For youth in Krakow, seeing Pope Francis will be 'out of this world'

Pilgrims arrive to Krakow Poland on July 23 2016 Credit Jeffrey Bruno CNA Pilgrims arrive to Krakow, Poland on July 23, 2016. | Jeffrey Bruno/CNA.

As thousands of youth are setting foot in Krakow for World Youth Day, many voiced their excitement not only to meet peers who share the same faith, but above all to see Pope Francis in person.

For Ernest, a young pilgrim traveling from Zimbabwe, "that feeling is going to be out of this world. It's going to be out of this world."

In July 25 comments to CNA, Ernest said that he's always seen the Pope on TV, but never in person. He missed Francis during his trip to Africa last year, which included stops in Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic, because he decided to go on a pilgrimage to Uganda, but arrived only after the Pope had left. 

"People tell me it was really packed," he said, adding that while it was a blessing to see the impact Francis left in Uganda, "I'm really excited and I'm really expecting to see the Pope" in person.

Ernest said this is his first time attending a WYD, but that after hearing his peers talk about their experiences in the 2011 and 2013 gatherings in Madrid and Rio de Janiero, he decided to go.

"They say it was a blessed experience, that's why I'm here. I've never seen the Pope, so I want to see him for the first time! It's so great to be here."

Ernest and his group, numbering around 30-40 people, are just a small part of the more than 300,000 pilgrims expected to arrive to Krakow this week for WYD. World Youth Day officially kicks off July 25 and lasts through July 31, with Pope Francis arriving July 27. It will be the second WYD of his pontificate.

Most pilgrims traveling to Krakow will be arriving from other pilgrimages they've made to places such as Rome and other important sites in and around Poland such as the Shrine of Czestochowa, the Divine Mercy Sanctuary, and John Paul II's hometown of Wadowice, which sits some 30 miles southwest of Krakow.

In the days leading up to Pope Francis' arrival, groups of pilgrims are participating in several activities, including special sessions of catechesis, as well as a four-day youth festival and the possibility to visit a vocations center.

The catechesis sessions will be offered July 27-29 as part of the official WYD events, and will be preached in different languages by bishop from around the world on the gathering's official theme: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."

Many of the catechesis sessions will take place in Wadowice, as well as in churches and other selected venues in Krakow in order to ensure that all youth will be able to participate.

During the youth festival, which lasts from July 26-29, a religious, artistic and cultural program will take place in the evenings, during which youth will be able participate in concerts, exhibitions, workshops, sporting events and theater.

They will even have the opportunity to perform in front of the other youth as a means of expressing and sharing their culture with the others.

Vocations are another area of heavy emphasis during the event. Groups of priests, nuns and religious can be seen throughout the main areas of the WYD events approaching youth and handing them holy cards as they engage with them on faith and their communities.

Nothing, however, can outdo the excitement the youth feel about meeting thousands of their peers from all over the world and seeing Pope Francis in person.

Maria, a young woman born in Guayaquil, Ecuador but who is now living in Orlando, Fl., told CNA that this is her first WYD, and the fact that it's being led by a Latin American Pope is "awesome."

Even though she has lived in the United States since she was a toddler, Maria had a lot of family still living in Ecuador, and because of that was invited to travel to WYD with their group.

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"I honestly didn't expect it to be this big or to be as organized, but you feel the warmth of everyone and people give you so many nice gifts and it's an amazing experience," she said, adding even though WYD hasn't officially started, everything she has expected "has really just come true."

"There's so much going on, there's so many people that I've met, and I've learned new languages like Polish and German. It's been great. It's met all of my expectations if not exceeded them."

Likewise, Majd, a youth from Australia, told CNA that his group arrived to Krakow Sunday, and that so far, "our experience here is absolutely lit."

"It's excellent, I love it. It's really fun, fantastic," he said, explaining that before coming to Krakow, their group traveled for 24 hours to get to Italy, where they visited important sites in Assisi, Siena, Florence and Pisa before heading to Warsaw, Czestochowa and finally Krakow.

Having participated in the 2008 WYD in Sydney, Majd said that despite having spent only a few days in Poland, he so far prefers the Krakow experience.

"The area is quite nice, the culture here is amazing, the people here are really welcoming. I really want to see more people," he said, adding that for him, "there's a lot more things I could probably learn from here than I would in Australia."

Majd said this will be his first time seeing Pope Francis in person, and that he's really looking forward to participating in Mass with Pope July 31 to mark the official close of WYD.

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"I think it'd be great to see him, especially if I could see him up close. If I could get that I'm going to love it," he said, explaining that he's anxious to hear Francis talk about the Year of Mercy.

"I want to hear him talk about the Year of Mercy, how we can be better, how we can show mercy to others. I really want to learn a lot from him," Majd said, saying he believes WYD will "definitely make the Jubilee better for us."

"I'm hoping that this will definitely deepen my faith and that I can bring a lot of great souvenirs from here and that my family would learn from me my ways and the ways of Him."

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