Magdalene were brought to Krakow from France for the duration of World Youth Day events and  are currently displayed in a case by the altar.

The next day, Pope Francis  visited the Monastery of Jasna Gora and spend some time praying at the Chapel of the Black Madonna, Our Lady of Częstochowa – an ancient Catholic icon believed to work miracles. He  also celebrated Mass for the occasion of the 1,050th anniversary of the Baptism of Poland, in the Shrine of Częstochowa. In the evening, Francis took part in a welcoming ceremony in Krakow for the thousands of young pilgrims attending  WYD 2016.