July 26, 2016 — World Youth Day 2016 kicked off today in Kraków, Poland, with millions of young adults from around the globe gathering to celebrate their Catholic faith with Pope Francis.
The event, which runs July 26-31, is expected to bring up to two million pilgrims from 187 countries to the southern Polish city. Nearly 50 cardinals, 800 bishops and 20,000 priests from around the world are also attending.
"We come from every nation under heaven, like those who came in great numbers to Jerusalem on Pentecost Day, but there are incomparably more of us now than 2,000 years ago, because we are accompanied by centuries of preaching the Gospel," Kraków Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz said during the July 26 opening Mass.
World Youth Day is a worldwide encounter with the pope and is typically celebrated every three years in a different country. The previous WYD was celebrated in Rio de Janeiro in 2013. The gathering is an opportunity for young adults to experience the universality of the church and to deepen their faith and grow closer to Christ, by means of prayer and the sacraments, together with other young people.
For all the live updates from the Canadian Jesuit pilgrimage to WYD, check out our WYD section here!
Pope Francis said his visit to Poland will be inspired by mercy during this Jubilee Year, and the World Youth Day theme is in line with the year: "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy."
The “blessed memory of St. John Paul II, who instituted the World Youth Days and was the guide of the Polish people in its recent historic journey toward freedom,” will also serve as an inspiration, the pope said in a July 19 video message to the people of Poland.
Among the highlights of the pope's visit will be his stop at the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau. The pope will also meet with 10 Holocaust survivors and will visit the cell of St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan friar who took the place of a young father condemned to die at Auschwitz during World War II. The pope's visit will coincide with the 75th anniversary of the Polish saint's death sentence.
Pope Francis will also commemorate the 1,050th anniversary of Christianity in Poland, pray at the icon of the “Black Madonna” of Czestochowa and hear confessions and have lunch with some of the young people attending the youth day gathering.
In Kraków, the pope will visit a pediatric hospital, lead a Way of the Cross with young people and hold a prayer vigil the evening before the closing Mass of World Youth Day, which is expected to draw more than 1 million people, according to government officials.
The 2016 WYD celebration will mark the 30th anniversary of when St. John Paul II, the former archbishop of Kraków, invited bishops all over the world to hold an annual event for youth in their dioceses. The first international gathering was in 1987 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where Pope Francis was born and ministered before becoming pope.