A few more hours to the WYD. Krakow’s streets are starting to fill up with young pilgrims clad in the colours of their national flags, mirroring the WYD flags fluttering along the streets and from windows throughout the city. Everywhere to be seen are the images of Saint John Paul II and Saint Faustina Kowalska, the apostle of Mercy, veritable national glorious figures, patron Saints of the WYD. White carriages drawn by plumed horses driven by coachmen in bowler hats proceed along Wavel Castle, promptly photographed by the youths. The Vistula River flows peacefully beneath the hill slopes and across the city. Its banks are already crowded with youths, just as the central Market Square, where stands St. Mary – “Mariacki” – Basilica. It’s the place where every evening the youths convene to sing, dance, bear Christian witness, amidst festive celebrations.
At each crossroads huge totems display the directions to WYD sites: Blonia Park, the Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Lagiewniki, the Campus Misericordiae, the “areas for Reconciliation” designated as venues for confession; parking zones, refreshment areas, first aid stations, and fountains to quench the thirst of the pilgrims. The blue shirts of the volunteers are reassuring presences, always available for whoever needs their help. In the many churches located throughout the city groups of youths come and go, and many of them stop and pray, as in St Florian’s church, where the faithful practice continuous Adoration. Multilingual priests are available for confession in dedicated pavilions.
Krakow is filling up by the second. The recent terror attacks haven’t stopped the youths, who reiterated: “We are not afraid.” There have been no cancellations, as demonstrated by the numerous Italian youths present, some 90 thousand, the largest WYD group, almost as many as the Polish local youths. As by tradition, on the occasion of the journey of young Italians to Krakow, through its National Service for Youth Ministry (Snpg), the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI) has set up
“Casa Italia”, a familiar place, situated in the shadows of the towers of Wavel Castle, in the adjacent Bernardyńska Street, where Italian youths can meet, refresh, and rejoice together.
It’s a perfect place completed with a large courtyard and free Wi-Fi, with the Italian Consulate Office and a medical facility with two healthcare workers. After several days of preparation “Casa Italia” opened its doors on Sunday, July 24, with a Mass celebrated in the nearby Bernardine Church by Monsignor Nunzio Galantino, CEI Secretary General, broadcast live on Rai Uno TV.
Italians’ headquarters. Eighteen animators are available to help and guide the young pilgrims upon their arrival. The special mode of welcome was introduced by Monsignor Galatino in his address to them after the blessing of Casa Italia and the tape-cutting celebration. “You must offer what is direly needed in today’s world – said the CEI Secretary – namely, new, honest, beautiful and enthusiastic relationships; relationships that may be capable of building a different world, much more beautiful than the one of our recent past.
As volunteers you face new challenges to meet the needs of the youths arriving to Krakow. You work with a smile, you make constructive experiences for society and for the Church.”
For Mons. Galantino “the volunteers are giving great testimonies, especially to those who find it hard to begin their journey in a world where there always seems to be one obstacle after another to overcome.” He added: “The volunteers’ biographies should be further known. Your experience should be shared by youths who unfortunately have missed the opportunity to be here, also for not having received the right testimony prompting them to accept this challenge”.
Referring to the WYD that will officially kick off tomorrow, July 26, Mons. Galatino said:
“The youths are happily relaxed and full of enthusiasm. All those arriving in Krakow have a deep knowledge of their Countries of departure, Upon their return they will bring back with them but one word: the word of Christ, that is the word of Peace.”
This commitment equally involves youths who will follow the WYD from home, “who have the possibility of acting as bridges to spread the events of the WYD in Krakow within their home Countries.” Among the flapping flags hoisted yesterday, figures an especially significant one: it’s the flag donated to Casa Italia by Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella. The gift was brought by Monsignor Galatino, who concluded: “The tricoloured flag is entrusted to you, young pilgrims, for what we are doing here is also being done for our Homeland.” Happy WDY, Italy!