Too much goes on at World Youth Day to get to everything of note that happens. Herewith a roundup of things heard and seen that merit a mention (see full column at

  •  The news of Father Jacques Hamel’s murder at the altar of his parish church during holy Mass arrived as WYD was beginning. Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz of Kraków referred to the martyrdom that same evening at the opening Mass of WYD, stressing that the priest had been killed during the Eucharist. No doubt Cardinal Dziwisz thought of the martyrdom of St. Stanisław, bishop of Kraków, who was killed by the king in 1079 during Mass. At the catechetical sites, the killing of Father Hamel was often mentioned. On the return flight home, the Holy Father said his murder was no more “Islamic violence” than domestic violence in Italy was “Catholic violence.” 2016 has become a summer of jihadist terror across Europe. That meant an enormous security presence in Kraków, with armed men — both military and police — omnipresent. It was incongruous to watch the police, their hands resting on automatic weapons, clearing traffic for 200 Italian pilgrims marching through, with drums and banners, belting out their Alleluias. The pilgrims came in great numbers and didn’t let the threat of terror steal their joy — fitting for the city of St. John Paul. Be not afraid!
  •  WYD is a rather intense experience of the sacraments, with daily Mass and confessions seemingly heard ’round the clock. That can pose a challenge, as I was hearing confessions at the English-speaking site on the “Night of Mercy.” It was a bit of a challenge during the Eucharistic adoration itself, with the hymns and the talk by Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles. Afterwards, when Matt Maher fired up the 12,000 present with a high-energy praise-and-worship session, it was hard, even if the penitents chose to shout. They were happy to do so, which struck me as a very impressive devotion to the sacrament.
  • Since Denver, it has become something of a WYD tradition for the best local museum to host a special exhibition of sacred art. Kraków’s National Museum did just that, with a spectacular collection of Marian art under the title of Maria, Mater Misericordiae. Most of the pieces were exquisite works from Renaissance Italy, and it was astonishing to think that most of them had been originally set in ordinary churches, accessible to the faithful, rich and poor alike. Usually curators want originals, not copies, but at the center of Maria Mater Misericordiae was a complete 1-to-1 scale plaster replica of Michelangelo’s Pietà from St. Peter’s Basilica. Millions have seen it in situ, elevated, from a distance, behind protective glass. That is nothing like seeing the replica from inches away, being able to stand beside it at regular height. You haven’t seen the Pietà until you have seen it close up, which means I had never seen the Pietà in Rome until I saw it in Kraków.
  • WYD Kraków was substantively different from previous events held in places where the pilgrims brought, as it were, the witness of holiness to a secular city. Kraków has been producing saints for a millennium, and this WYD was marked by the pilgrims being invited to encounter the witness of holiness already here. The Church’s most recent saint — John Paul the Great — has only been dead 11 years, and holiness here goes back all the way to St. Stanisław and continues to St. Faustina and St. Maximilian Kolbe in the 20th century. The saints were waiting for the pilgrims, and their images were ubiquitous. At the Dominican church, the casket of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati was brought for WYD, as his relics had also been present for WYD Sydney in 2008. The Dominicans themselves had a striking display of their 800 years of holiness, depicting their saints, beginning with St. Dominic, as young adults. The communion of saints is immensely important in young-adult ministry, and WYD Kraków brought that pastoral intuition of John Paul — the contemporary need for saints — to WYD in a particular way. At the English-speaking site, there were relics of five saints present — John Paul, Faustina, Kolbe, Jerzy Popiełuszko and Albert Chmielowski — all of whom are Polish and three of whom lived in Kraków. As Cardinal Dziwisz pointed out repeatedly, Kraków has more saints than any other diocese save for Rome. That’s why a visit to Kraków is a pilgrimage in a way that a visit to Toronto or Denver isn’t.
  • Kraków has a sense of the human possibility that extends rather beyond the categories of fame that dominate North America: politics, entertainment and business. One clever advertising campaign in Kraków asked — in English — “Are you ready?” An image of Nicholas Copernicus appeared over the question, “Are you ready to start a scientific revolution?” An image of John Paul was over the question, “Are you ready to be a saint?” An image of Rafał Sonik, the quad rally driver, was over the question, “Are you ready to win Dakar?” Poland knows that human achievement limited to politics is a very cramped view of human life indeed. That’s why it is refreshing to fly into Poland, where they don’t name their airports after politicians. Warsaw’s airport is named after musician Frederic Chopin, Kraków’s is named in honor of John Paul, Gdansk’s is for Lech Walesa and Wrocław’s is for Copernicus.
  • I have been to five WYDs — Manila, Rome, Toronto, Sydney and Kraków — under three popes. All three have brought their own distinctive contribution. In 2008 at the vigil, Pope Benedict XVI gave an extended theological treatment of how St. Augustine understood the Holy Spirit. Pope Francis in Kraków told the crowd not to be couch potatoes. Under John Paul II, the vigils were substantive, but largely a rally. Under Benedict and Francis, they have become more prayerful, concluding with Eucharistic adoration. In his final words in Kraków, Pope Francis told the Panamanians that Peter would be present in 2019, but he did not know if it would be him. Yes, Peter will be present, and should it be another one, he will bring his own gifts to the enduring gift that WYD has become in the Church.

 Father Raymond J. De Souza 

is editor in chief of 

Convivium magazine.

He was in Kraków to cover

World Youth Day for

the Register and EWTN.