Poverty and persecution have devastating realities for young Christians throughout the world.
However, thanks to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), some 3,500 youth were able to be present in Krakow for the 31st World Youth Day. Those chosen were from nations where the Church suffers, not only because of discrimination or persecution, but also lack of resources.
Among those the Church charity assisted were young people of Eastern Europe, as well as those from the Middle East, Central Asia and Latin America.
Making WYD Possible
Maria Lozano, ACN’s vice director of communications in Europe, told the Register: “Most of the young people we brought here have never had the opportunity to participate in the World Youth Days because of high costs and difficult journeys. For this reason, we wanted this year, in particular, to enable as many young people as possible to personally experience this closeness with the Pope and with other young people from all over the world.”
“Meeting with the Pope and living the experience of the universal Church,” she also pointed out, “can likewise be a life-changing experience for young people.”
“It is not only a matter of alleviating a little the difficulties they face in their daily lives,” she added, “but also of strengthening and supporting the hope of the Church in the Middle East, so that thereby she can be a living witness to peaceful coexistence.”
Lozano explained the special activities that were offered for the ACN pilgrims: get-togethers, prayer and adoration groups. They shared testimonies, songs and prayers for the needs in different countries, including for Haiti, Pakistan, Colombia and Ukraine.
“It was great to praise the Lord and put all our needs in front of the Eucharist,” Lozano said.
During the Way of the Cross on July 29, which welcomed the presence of Pope Francis in Blonia Park, the ACN-supported pilgrims were invited to carry the cross from the second to the third station.
“It was very powerful,” Lozano said, despite the charity’s disappointment in not being able to bring all of the suffering youth they hoped to the Polish city, including a group from South Sudan.
Pilgrim Haroon Bhatti shared what it means to be a Christian in Pakistan.
“Being a Christian in a country like Pakistan,” he said, “becomes more special for the simple fact that you live under criticism and threats because of Christian identity. You then soon discover the purpose for being Christian.”
“Faith is critical,” he said, “because you need Jesus — that is the first reason [for being Christian]; and the second reason is ... as I get criticized, face humiliation and face hateful treatment, then I strongly consider Jesus as my shelter, and I take refuge in him.”
Egyptian Christine Kassasseya is thankful the Lord brought all of the young people together to be encouraged to “spread his light and love to those who have not yet heard or felt his presence.”
She also expressed her hope for unity and evangelization in her own country, to counter recent incidents of violence, including physical attacks on Christians and the burning down of churches.
“We live in a country that does not accept us,” she said.
The young woman prays for more Egyptian missionaries to help the Middle East, saying it “needs us desperately.” She also prayed that in this Jubilee Year of Mercy Christians around the world spread love unconditionally to others, learn to forgive and that young people are motivated to glorify God with their lives.
Mickey Paul Gonsalves, from Bangladesh, stressed how, in his Muslim country, being a Christian is incredibly rare — the nation’s Christians make up just 0.5% of the population.
“Sometimes, when a Muslim (who has never seen a Christian person) sees a Christian for the first time, meets one, he thinks, ‘Oh, this is what a Christian looks like,’” he said, noting, “It’s funny that when we introduce ourselves as Christians, most of the people of Bangladesh think that we are foreigners. But Christians in Bangladesh are like every other Bangladeshi.”
He added: “It is very tough to practice the good virtues among so many errors in the society. Our religious faith most often clashes with the behavior of the society.”
“Though the Church tries to enrich the moral values of the people continuously,” he acknowledged, “sometimes the chaos of the country and the political unrest takes us backwards.”
The young Bangladeshi also expressed his gratitude to Aid to the Church in Need for helping Christians in his country to live through this challenge.
Misery and Abandonment
A Colombian bishop expressed his hope that young people can always cling to their faith in tough times.
Bishop Julio Hernando García Peláez of Istmina-Tadó, in Choco, noted that working as a missionary in a place with such intense cultural differences is a challenge for preaching the Gospel. Despite there being natural wealth and resources in certain areas, he stressed that it is impossible to ignore the sentiments of misery and abandonment that resonate throughout the nation’s people.
In Colombia, the bishop said, there is a great atmosphere of tension and violence, and being a Christian working for peace, brotherhood and respect, in the midst of great political, social, cultural and economic differences, is very difficult.
“For us, being a Christian in this environment,” he underscored, “is a serious challenge in building true children of God.”
Deborah Lubov is a Vatican correspondent
who reported from Krakow, Poland, for World Youth Day.