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Why Did Pope Francis Pick Poland for World Youth Day 2016?


Philip Kosloski - published on 05/31/16

Think "mercy," as in Divine Mercy, and the great saints and martyrs of Poland

Three years ago Pope Francis announced that the next World Youth Day would be held in Krakow, Poland. For many young people it was a moment of jubilation, but others were confused: Where is Poland? Is it warm there?

Each time the pope chooses a location for World Youth Day (WYD), he does so to highlight a specific theme as well as to bring greater attention to the saints of that country. This year the theme of WYD is based on the scripture passage, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7).

It comes as no surprise that Pope Francis wants to draw our attention to mercy during this Jubilee Year. and what better place to do that than in Krakow, Poland, which gave us the Divine Mercy devotion? Fittingly, the Holy Father chose Pope Saint John Paul II and Saint Faustina Kowalska to be the patron saints of WYD this July.

Pope Francis offered a brief commentary on these two saints and the choice to celebrate WYD in Krakow in his message last year.

“Krakow, the city of Saint John Paul II and Saint Faustina Kowalska, is waiting for us with open arms and hearts. I believe that Divine Providence led us to the decision to celebrate the Youth Jubilee in that city which was home to those two great apostles of mercy in our times. John Paul II realized that this is the time of mercy. At the start of his pontificate, he wrote the encyclical Dives in Misericordia (“Rich in Mercy”). In the Holy Year 2000 he canonized Sister Faustina and instituted the Feast of Divine Mercy, which now takes place on the Second Sunday of Easter. In 2002 he personally inaugurated the Divine Mercy Shrine in Krakow and entrusted the world to Divine Mercy, in the desire that this message would reach all the peoples of the earth and fill their hearts with hope: ‘This spark needs to be lighted by the grace of God.  This fire of mercy needs to be passed on to the world. In the mercy of God the world will find peace and mankind will find happiness!’ “Dear young people, at the Shrine in Krakow dedicated to the merciful Jesus, where he is depicted in the image venerated by the people of God, Jesus is waiting for you.”

Much has been written about Saint John Paul II and Saint Faustina and their inspiring example of holiness. However, few who will be going to Poland this summer know about the amazing history and culture that shaped these two saints. They did not grow up in a vacuum, but were formed from an early age by their Polish culture.

In his first trip to Poland after being elected Pope, John Paul II urged the young people to keep alive their heritage, saying,

“From its beginnings Polish culture bears very clear Christian signs … Christian inspiration continues to be the chief source of the creativity of Polish artists. Polish culture still flows with a broad stream of inspirations that have their source in the Gospel. This contributes also to the deeply humanistic character of this culture. It makes it so deeply and authentically human. “You are hearing these words from a man who owes his own spiritual formation from the beginning to Polish culture, to its literature, its music … its theatre—to Polish history, to the Polish Christian traditions, to the Polish schools, the Polish universities. “In speaking to you young people in this way, this man wishes above all to pay the debt that he owes this marvelous spiritual heritage.“Remain faithful to this heritage. Make it the foundation of your formation. Be nobly proud of it. Keep this heritage and multiply it; hand it on to future generations.”

During the course of the next month, we will look at several highlights of Polish culture and history in anticipation of July’s event. Stay tuned.

Pope John Paul IIWorld Youth Day
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