You may be wondering what – apart from the massive, vibrant and joyful gatherings of the central worship events – you can expect when you go to Poland for World Youth Day. In general, I think you may notice how faithful this nation is – with high church attendances, plenty of young priests, much family participation, many churches holding Adoration, and witnessing the quiet respect of these people unassumingly practising their faith.
Through centuries of involvement in the Faith, Poland has many significant people and places, mostly well known, and of interest to Catholics worldwide. Many of these places are in and around Kraków, and in going to them you will also encounter the people. All of you will end up on the final days of WYD in Krakow – some of you may even be lucky to spend your diocesan time here beforehand.
Krakow is a delightful, picturesque and laid back place. Try and find time to check out: the splendid and slightly eccentric Royal Cathedral on Wawel Hill; the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, in the Town Square (Rynek Glowny) – with its glorious polyptych, and truncated hourly trumpet call. Very close by is the church of St Barbara and the gorgeous miniature church of St Adalbert sitting at a jaunty angle in the Square.
The Square itself is the buzzing, vibrant heart of the Old Town – very reminiscent of Covent Garden. Not too far away are two contrasting churches in their own right (and rite!) of the Franciscan’s St Francis of Assisi, and the Dominican’s Holy Trinity. If you want sublime Gothic overload do go to the lovely little church of St Andrew’s, next to the more imposing Il Gesu-like church of Ss Peter and Paul.
A short tram ride from the town centre is the magnificent Shrine of Divine Mercy at Lagiewniki, from where this now worldwide devotion was started by St Faustina. Close to, is the brand new ‘Have No Fear’ John Paul II Centre – the principal national shrine to their beloved Saint-Pope.
Further afield: the national shrine, and spiritual heartbeat of Poland of Our Lady at the splendid monastery of Jasna Gora, Czestochowa; the charming town of Wadowice, the birth place of Saint John Paul II – pray in his childhood church, visit the beautifully presented, modern museum of his life and times.
But, if you are unable to visit any of these places, my next ‘entreat’ is to persuade you to return sometime to Poland on pilgrimage – it is not all that expensive, and EasyJet fly there!
However, the biggest ‘value-added’ at WYD is that you will have the most precious opportunity and gift of meeting and making friends with young Catholics from all over the world.
Please exploit this, make contacts to keep in touch afterwards, create an enduring, active global network amongst yourselves.
After all, we are a Church that knew exactly what globalisation is, and means – long before any smart multi national corporation – where we have reached, and still reach, round the world to profess and encourage our Faith. WYD is simply one manifestation of that universality, and you are our hope and our future to maintain and grow our Faith in this fractured, ravaged world.
Further details in David Baldwin’s CTS booklet Poland, a Pilgrim’s Companion, updated recently for World Youth Day.