Millions of young people around the world are preparing to venture to Kraków, Poland, for one of the most important, faith-filled days of the year — July 25, 2016.
“A special greeting to youth: You are the future of the world, you are the hope of the Church, you are my hope,” said Pope John Paul II during the inauguration ceremonies of World Youth Day back on October 22, 1978.
All these years later, the event — celebrated every three years and lasting a week — continues to celebrate the lives of young people and how they bring hope to the world.
World Youth Day has been celebrated in Rome in past years; the most recent one, in 2013, was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. On Monday, July 25, 2016, Pope Francis joins young people in Kraków, Poland, for the week-long pilgrimage, which is focused on the fifth Beatitude.
“Let us allow ourselves to be inspired by the words: ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy,'” said Pope Francis from the Vatican, quoting Matthew 5:7.
The World Youth Day website describes the event as “an opportunity to experience in first person the universality of the Church; to share with the whole world the hope of many young people who want to commit themselves to Christ and others. World Youth Day is a unique way to deepen your faith,” it also says, “and grow closer to Christ, by means of prayer and the sacraments, together with thousands of other young people who share your interests and ambitions.”
As the event kicks off, Hannah Glick, a new attendee this year, and Fr. Thomas Esposito, a veteran of World Youth Day, provided some thought and insight.
Glick, a 2016 graduate of the University of Dallas, in Texas, was not familiar with the aims of World Youth Day until college, where she learned through her friends’ own “amazing” experiences. Today she lives in Dublin and received the opportunity to join a group of young Irish girls from Opus Dei.
“I started growing more in my faith in ways I didn’t even know I could,” said Glick. “I started to realize just how important ministering to the youth truly is, for the church and for them as individuals.”
“Those who will follow the events from afar can pray that the participants be transformed by the Holy Spirit through their experience,” said Fr. Thomas Esposito of Dallas.
She added, “I started to question if maybe more spiritual time in preparation would be better then actual physical preparation. That was when I realized that every day of my life that I have spent growing in a relationship with Christ has been preparation. It’s as if the Lord has already spent years preparing my heart.”
Fr. Thomas Esposito is a monk of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas. He said he experienced a “jolt of grace” with his group members when attending the 2002 event in Toronto, Canada.
“Being immersed in the seemingly endless sea of flags and faces was a powerful reminder of the Catholic Church’s universal nature,” Fr. Thomas told LifeZette. “I may not have the same mother tongue as the people crowding around me, but I do share their faith. To join the guardian of that faith, the Bishop of Rome, is an amazing privilege.”
In light of the recent terror attacks worldwide, Fr. Thomas sees the events of Kraków as a tremendous opportunity to spread the good news and encourage the discussion of faith.
“This year’s WYD will not only energize Catholics in the practice of their faith — it will motivate them to share their experience of Christ’s love with their neighbors who think that religion of any form leads only to hatred and death,” he said. “I hope the events in Poland can contribute to a new springtime of dialogue and evangelization.”
Although Fr. Thomas cannot attend this year, he encouraged both travelers and followers of the event to pray.
“Those eager to arrive in Poland can pray for all those traveling to join them, especially the pope, and to ask the Lord to bless the hearts of all participants with a willingness to hear the Lord speaking to them personally,” said Fr. Thomas. “Those who will follow the events from afar can pray that the participants be transformed by the Holy Spirit through their experience in Poland, and return to their homes enkindled with the love of Christ.”