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World Youth Day 2016

Blog: WYD Begins!

todayJuly 25, 2016 9

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To put that 3 million in context, the London Olympics a year before attracted just over two million. The World Cup, held in Brazil a year later, attracted a similar number, but never at one single event. Indeed, as single gatherings go, that weekend at Copacabana beach, ranks (at least according to Wikipedia) as one of the largest thirty-or-so peaceful gatherings ever!

The brainchild of Pope John Paul II, World Youth Day has now been running for over thirty years. The biggest one was in Manila in 1995, where 5.2 million people showed up. At the time, it was the largest Christian gathering ever! A record which stood until Pope Francis made his own papal visit to the Philippines last January.

“The aim is simple: to show young Christians that they’re part of something BIG, to draw them closer to Christ, and to give them a reason to celebrate!”

The phrase World Youth Day is actually a bit misleading. It culminates in a huge Sunday Mass, but it’s actually a week of events, held every two to three years and focussed on a host city: Sydney in 2008, Madrid in 2011, and Rio in 2013. During the week, participants take part in ‘catechesis’ sessions with Bishops and Cardinals, they enter into festival events, concerts, shows and prayer services all over the city, and they have the chance to meet other young Christians from all over the globe. The aim is simple: to show young Christians that they’re part of something BIG, to draw them closer to Christ, and to give them a reason to celebrate!

This year’s World Youth Day takes place in Krakow, Poland at the end of this month. Not a classic choice for a big international event, but an extremely poignant one.

Talk to any Catholic – especially a Polish one – about Krakow and pretty soon you’ll hear the name Karol Wojtyła, easily the area’s most famous son. Wojtyła was born in nearby Wadowice in 1920. By his early twenties, he had lost both his parents, and both of his siblings. He had also seen his town and its Jewish community – many of whom he was close to – torn apart by the Second World War. But yet, he had also managed to get himself an education, to learn multiple languages, to become an accomplished amateur sportsman and actor, and to grow in his Christian faith.

Determined to become a priest, Wojtyła studied in an underground seminary during the war, and was ordained in 1946. He went on to become the Archbishop of Krakow, and in 1978, when Poland was still under Communist rule, he was elected Pope. He took the name John Paul II, and went on to accomplish much, including starting the World Youth Days.

“A man who lived through both Hitler and communism, and proved that neither could make Christ disappear into the night”


This coming World Youth Day, the second to be held in Poland, is a homecoming for the event in a lot of ways. A chance for Poland to celebrate its favourite son together with the rest of the Catholic world, and a chance for pilgrims to engage with one of the most significant Christian leaders of the last century. A man who lived through both Hitler and communism, and proved that neither could make Christ disappear into the night.

Just less than two million pilgrims are expected in Krakow during the week, with most arriving later on in the week for the final Mass. Around four thousand of those are coming from Great Britain.

I’m lucky enough to be leading the group from my own Diocese of Arundel and Brighton (Basically, Sussex, Brighton, and the parts of Surrey that aren’t London Boroughs). There are 49 of us in total: five priests, a handful of leaders, and then young people and young adults. The official age range for WYD is 16-35, and our group covers that spread pretty well. We’re travelling out by coach on Sunday 24th, and staying in a hotel on the edge of the city. It’s not exactly five star, but a lot of WYD pilgrims sleep on school floors, so having a bed and a shower for the week is definitely not something to be sneered at.

When we arrive in Krakow, the first order of business will be to pick up our pilgrim packs. Everyone gets a backpack with a guidebook, a few giveaways, WYD meal tickets (to be redeemed at participating venues around the city) and the all-important WYD passes, which get participants into events and also get them free access to the city’s public transport.

After that, it all about familiarising ourselves with the city before the events begin in earnest on the Tuesday.

I’ve been asked by Premier to write a few reports during the week, which I’m very happy to do, so please, watch this space…


Jack Regan is the Youth Officer for the Catholic Diocese of Arundel & Brighton. He is also a freelance writer and speaker, and is the founder of He has been in ministry for seventeen years.

Written by: Miriam Emenike

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todayJuly 25, 2016 7