Pope Francis has emphasized building bridges, not walls, and organizers of a special event linking young adults in Washington, D.C., with World Youth Day pilgrims in Kraków hope it will do just that, bridging young Catholics together across several time zones in a shared experience of faith with the pope.
“Kraków in the Capital”, an all-day festival on Saturday July 30 at The Catholic University of America, will coincide with Pope Francis’ Prayer Vigil that day at World Youth Day in Kraków, featuring live big-screen TV footage of the event in Poland, along with videos, photos, quotes and social media posts from Washington-area pilgrims there.
The event will have a schedule that mirrors the international gathering, including catechesis talks, prayers in different languages, Stations of the Cross, a Vigil Mass, and a concert.
In a cultural link to the pope and pilgrims in Kraków, the Washington gathering will feature Polish food – pierogies and kielbasa – and a Polish folk dance group from Baltimore will perform and give polka lessons.
The Embassy of Poland is among the sponsors, and will be providing flags and cultural information and will have a booth in the exhibit hall.
“We get to enter into the experience of World Youth Day, even though we’re not in Poland, by gathering together with young adults in D.C.,” said Lisa Lytwyn, a campus minister at the Catholic Student Center at the University of Maryland, which is one of the event’s hosts.
Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl will lead the Stations of the Cross at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine, and walk with young adults in a candlelight procession with a relic of St. John Paul II to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
There Wuerl will celebrate a Vigil Mass for the Washington pilgrims, joined by French Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the new apostolic nuncio to the United States.
Genevieve Mougey, a staff member with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops who is serving on the planning committee for Kraków in the Capital said that event, as a pilgrimage, offers participants a journey of faith and a way to connect with and experience solidarity and community with Catholic young adults there, in Kraków and worldwide.
“We are walking together with Christ, and our brothers and sisters around the world,” said Mougey, the poverty outreach and education manager for the USCCB’s Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development.
Paul Jarzembowski, the World Youth Day USA coordinator for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, added, “World Youth Day is meant for the world, wherever people are, whether they have the means to travel to Kraków (or not), no one is excluded from encountering mercy, from encountering Christ.”
About 40,000 young adults from across the United States will attend World Youth Day in Kraków, where between 1 and 2 million people are expected to join Pope Francis at the international gathering. The USCCB website for World Youth Day lists a dozen stateside gatherings, including the one in Washington, and also events in Chicago, Detroit, Connecticut, New York, Texas, California, Iowa, Wisconsin, Georgia and Ohio.
“Kraków in the Capital allows them to walk in solidarity with people in Kraków” and with Catholic young adults at World Youth Day gatherings in dioceses, parishes, religious communities and homes throughout the world, Jarzembowski said.
“We’re all walking together this week,” he said. “It’s a chance for you to be in solidarity with so many people around the world.”
Kraków in the Capital organizers hope to draw thousands of young adults from across the country, and so far people have registered from the Washington region, New York, Miami and South America.
“It’s our moment to celebrate the energy and diversity of young Catholics, and more importantly, to invite more young people to be a part of our community, to be a part of our friendship with Christ,” said Jonathan Lewis, the director of young adult ministry and evangelization initiatives for the Archdiocese of Washington, which is hosting the event.
Lewis noted that the event is geared for Catholic young adults from ages 18-39, and he encouraged people to invite family members, coworkers and friends to experience World Youth Day at the Washington event.
“Kraków in the Capital is a pilgrimage to encounter Christ,” he said. “Every young adult deserves the opportunity to encounter Christ through an experience of the international church.”
The speakers for the catechetical sessions at Kraków in the Capital will include Jesuit Father James Martin, the author of “Jesus: A Pilgrimage” and an editor at large at America magazine and a frequent guest on “The Colbert Report,” who will speak on “Jesus: Face of the Father’s Mercy.”
Gloria Purvis, the host of the “Morning Glory” on EWTN Global Catholic Radio, will speak on “Spiritual Works of Mercy,” and Jonathan Reyes, the executive director of the USCCB’s Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, will speak about how young adults can live out the Corporal Works of Mercy.
The sessions will also include vocational talks by a priest, woman religious, married couple and a reporter covering politics in Washington. Talks will be offered in English, Spanish and American sign language, and a special track will include talks for young adults with intellectual disabilities.
An exhibit hall will feature booths offering volunteer, mission and religious vocation opportunities for young adults.
After the Vigil Mass at Kraków in the Capital, singer Marie Miller will perform a concert on the Catholic University grounds. Miller sang for Pope Francis at the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, and she has opened for the Backstreet Boys and Sara Evans.
After the concert, the Washington pilgrims can replicate the World Youth Day experience by camping overnight in a field behind the Dominican House of Studies.
Jarzembowski noted that this year’s World Youth Day is a bridge between two popes – St. John Paul II, who began the gatherings, and Pope Francis, who continues them. Both emphasized the importance of encountering Christ, seeking God’s mercy and serving the poor.
Saint John Paul II’s papacy was profoundly affected by the decades he spent in Kraków, first as a student, then as a priest and archbishop, so this year’s World Youth Day there will be a homecoming to that pope’s spiritual roots.
The Kraków in the Capital in Washington also includes special connections to both those popes. The opening prayer and closing Mass will be held at the Basilica of the National Shrine, where Pope Francis canonized St. Junípero Serra last year. The basilica’s Memorial Hall downstairs includes a special exhibit displaying the chair that Pope Francis used at that Mass, and one that Saint John Paul II used during World Youth Day in Denver in 1993.
Pilgrims to the basilica can also visit its Chapel to Our Lady of Czestochowa, where Pope John Paul II prayed during his 1979 visit to Washington.
Young adults attending Kraków in the Capital can also visit the St. John Paul II National Shrine, which has an exhibit on that pope’s life and legacy, with an interactive display and several artifacts related to past World Youth Days.
Also at the Washington event, participants can venerate a relic of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, a patron saint of young adults and World Youth Day. The Italian, who died in 1925 at the age of 24, was known for his life of prayer, service to the poor and social activism, and was an avid mountain climber.
In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, the theme for the 2016 World Youth Day is “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7), and the Washington event, like the main gathering in Poland, will feature opportunities for young adults to receive the sacrament of Confession.
Participants can enter the National Holy Door at the Basilica of the National Shrine to seek a plenary indulgence for the Year of Mercy.
Mougey said the Kraków in the Capital event is designed for all Catholic young adults. “This is for people who are engaged in the faith, and who aren’t,” she said. “People who are searching can come… and find out they’re not alone.”
In addition to the Archdiocese of Washington, hosts for Kraków in the Capital include the Archdiocese of Baltimore; the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia; the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia; Catholic University; the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception; the Saint John Paul II National Shrine; and the Dominican House of Studies.
The event’s sponsors include the Catholic Apostolate Center, the Knights of Columbus, Catholic Relief Services, the Catholic Volunteer Network, FOCUS (the Fellowship of Catholic University Students), Catholic Relief Services, and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.
For Lewis – who helped coordinate a stateside “Rio in D.C.” gathering for young adults to coincide with the 2013 World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, featuring spiritual activities along with Brazilian food and samba dancing – the Kraków in the Capital festival offers a chance to open the doors of the Catholic Church to young Catholics.
“Millennials are looking for something that is authentic, that challenges them, that makes life worth living,” he said. “Moments like Kraków in the Capital… help inspire and challenge young adults to live as missionary disciples” in today’s world, spurring them to share their faith in their homes, parishes, workplaces and communities.
Lewis added, “It’s just another way for people to remember we are part of something bigger.”
(People can register for Kraków in the Capital online at wydDC.org, and they can follow it on Twitter at #wydDC. Registration costs $25 online and $40 at the door.)