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Going back to the beginning

· ​In Kraków where Karol Wojtyła became a pastor of young people ·

Three years ago, on 28 July, 2013, at the end of the Eucharistic celebration that crowned the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, we listened with great emotion to Pope Francis’ words: “Dear young friends, we have an appointment for the next World Youth Day in 2016 in Kraków, Poland. Through Our Lady’s maternal intercession, let us ask for the light of the Holy Spirit upon the journey that will lead us to this next stage in our joyful celebration of faith and the love of Christ”.

From that moment on, the Polish Church, and in particular the Church of Kraków, began to deeply live the event, which is part of the mission of the universal Church of our times. While listening to the words Pope Francis spoke on Brazilian soil, I realized that in a certain sense we were returning to the starting-point. The great pastoral project that is World Youth Day, would this time, take place in the city where Karol Wojtyła grew up, the initiator of the Church’s celebration of the Faith for youth, for the service of the Church and the world.

John Paul II always led young people to Christ. He encouraged them to set sail on the sea of faith, hope and love. He pointed them towards lofty ideals, that they might make their lives a gift to God and neighbour, building a more just and united world. He did not have to wait long for the answer. The Pope believed in young people, and they understood that in him they had an experienced guide. In a way we can say that the meeting in Parc des Princes, Paris, constituted a prelude to the organization of World Youth Day. The idea matured gradually, over the course of the following meetings — now regular — with young people in Rome: in 1984, the Jubilee Year of the Redemption, and again in 1985 in the eternal city, in the context of the International Youth Year. In this period, and in subsequent years, Argentine Cardinal Eduardo Pironio, the President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, offered competent help to the Pope. It was this exact dicastery that took on the responsibility of organizing the meetings for young people.

In 1987, the initiative had already surpassed the boundaries of Rome. With young people in Buenos Aires, John Paul II carried out the first World Youth Day. Since then, at a rate of every two or three years, young Christians from all around the world have gathered around the Successor of Peter to celebrate their faith, their belonging to Christ and to his Church. Following Buenos Aires the event took place in Santiago de Compostela, and then in Częstochowa, Denver, Manila, Paris, Rome (during the great jubilee year of 2000) and Toronto; then Cologne, Sydney and Madrid with Benedict XVI and Rio de Janeiro with Pope Francis. Today it would be hard to imagine the dynamics of the life of faith of the contemporary Church without these events.

This time, the youth, whom John Paul II called in Tor Vergata “morning watchmen” at “the dawn of the Third Millennium”, have come to the homeland and the city of Karol Wojtyła, in the heart of which arose and developed the idea of World Youth Day, one of the greatest initiatives of Wojtyła’s papacy and of the Church following the Second Vatican Council. The successive Popes — Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis — have endorsed this initiative and focused the pastoral programme for youth around it.

Which country, which city are the “morning watchmen”, the Christian youth, coming to in 2016? A quarter of a century ago, Poland was liberated from the shackles of communism and since then she patiently builds the framework of a democratic society that is more just and united. Let us learn from successes and mistakes. Let us thank God for the gift of baptism, received from Poland 1050 years ago. Let us be thankful for our history, which was not easy, in which victories alternate with defeat, and illusions with hope.We live in a Europe that is united and we share in the concerns of our troubled world, where there are wars and often visible signs of blind terrorism. The sufferings of Ukraine, a nation that is so close to us, are particularly heavy in our hearts. We are also coping with a progressive secularization, which proposes a model of a life without God, and convinces man that he is self-sufficient. Can man save himself by his own strength? Can he solidly build the house of his own existence on the sand of an illusory ideology?

by Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, Archbishop of Kraków




St. Peter’s Square

Dec. 14, 2019