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A Journey of Mercy

· Interview with the Cardinal Secretary of State on the Pope’s trip to Poland ·

The following is our publication of a transcript of the interview of Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, with the Vatican Television Centre on the occasion of the Pope’s visit in Poland, scheduled for 27 to 31 July, for the celebration of World Youth Day.

In Krakow – the city of John Paul II, the creator of World Youth Day – Pope Francis will meet young people from all around the world. Will he resume the main themes of Karol Wojtyła’s teachings for young people?

Pope Francis will continue the same journey begun by John Paul II and certainly the path that was also taken by Benedict XVI. A journey with the youth, a journey of faith, hope and charity. A journey that has a goal, and the goal is always the same, namely, the encounter with Jesus Christ and the proposal that the Pope will continue to make to all the young people who will participate in the World Day. It is a journey that has a map, and this map is the Gospel, and the teaching, the magisterium of the Church, and which also has bread, a nourishment, which is the Eucharist. Therefore the scenery changes, it is obviously different, different continents, different countries, however, we can say, the journey continues, there is continuity in this journey. It seems to me that with regard to the teaching of John Paul II, we can also point out the fact that this World Youth Day is taking place in the heart of the Holy Year mercy. To speak about mercy means to reference a fundamental part of the magisterial and spiritual heritage of Pope Wojtyła, of St John Paul II. He dedicated one of his first encyclicals, Dives in Misericordia, precisely to the reality of mercy, and he then made several other initiatives in order to emphasize this aspect. One need only recall St Faustina’s canonization, in the Holy Year and even the establishment of Divine Mercy Sunday, Dominica in Albis, the Second Sunday of Easter. Therefore John Paul II underlined this aspect, which will rightly be taken up by Pope Francis over the course of this day, so as to ignite a spark, the spark of mercy, in the hearts of the youth, and to enkindle the fire of compassion in the world according to the theme of the day: “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy”.

Krakow is also the city of St Faustina Kowalska, the apostle of divine mercy. Will passing through the holy door in Łagiewniki be one of the powerful moments of this jubilee?

Certainly so, precisely within the scope of this link to the theme of divine mercy. The Pope has clearly said this, even in his message addressed to young people who are going to participate, that this step will be a movement towards Jesus Christ and it will be allowing him to look upon us, an encounter with his merciful glance, in order to be able to say with full trust and with all the abandonment of the prayer that as taught by St Faustina, “Jesus I trust in you”.

And I would say that this will also be the Pope’s experience: he will be the first to make this experience of a personal encounter with the Lord, this experience of divine mercy. Therefore the Pope will specifically travel to the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy, and there he is also supposed to hear a few confessions, to exercise the ministry of mercy, to also pray in the places where St Faustina lived, particularly in the chapel where the majority of her visions took place and where she wrote her diaries – from which indeed was born this particular spirituality of the merciful Jesus – and then, together with all the other pilgrims, he will pass through the holy door.

The Pope is returning to the heart of Europe and, with this visit to Poland, to the first major European country following his trip to Strasbourg. What message will this send to the continent?

This is a journey to World Youth Day, so I imagine that the Pope will not directly address Poland, the country that hosts this initiative, and neither Europe, because he has before him young people who represent the entire world. Even though it is true that this event is taking place in a country that is at the heart of the continent, and I imagine that the majority of youth participating are mainly from Europe. With regard to Europe, I believe the Pope will reemphasize to these young people the message he expressed previously to the Parliament of Strasbourg and then again on the occasion of the Charlemagne award ceremony. I would say that this message can be compiled in two words: a message of hope, before the future of Europe, and before the many challenges that the European construction is faced with; and a message of courage, in the sense of rediscovering the authentic Christian roots of Europe, which have enabled Europe to become what it is. The pope has especially recalled this humanistic spirit that has always characterized Europe, and at the same time also courage that means being able to proclaim the Gospel in the changed conditions of life, in which we find the biggest problems that we have to face every day, especially the problem of extreme poverty, be it spiritual or material.

In Częstochowa, before the Black Madonna, Pope Francis will commemorate the 1050th anniversary of the baptism of Poland. Is the Polish Catholic community still a faithful and courageous witness of this faith, or is secularism creating a rift?

I am very pleased with this fact, because the Holy Father gave me the privilege of appointment as his legate last April, on the occasion of the same circumstance, and so I was in Poznań and Gniezno and I presided over the celebrations for the 1050th year of Poland’s baptism, which in a certain sense completes that which was missing in the celebration of the millennium, when, given the political situation at the time, prevented Pope Paul VI from traveling there as he had ardently wished to do. Thus there will be almost a continuation of this celebration that took place 50 years ago, and is a celebration first and foremost of gratitude: the Pope is going to give thanks, together with the Polish Church, with the pastors and the faithful, for these one thousand years of Christian faith, and also, I would say, for that which has happened over the past 50 years: the new-found freedom and the opportunity to freely express their faith. I believe that the Polish Church, based on what I saw directly also during the visit I made and during previous visits, is a Church that is still strong, it is a living Church, which, united to its pastors, continues to bear witness to the faith even in the current circumstances that are changing. There are many good families, there are many young people who still engage in formation and in the Christian life; there are missionary efforts and there is a desire for the apostolate. There are still vocations to the priesthood and religious life. It is therefore a fabric that still fundamentally holds; certainly it is called to respond to new challenges and, as you mentioned before, the main challenge is precisely that of secularism, that is, of the loss of a sense of God and of living as if God did not exist in our society. In this sense, the Polish Church will have to be creative and open to also finding new methods so as to be able to respond to these new problems.

The horrors of Auschwitz and Birkenau, and the pain of sick children in the hospital of Krakow; As he touches the suffering of yesterday and today with his own hands, will the Pope recall the testimony of those who have given their lives for others, such as St Maximilian Kolbe?

It is interesting that the Pope, when planning this trip, wanted these two visits from the very beginning, and I refer to them as a place of horror and a place of pain. The place of horror: Auschwitz, Birkenau, the testimony of St Maximilian Kolbe, the Holocaust of the Jewish people, and therefore a more far-reaching horror. And it is a presence that especially signifies an appeal, it will be a silent appeal, because the Pope will not make a speech on that occasion. I believe that in the face of horror silence is sometimes the more eloquent than words themselves. And the memory of all the victims of hatred and human madness, so as to remember that even today there are situations of violence, of disregard for human life, of disregard for the person, situations which foster division, situations in which people use terror, terrorism, for personal interests or for the construction of economic and political interests. On the other hand, the visit to hospital will symbolize closeness to the pain of the people. The Pope often recalls that the Church must be close, the Church must be a neighbor to all those who are suffering. Who more than sick children in this situation need to have someone who is close, like the Good Samaritan? I believe that the visit to the hospital will have precisely this significance. The Pope has done this before. I remember that in Mexico, he visited another pediatric hospital and spoke of the therapy of affection, the affection-therapy. Here too, he will certainly use the same therapy and invite all of us to do the same for these children and for those who suffer.

by Alessandro Di Bussolo

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