I am about to leave for Poland to be at what the writer George Weigel calls the crossroads of Eastern Europe. There is a glorious and deep history to the city of Krakow, and the events of the last century have added to that rich history.
As I attend World Youth Day from July 26 to 31, I hope to visit the birthplace of St. John Paul II, who made Krakow a central focus of the world when he became pope. His pastoral visit to Poland was so instrumental in lifting the Iron Curtain. Surely St. John Paul is an inspiration to us all but most especially to youth, who will gather in thousands from throughout the world to be inspired with new hope as they seek to live a vibrant faith in following Jesus Christ in and through the Catholic Church.
I hope also to visit the terrible scene of Auschwitz, where thousands upon thousands of innocent lives were taken. This is the place where so many Jewish brothers and sisters met their death and where Catholics joined in heroic protest, many also losing their lives.
One such Catholic is St. Maximilian Kolbe. A journalist, Father Kolbe lived a rather quiet spiritual life. Like many saints, he did not seek heroism but simply tried each day to walk humbly with his Savior Jesus Christ, allowing his behavior and his words to be conformed to Christ’s holy image.
This past June marked the 75th anniversary of the fateful day that witnessed Father Kolbe stepping forward and volunteering to give his own life to save the life of a married man about to be executed by the Nazi oppressors. It will be good to be close to the path that each of these heroes walked and to be inspired more deeply to follow Jesus Christ.
In the United States, we tend to think of “youth” as teenagers, but most of those in attendance at this event are actually young adults. I look forward to being with them over these next six days and feel privileged that I was asked to be one of the catechists.
Catechists are invited to offer three catechetical lessons to spark dialogue among those in attendance. I also will celebrate holy Mass with them on three successive days. The themes of the three teachings will be on the Year of Mercy: the great gift of mercy, the invitation to allow the mercy of God to enter into each of our hearts and the call to share that gift of mercy with those around us, especially those most in need of the touch of God’s mercy.
The highlight of the week will be the presence of Pope Francis. It is inspiring how his ministry as our Holy Father has manifested the centrality of mercy to the message and grace of Jesus Christ. I can’t wait to be inspired by his words and to be renewed in my heart, alongside the young adults who are in Krakow seeking to follow the path of Jesus.
In the midst of a world surrounded by violence and despair, we need these clear signs and beacons of hope. We need heroic figures who will have the capacity to move our hearts and inspire a sacrificial love that is generous and joyful.
The good news about today’s modern media is that virtually everyone can participate in World Youth Day. Through television and other media reports, through the reporting in The Record and other newspapers and through conversations with like-minded people, I hope to be joined in prayer and solidarity with you and with all throughout the world who join Pope Francis in celebrating this Jubilee Year of Mercy in Krakow.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz