Since their arrival to Jordan in August 2014, Iraqi Christian refugees were living in improvised church premises, halls and caravans. The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem (LPJ) has been helping them unconditionally by paying their accommodations and utilities, and is now providing food coupons to each family in order to help care for some of the basic needs for food and toiletries while respecting their individual preferences.
The most essential fields of support for the refugees are: first, the educational support – school fees for 1,100 students, transportation for 745 students, book fees for 1,100 students, uniform fees 1,100 students, un-formal EDU 300 students, life skill trainings for 450 students. Moreover, the LPJ provided around 11,235 displaced Iraqi families with humanitarian support, such as: cash money, food, clothes, shelter, water, medicine, hospital fees, transportation, etc.
The LPJ, with the support of its benevolent benefactors from the German Lieutenancy and Foundation, is committed to extend support to refugee families. We started with the initiative of providing food coupons to each family in order to help care for some of the basic needs for food and toiletries while respecting their individual preferences. “The Lord is compassionate and merciful,” this is the slogan of the new program. Each family receives a coupon for 50 Jordanian Dinars Rather than a box of pre-selected items. 136 families are enrolled in this program and the total cost of it is JOD 6,800.
The LPJ has established an agreement with a local store that accepts the coupon as payment for approved goods. To preserve the integrity of the program and allocate the funding to legitimate needs for hunger and hygiene, certain items are exempt for purchase. Each coupon is accepted currency for a large variety of items to include desirable commodities like tuna, powdered milk, processed cheese, soap, detergent, tea, rice, and sugar.
Lord, come to the aid of families who have fled to safety. Guide them to places where they can find help and rest. Provide host communities with the resources to assist families arriving on their doorstep. Lord, we trust in You.
Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem Most Rev. Pierbattista Pizzaballa has nominated Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem and Palestine William Shomali as Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan to succeed Bishop Maroun Lahham.
The statement issued by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem states: “After consultation with the bishops Council and the Consultative Council of the Latin Patriarchate, H.E. Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, nominated Bishop William Shomali as Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan, succeeding Bishop Maroun Lahham who resigned from his office last week.”
The statement issued by the Apostolic Administrator added: “The Latin Patriarchate thanks again Bishop Maroun Lahham for his long service to the Church in the Holy Land, and wishes Bishop William Shomali success in his new mission, assuring him of the spiritual support of the diocese and the full collaboration of the priests and the faithful.”
Bishop William Shomali
Bishop William Shomali was born in 1950 in Beit Sahour. He entered in 1961 in the seminary of Beit Jala. After completing his studies in philosophy and theology, he received in 1972 his ordination to priesthood. Shomali was then chaplain in Zarqa, Jordan, and pastor in Shatana, Jordan. In 1980, he completed a postgraduate degree in English Literature from Yarmouk University and was a lecturer and later director of the Minor Seminary of Beit Jala.
In 1989, Bishop Shomali completed a Doctorate in Liturgical Studies at the Pontifical Atheneum of St. Anselm Studies in Rome and worked as a professor of liturgy, Vice-Rector and Dean of Studies at the Faculty of Philosophy and Theology of the Major Seminary of Beit Jala.
In 1998 he became General Administrator and Economist of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. In 2005, he was appointed rector of the Latin Patriarchate Seminary in Beit Jala. In 2009, he was appointed chancellor of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Pope Benedict XVI appointed Bishop Shomali in 2010 as titular bishop and ordered him in succession to Kamal Bathish as Auxiliary bishop in the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. He became responsible as Patriarchal Vicar for Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan and Cyprus. He received his episcopal consecration on May 27 of the same year by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, in Bethlehem.
The greatest strength of the Church today is in the little, persecuted Churches. That was the message of Pope Francis at the morning Mass on Monday, January 30, in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta. At the heart of the Pope’s homily were the martyrs: “Today there are more than in the first ages” – but the media says nothing about them, he continued, because it’s not news. Pope Francis invited us to remember those who suffer martyrdom.
“Without memory there is no hope,” the Pope said, basing his homily on the reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. The first Reading of the Mass is an exhortation to remember the whole history of the people of the Lord. The liturgy in these days focuses on the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, which speaks of memory – and first of all, a “memory of docility,” the memory of the docility of so many people, beginning with Abraham, who was obedient, who went out from his own land without knowing where he was going. In particular, the section of Hebrews 11 read in today’s Mass dealt with other memories: the memory of the great works of the Lord, accomplished by Gideon, Barak, Samson, David; “so many people,” the Pope said, “who have done great things in the history of Israel.
Today there are more martyrs than in the first ages: the media says nothing because they're not newsworthy
There is also a third group we remember: the martyrs, “those who have suffered and given their lives, as Jesus did,” who “were stoned, tortured, killed by the sword.” The Church, in fact, is “this people of God,” “sinful but docile,” which “does great things and also bears witness to Jesus Christ, to the point of martyrdom”:
“The martyrs are those that carry the Church forward, they are those who support the Church, who have supported her [in the past] and [who] support her today. And today there are more than in the first centuries. The media doesn’t speak of them because they're not newsworthy, but so many Christians in the world today are blessed because [they are] persecuted, insulted, incarcerated. There are so many imprisoned solely for carrying a cross or for confessing Jesus Christ! This is the glory of the Church, and our support, and also our humiliation: we who have so much, everything seems so easy for us, and if we are lacking something we complain. But let us think of these our brothers and sisters who today, in numbers greater than in the first ages, are suffering martyrdom!”
“I cannot forget,” Pope Francis continued, “the testimony of that priest and that sister in the Cathedral of Tirana [Albania]: years and years of imprisonment, forced labour, humiliations,” for whom human rights did not exist.
The greatest strength of the Church is the small, persecuted Churches
Then the Pope recalled that the greatest strength of the Church of today is in the “little Churches” that are persecuted:
“And we too – it’s also true and just – we are satisfied when we see a great ecclesial act, which has great success, Christians who demonstrate… and this is beautiful! Is this strength? Yes, it’s strength. But the greatest strength of the Church today is in the little Churches, tiny, with few people, persecuted, with their Bishops in prison. This is our glory today, this is our glory and our strength.”
The blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians
“A Church without martyrs – I would dare to say – is a church without Jesus,” the Pope said in conclusion. He then invited those present to pray “for our martyrs, who suffer so much… for those Churches that are not free to express themselves: they are our hope.” And the Pope recalled that in the first ages of the Church, an ancient writer said “the blood of Christians, the blood of the martyrs, is the seed of Christians”:
“They, with their martyrdom, their witness, with their suffering, even giving their life, offering their life, sow Christians for the future and in other Churches. Let us offer this Mass for our martyrs, for those who are now suffering, for the Churches that suffer, who do not have liberty. And let us thank the Lord for being present with the strength of the Holy Spirit in these our brothers and sisters who today are bearing witness to Him.”
Archbishop Bashar Warda is the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Erbil in Iraq, and has long been an outspoken voice on behalf of Middle East Christianity. He recently spoke to Crux from Erbil about the Trump administration’s controversial executive order on refugees, including the idea of giving special preference to Christians and other minorities who have been victims of ISIS genocide. Following is the text of the interview:
CRUX: When the executive order was rolled out, your own upcoming trip to the United States was cancelled. What happened?
Warda: The main purpose for coming was for a Congressional hearing that was postponed. I hope to come soon and to testify on behalf of Christians in Iraq.
Do you agree that security concerns warrant the new U.S. refugee policy?
I don’t know what the president knows about security risks as they relate to the “countries of concern” and refugees from them.
I do know two things.
First, it is terrible to live with terrorism. My country lives with terrorism daily. And if the United States wants to have a strong vetting process, I can understand and appreciate that. Some people are quick to forget that Europe has tried to slow down the refugee flow too. The EU has done its best to keep the refugees in Turkey, and has paid Turkey to keep them there. Obviously, in the era of terrorism, people are concerned about who is entering their country and that is understandable.
Second, the Catholic Church is fundamentally on the side of immigrants, regardless of their faith or origin. This is a core part of who we are. So these are complex times in a brutal world. The real question is what is the obligation of the world community, not just the U.S., to all the innocent victims of this brutality. As the Church, especially here in Iraq, we are shepherds to the innocents, all of them - those who are migrating and those who are not.
I fear that all the media discussion on this travel issue will place the focus completely on those who are in the migration process, and forget those who are still attempting to live and survive in their legitimate homeland.
One other thing: Christians and other minorities have been largely ignored by the American government before now, so even if this step had a bumpy start and required clarification, we in Iraq appreciate that an American administration understands that we are here and wants to help the minorities here who have suffered so much.
Do you think this order will make it harder for Christians from Iraq?
Someone quoted me out of context on this in another article, so let me clarify it.
Obviously in certain individual cases in the short term, this could change the plans of those who were in the process of immigrating or traveling, but I understand several of our families with new immigrant visas have now been approved for travel just this week.
As long as this is understood as something available to all the minority communities of Iraq, and not just to the Christians, I do not think this will make it harder for us Christians here in Iraq. Obviously in the long run, it will make it easier for those from our community who wish to move to the West. And while I hope most of our people will stay, I must respect the decision they make for themselves, especially after what they have endured.
What do you make of the protests against President Trump’s refugee order?
Everyone, including the administration, seems to agree that this should have been implemented with more clarity. There was much confusion about what the order meant and many people were very upset.
From my perspective in Iraq, I wonder why all of these protesters were not protesting in the streets when ISIS came to kill Christians and Yazidis and other minority groups. They were not protesting when the tens of thousands of displaced Christians my archdiocese has cared for since 2014 received no financial assistance from the U.S. government or the U.N. There were no protests when Syrian Christians were only let in at a rate that was 20 times less than the percentage of their population in Syria.
I do not understand why some Americans are now upset that the many minority communities that faced a horrible genocide will finally get a degree of priority in some manner.
I would also say this, all those who cry out that this is a “Muslim Ban” - especially now that it has been clarified that it is not - should understand clearly that when they do this, they are hurting we Christians specifically and putting us at greater risk. The executive order has clearly affected Christians and Yazidis and others as well as Muslims.
Here in Iraq we Christians cannot afford to throw out words carelessly as the media in the West can do. I would ask those in the media who use every issue to stir up division to think about this. For the media these things become an issue of ratings, but for us the danger is real.
Most Americans have no concept of what it was like to live as a Yazidi or Christian or other minority as ISIS invaded. Our people had the option to flee, to convert, or to be killed, and many were killed in the most brutal ways imaginable. But there were none of these protests then of ISIS’s religious test.
Our people lost everything because of their faith - they were targeted for their faith, just like the Yazidis and others too. Now these protesters are saying that religion should not matter at all, even though someone was persecuted for their faith, even though persecution based on religion is one of the grounds for refugee status in the UN treaty on refugees.
From here I have to say, it is really unbelievable.
It is exactly this reasoning, that religion should not be a factor at all in American policy, that has resulted in Christians and other minority communities being overlooked by U.S. and UN aid programs. We are too small to matter, our communities are disappearing from constant persecution, and for years the American government didn’t care. Now when someone tries to help us, we have protesters telling us that there can be no religious basis for refugee status - even though the UN treaty and American law say that religious persecution is a major reason for granting the status, and even though ISIS targeted people primarily on the basis of religion.
I am not saying that any group should have a blanket preference when it comes to being admitted as a refugee in the United States. Such a policy would not be right, and would clearly be against our Catholic faith and teaching. And that is not the policy as I understand it.
But it is very hard for me to understand why comfortable people in the West think those who are struggling to survive against genocide, and whose communities are at extreme risk of disappearing completely, should not get some special consideration. We are an ancient people on the verge of extinction because of our commitment to our faith. Will anybody protest for us?
Do you think your people will take advantage of this priority status?
Clearly, I don’t want our Christian people to leave Iraq, because I hope our community will stay and thrive in its homeland, and contribute to the pluralism of a land Christians have called home for almost 2000 years. I think that a real Christian presence is critical to any future peace and reconciliation efforts here.
But that does not mean that I do not appreciate the effort and gesture the American government is making by giving priority to the most vulnerable people here. Remember, we have many thousands of Iraqi Christians, victims of ISIS, now trapped in other countries in the Middle East trying to get out to safety who do not even exist for the UN because they are afraid to enter the official refugee camps. This is a real problem.
Of those who are still here, I truly hope most of our people won’t seek asylum outside of Iraq, but I cannot stop them if they believe this is the only way they can have a life. The hardship and hopelessness, especially among the displaced people, is incredible. These people have lost everything on earth because of their faith in Jesus Christ. It is that simple.
They have kept their faith, but everything else has been taken from them. Everything.
What would you like to see changed in this executive order?
There needs to be a proper understanding and perception of what this means. Obviously there has been confusion about this and that isn’t good for anyone, including the administration. As other Christian leaders have noted, it is not good if people think there is priority only for the Christians. That could make us a target, but clearly we now know this is not the actual case with this policy.
This priority status was announced for all religious minorities in my country. That would include Yazidis and Mandaeans as well as Christians. It would have included Jews also, but Iraq already expelled almost all of its Jewish community decades ago.
In Syria, Shiite Muslims are a minority, and they were targeted by ISIS. So this isn’t only about the Christians. But there have been many injustices to the Christians and other minorities before now, especially with those from Syria having been largely excluded from entry to the United States since 2011.
I am happy an American president finally realizes there are Christians - and other religious minority groups - here who need help. This is an important step forward, and it means a good deal to the displaced people here. We have felt like we were forgotten by the United States until now.
What do your people need most from the American government?
The Christians of Iraq desperately need American government humanitarian aid now, and we need it to be delivered in a manner to ensure it actually reaches us and does not get absorbed and redirected in the existing aid structures.
My archdiocese hosts the largest community of displaced Christians in my country, and since 2014, we have received no money from the United States government and no money from the UN. We have hosted and cared for all of these displaced people on our own, with funds we raised privately on our own, nearly all of it from private Christian charitable groups. We are talking about housing, food, medicine, and schools. We have done all of this, and are continuing to do so.
I should say also that we are not just taking care of Christian IDPs. We have taken in many Yazidi families in our programs, and our medical clinics serve large numbers of Muslim IDP patients. As of today, we will run out of money for many of these programs in three months. For medicines, we have only two months’ reserve left, and we are serving many thousands of IDPs - Christians, Muslims and Yazidis. Our small staff is busy night and day working to find these funds, but we have been doing this for almost three years and many of our private donors are reaching their limits.
While the U.S. has donated generously to the overall humanitarian aid effort in Iraq, almost none of this aid reached the Christians. We are told by some that they cannot give us money because we are a Church. I have two things to say about this.
First, we have been advised by members of U.S. Congress that U.S. law does not prohibit Church organizations from receiving humanitarian funds, it only prohibits the use of proselytizing with those funds. As I just stated, we serve Yazidis and Muslims already and treat them with dignity and respect for who they are. And as Catholics, we are always respecting of all faiths.
Second, I think we have also delivered aid to the IDPs in a way that is far more efficient and effective than these other “official” aid organizations. Our staff are members of the Church, missionaries and volunteers, doing this work because we believe we are called to it. But under the previous administration, the Americans, and the UN, were applying a rigid formula that blocked the Church from receiving aid to help take care of our IDPs, while also denying aid to our IDPs directly because, in the view of the UN, we the Church were already taking care of them.
Imagine the frustration we have felt about this! And there was no outrage about this. Iraqi Christians celebrated when Trump won, because they hoped the American government would finally care about them after years of neglect by your government.
Why is it that Americans only use a religious test to prevent minority groups who are genocide survivors from getting aid, or to prevent them from getting any kind of priority assistance based on the needs of their communities? Here, we do not understand this.
Beyond this, because they are still displaced and will be for many more months, perhaps years, our people need aid to survive. Because their homes and villages were often destroyed by ISIS, they desperately need U.S. financial assistance to rebuild. Because the security situation is so complicated, they need meaningful security guarantees. And they need the U.S. government to insist that religious minorities get the same rights as citizens that every other citizen in Iraq gets, because right now, we do not get those same rights.
What is your impression of President Trump so far?
I am not a politician and I do not offer political endorsements, but on the issues that affect my people directly, I can say that I am pleased that an American president is focused on the plight of small religious communities - including the Christians - in Iraq. In many ways, this gives us a renewed hope for the future that we are not alone and abandoned by the West and by the United States, which was the common belief here up until now.
Maronite Church: 2017 is the year of martyrdom and martyrs
Msgr. Mounir Khairallah, Maronite bishop of Batroun announced on Wednesday, February 1, that the year 2017 will be celebrated by the Maronite Church as "the year of martyrdom and martyrs." The announcement came during a press conference at the Catholic Information Center.
The year will extends from the February 9,2017, Feast of Saint Maron (the fifth century hermit, who gave his name to the Maronite tradition), until March 2, 2018, feast of St. John Maron, the first Maronite Patriarch (seventh century ).
The year will be enriched by different programs, to which the faithful are invited to participate. In a message for the occasion, the Patriarch Bechara Rai said that it is very appropriate to dedicate a year to this theme, at a time when the Church suffers persecution in many places, and particularly in the Middle East.
Even Pope Francis often speaks of contemporary martyrs, saying that "today they are much more numerous than in the first centuries." In his Homily last January 30th in Casa Santa Marta, he added: "The greatest strength of the Church today is in the little Churches, tiny, with few people, persecuted, with their Bishops in prison. This is our glory today, this is our glory and our strength.”
The WYD are officially over. Most of the young people from all over the world left Cracow already on Sunday. Some groups plan to stay few more days and visit some other places in Poland, the country they just started to discover. For all of the pilgrims the WYD was an unforgettable event and everyone takes back home some seeds – especially those planted in their hearts by words of Pope Francis – in order to let it grow and bring fruits in the future.
As usual, after the big gatherings like that one, after physically and spiritually intensive days as the WYD were, there is a natural tendency to sum up the event, to speak about reflections and conclusions. Many of them will still appear with the time but some of the fruits of the WYD can be seen already.
Gathered in the name of Jesus
The WYD took a lot of months to prepare and involved many resources, so are the gatherings like that worthy and needed? Pilgrims asked about it gave only one answer: yes, very much! They are essential! Why? Not only because the pilgrims could meet their peers from other countries and exchange culturally, not only because they had fun and participated in different concerts and events offered by the Youth Festival, or because they bounded new friendships and learned more about the Church in the world but most of all – because they knew that they gathered in one name - in the name of Jesus. Jesus was the one who called them to come to Cracow and let them feel the unity of the Church, and particularly of the youth in the Church.
"For me, even if it sounds strange, the main impressive was the opening ceremony – says Valerie from France – the moment I realised how many we are. That was an immense experience". Mario from Portugal shared this opinion "Sometimes I feel so lonely and ask myself if the values I am following are the true ones, because I see the world is acting opposite. So having the sense of community of the Church was extremely important for me".
Some of pilgrims brought strong testimonies of the obstacles they had to overcome in order to get to Cracow, of how God moved the mountains of impossibilities so that they could participate in the WYD. Jose Leonardo from Caracas, Venezuela, came to Cracow alone but only thanks to some friends from Spain who collected the money to cover his trip and stay in Cracow. "I am so thankful – he says – and I tried to pay it back by working as a volunteer and pass the goodness I received to others".
Strengthening of faith
To some of them it was of immense importance to see Catholics from different countries speaking and giving testimonies of their faith freely. That is not the case in all the countries, however we often take it for granted – going to the mass, daily access to the sacraments, freedom of faith.
"It was great for me to see other people proclaiming their faith freely, on the streets, through prayer, singing and dancing – says Ida from Philippines who lives in Dubai – There, were I live I cannot do that so openly, I may pray but only in the church, as praying outside can be seen as an offence and can lead to consequences like penalty. Also I need to be careful with showing the symbols of faith as for example wearing a cross. Therefore for me being in Cracow it feels like a freedom, like I can breathe in and out my faith. I feel strengthed by being here and seeing others living the same faith".
Polish Combonian missionary, Magda, who is working and living in Ethiopia since almost 2 years, came here with the group of youth. She confirms that also for Ethiopians this is a great and strengthening experience to be able to meet other believers, as in Ethiopia only around 1% of population is Catholic. Ethiopia has two main religions – Christian Copts and Muslims and not a lot of space is created for the Catholic Church so very often even the Catholic holy mass is celebrated in the Coptic rite. "I see how important it is for my group to be among other Christians and in such amount of people of the same faith. My group is really impressed and lifted" – she said.
Discover diversity and richness of the Church
Although we believe in the same God and proclaim the same faith the culture still influences us a lot – especially our way of expressing our faith. "Seeing how people can live their faith on different ways showed me that I belong to the Church which is rich and diverse – says Ewelina from Podkarpacie, Poland – I was amazed by looking at those colours and flags and people on the streets. Watching how different we are but at the same time to feel that we belong to the same God, that we are His children".
"This meeting was breaking the stereotypes in my head – adds Patricia from Philippines - I met people from the countries where I thought there are no believers. And then I saw them kneeling and praying and I needed to revise my convictions, so I can say that the WYD changed a lot my perspective".
But was such diversity not disturbing? How to communicate with so many cultures and people speaking so many languages? "Even if we do not speak the same language we can communicate – smiles Jose Leonardo – look at me! I connected with people with my heart and my smile. We served and were friendly and kind with each other but also through observing we could learn how different we live all over the world but then we can still stay united in our faith".
Following the example
"Blessed be the merciful" was a theme of this WYD. The youth knows it is not easy to be merciful but they feel encouraged to try further. How? By watching the examples of the Saints and Blessed ones who were patrons of the WYD. Pier Giorgio Frassati seemed to gain a lot of new friends over the last week of July. "He was just like us, his way was simple, he loved God, other people and mountains, paid attention to others and … look, he smoked pipe and still he became blessed! – said Tomek with smile – however… - he adds quickly - he probably did not know that smoking is not so healthy as he smoked probably because it was fashionable at that times. I guess he would not smoke anymore today. Well, it does not matter, but he simply seems "normal", just like each one of us and that's why I like him so much and want to follow his example".
Being witnesses of Jesus
Ewelina came here because she was called to join the choir at the evangelisation centre. She was not actively walking on the streets and telling others about Jesus herself but by watching other evangelisers and listening to their testimonies she felt she is called to be witness of Jesus in everyday life in many more ways than she did till now - in her family, friend's circle but also to those she does not know, to those being perceived as "difficult" by society. "I got this courage by watching the evangelisers – she says – and I wish I can do the same and proclaim Jesus to others, not only those who I feel safe with because I know them but also at the university, at my home, to unknown groups".
Pope that demands
Starting from the opening mass with Cardinal Dziwisz, than participating in welcoming of pope Francis, the Way of Cross, Vigil and holy mass in Brzegi up to the final meeting with volunteers at Tauron Arena young people proved that they knew what they come for. They wanted to listen to the Peter of our times and to take his words back to their home countries, like the seeds that are about to bring fruits in the future. Notwithstanding lack of sleep, changing weather, rain and heat, they were very focused and silent when Pope Francis talked to them.
"I liked Pope Francis for being direct but also very concrete – said Maria Angelica from Colombia – and that he believes in us, that we can change the world. I like that he reminded me that living the live with Jesus is not looking for a comfort, that the faith is an adventure. He made me think how I live and how I spend my time – is it at the sofa? How can I live more and be more? We should not be comforted and closed in our little world we create artificially but we shall put on our shoes and walk with Jesus, be active and even be tired of being active for Jesus. We shall not close ourselves in our little worlds but go outside to other people".
Costs of faith
"I was very much moved by the testimony of the girl from Aleppo during the Vigil who was saying about her daily live in Syria, that when waking up in the morning she is not sure if she will meet all of her friends and family in the evening – says Maria from Lebanon who came here with Saint Rafqa Choir – that made me think about how others live and to appreciate more what I have. Also, I found the experience of tiredness and discomfort in Brzegi, of not sleeping at comfortable bed as an act of solidarity with people living in poverty every day. This is also what Pope Francis said to us Sunday morning – that this hunger and tiredness we experienced over those days is daily reality of many people. That moved me a lot! I realised I shall be more thankful for having home and family, for the things in my life I just take for granted".
Marching and awaiting the ceremony in Brzegi seemed not to be a problem, even if tiredness of walking and being exposed to the sun was visible on pilgrims' faces.
"I really believe that God has planned the timing of the sun and the rain – says Patricia – because during the Vigil the weather was so good! And if it would have rained we would have had really hard time. When we were leaving Brzegi it started to rain so I read it as a kindness of God telling us 'You are so tired, you need to cool down now, my children'" – she finished laughing.
"It does not matter – adds Maria Angelica - believe me! It was the thing I thought less about. I am here because I am searching for God and because I believe He has a message for me. I know why I am here and discomfort was not a big price to pay".
Starting change now, starting from myself
"If you don't give the best of yourself the world will not change – those words hit me really and I take it personally. I want to be that difference – says Patricia– I hope that once I am back in Philippines I can inspire young people like me to be more active in helping others". And Patricia is not the only one who felt to have a mission in the world and in the place she lives.
Pilgrims headed back to their home countries but what left after them in Poland? People asked at the streets of Cracow admitted to be surprised with the joy and atmosphere that was brought to the city by this international crowd. "There were some difficulties in the transport – said Grazyna, age 56, nurse from Cracow – as I am a nurse and I need to move around Cracow to reach all my patients but I really did not mind to leave home a bit earlier. Not only because I wanted to be on time but also because I wanted to experience this atmosphere too. Those young people in their colourful coats reminded me of butterflies that are flying over the meadow – lightly and joyful. I always wanted to travel and see the world. Now the world came to my city so how could I be upset?!"
But Cracow was not the only city in Poland that experienced the invasion of international butterflies. Diocese days that preceded ceremonies in Cracow gave the opportunity to people from different cities in Poland to host international guests. "When taking two pilgrims from Tobago and Trinidad I did not expected that my family will be so blessed with them – says Olga from Warsaw – we are practicing family but still those two guests opened us and encouraged to pray more together as a family. I did not expect that."
"Poland? I adore! – says Jose Manuel – people are a bit more serious than in South America, but I experienced a lot of kindness! "
Kindness and hospitality were top two most listed descriptions of Polish people, and Diocese days built up the bonds that were over language and cultural barriers. For the Ethiopian group Cracow could not cover the charm of Szamotuly, where they left their hearts during days spent with "their" families.
So being Christian is not seating on the sofa, is being active. It is about moving forward, giving the best of ourselves and believing that God is on our side. He sees us with His merciful eyes and always cheers us. But He also calls us to be merciful to others, to take responsibilities and shape our future.
The spark of mercy went out in the world. The seeds of those days were planted in the hearts. The plants out of it are already sprouting. The fruits they bring to us and to the world will depend of our faithfulness and responsibility. But we have the meeting in Panama in three years in order to get reminded about all of that.
So let's meet there. It surely will be worth it!
During the time of the Wednesday General Audience Pope Francis, turning to the faithful, referred to the recently concluded pilgrimage to Poland and to World Youth Day.
“Today I want to share the memory of my apostolic trip to Poland, which ended a few days ago. The occasion for it was World Youth Day”.
...the youth of the world received the message of mercy to carry it everywhere
“Once again young people answered the call: they came from the whole world to celebrate a festival of colours, different faces, languages, different histories. They came here also with their wounds, with their questions, but first of all with the joy of meeting. Once again they formed a mosaic of brotherhood. During this great Jubilee meeting young people received the message of mercy to carry it everywhere through works for the soul and for the body. I thank all young people who came to Krakow! And I thank those who joined us from every corner of the Earth! May the gift received by you become an everyday answer to God's call,” said the Holy Father to the faithful in the Paul VI Hall.
...Europe has no future apart from its founding values
Pope Francis also spoke about the important role that Poland plays in contemporary Europe: “I also visited the Sanctuary in Częstochowa. Before the image of Our Lady, before Her maternal gaze, it is possible to understand the spiritual sense of the pilgrimage of this nation, whose history is inseparably connected with the Cross of Christ. Here we tangibly touch the faith of the holy faithful people of God, which guards hope through trials; and also guards this wisdom, which is a balance between tradition and innovation, between the past and the future. And Poland reminds all of Europe today, that there cannot be talk about the future of the continent apart from its founding values, centred on the Christian vision of man and including the message of mercy expressed so eloquently in the last century by Saints John Paul and Faustina Kowalska.”
…this trip also had a global perspective
He also emphasized the global perspective of his presence in the former German concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau:
“Finally this trip also had a global perspective, by a world urged to answer to the challenge connected with the war threatening it “in pieces”. And here the great silence of the visit in Auschwitz-Birkenau was more telling than any words. In this great silence I prayed for all victims of violence and war. For all of this I thank God and the Virgin Mary.”
…I thank the Polish nation and the Church in Poland for this great festival of youth
Pope Francis, during his first audience after a July summer break, also turned to Polish pilgrims:
“Brothers and sisters, through you I thank the Polish nation and the Church in Poland for this great festival of youth, which we were able to experience in Krakow. Once more I thank the President of Poland, other government representatives, the Cardinal Archbishop of Krakow and the whole Episcopate of Poland and all those who in various ways prepared and made this event possible, which offered a sign of fraternity and peace to Poland, Europe and the world.”
I ask God that these young people who I met in Krakow would carry in their hearts the spark of His mercy to the whole world. I entrust to God the soul of Cardinal Macharski, whom I was able to visit before his death, which took place yesterday! May God bless you!”
Every World Youth Day, the pope holds an evening prayer vigil preceding the concluding Mass celebration. This year’s prayer vigil in Kraków was held at Campus Misericordie where about 1.6 million people gathered to hear his address and pray in communion with Catholics from around the world. Pilgrims trekked nearly nine miles to the site and spent Saturday night on the Campus Misericordie grounds to participate in the Sunday Mass celebrated by Pope Francis. As he entered in the Popemobile accompanied by international youth, Pope Francis smiled wide and waved to the crowds.
The prayer vigil began with a performance of dance and song that portrayed the life and vision of Saint Faustina. Accompanying the performance, young Syrians shared moving words of their persevering faith despite national and personal suffering and strife. Explaining the constant fear and sense of hopelessness, one said, “Every day we live lives surrounded by death. We are gripped by fear that we will not return to find our homes and families as we left them.” However, her faith empowers her resilience. “I believe that sometimes through our pain he teaches us the true meaning of love. My faith in Christ is the reason for my faith and hope. No one can steal this joy from me.”
Following these witnesses, Pope Francis opened his address reflecting on the reality of global conflicts such as Syria’s current crisis. “The suffering and the wars that many young people experience are no longer anonymous, something we read about in the papers. They have a name, they have a face, they have a story, they are close at hand.” Calling on the audience to join him in prayer for the victims of war and Syrian families, he said, “Once and for all, may we realize that nothing justifies shedding the blood of a brother or sister; that nothing is more precious than the person next to us.”
Pope Francis then emphasized the significance of World Youth Day as an international celebration that transcends conflict. “Our response to a world at war has a name: its name is fraternity, its name is brotherhood, its name is communion, its name is family. We celebrate the fact that coming from different cultures, we have come together to pray. Let our best word, our best argument, be our unity in prayer.” While the fear of danger is paralyzing, he referenced a more severe form of paralysis in our lives: indifference. Pope Francis compared this paralysis to a “sofa that makes us feel comfortable, calm, safe” and shields us from all pain and worry. This “sofa happiness” leads to a loss of freedom as others step in to shape our lives and the world.
To combat this apathy, he urged, “Dear young people, we didn’t come into this work to “vegetate”, to take it easy, to make our lives a comfortable sofa to fall asleep on. No, we came for another reason: to leave a mark.” We must not confuse happiness with comfort. Jesus was the ultimate risk-taker and never settled for security. “Following Jesus demands a good dose of courage, a readiness to trade in the sofa for a pair of walking shoes and to set out on new and uncharted paths,” Pope Francis explained. We must follow “the path of the ‘craziness’ of our God, who teaches us to encounter him in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the friend in trouble, the prisoner, the refugee and the migrant, and our neighbors who feel abandoned.” Wherever our lives take us, we must actively share the faith with those around us.
Although we may feel inadequate, God “wants to turn your hands, my hands, our hands, into signs of reconciliation, of communion, of creation. He wants your hands to continue building the world of today. And He wants to build that world with you.” God’s plans are directed toward the future, our potential, and our capacity for love. We are not called to be “couch potatoes” or “bench-warmers,” but rather strong witnesses of faith who will leave “a mark on history.”
Pope Francis asked youth to courageously challenge adults and teach them “how to live in diversity, in dialogue, to experience multiculturalism not as a threat but an opportunity. Have the courage to teach us that it is easier to build bridges than walls.” He closed his address with a challenge to “abandon the paths of rejection, division and emptiness.” He asked, “Are you up to this? What answer will you give, with your hands and with your feet, to the Lord, who is the way, the truth and the life?” With the words and witness of Pope Francis to guide us, let us live fearlessly with courage and faith.
Under the beating sun, World Youth Day pilgrims listened to Pope Francis’s words of encouragement during the World Youth Day concluding Mass held at Campus Misericordiae. His homily focused on the Gospel recounting the story of the tax collector Zacchaeus. Pope Francis outlined three modern challenges of faith that Zacchaeus also encountered: self-doubt, shame, and public opposition. He countered each challenge with these realities of Catholicism:
We are worthy of God’s love despite our sins
Zacchaeus didn’t believe he was worthy of receiving God’s mercy and love. This self-doubt prevented him from realizing his “deepest identity” as a child of God. Pope Francis explained that failure to recognize our worth “is like walking away when God wants to look at me, trying to spoil his dream for me. God loves us the way we are, and no sin, fault or mistake of ours makes him change his mind.” He asserted that every person is special and important to God; he sees beyond our exterior appearance and material possessions to our hearts. “God counts on you for what you are, not for what you possess.”
Dwelling on our sins and troubles “is a kind of virus infecting and blocking everything; it closes doors and prevents us from getting up and starting over.” In contrast, God has unfailing hope in our potential and is always “cheering us on.” Pope Francis advised that we begin each day with the prayer, “Lord, I thank you for loving me; help me to be in love with my own life!”
We must sacrifice and take risks to follow Christ
Zacchaeus ignored his pride and risked his reputation as a public figure by climbing a tree to encounter Jesus. Although aware of the risk and humiliation, “he mastered his shame, because the attraction of Jesus was more powerful.” We must do the same, whatever this risk means in the context of our lives. “When it comes to Jesus, we cannot sit around waiting with arms folded; he offers us life. We can’t respond by thinking about it or ‘texting’ a few words.”
Pope Francis urged Catholic youth to partake in confession to place all weaknesses, struggles, and sins in God’s hands. “He will surprise you with his forgiveness and his peace.” Faith demands worldly sacrifice and “a firm ‘no’ to the narcotic of success at any cost and the sedative of worrying only about yourself and your own comfort.”
We need courage to overcome worldly opposition
Lastly, Pope Francis advocated for courage when faced with the world’s criticism and doubt. “People will try to block you, to make you think that God is distant, rigid and insensitive.” We must maintain our hope and show love to all—even our enemies. The crowd surrounding Zacchaeus held him back from encountering Jesus and then criticized him as a sinner unworthy of Jesus’s attention and love. “People may judge you to be dreamers, because you believe in a new humanity, one that rejects hatred between peoples, one that refuses to see borders as barriers and can cherish its own traditions without being self-centered or small-minded.”
When faced with opposition, we must not become discouraged. Instead, we should be a constant witness of faith and hope to. Look beyond the surface and any faults to the humanity of every person you encounter. “Don’t stop at the surface of things; distrust the worldly cult of appearances, cosmetic attempts to improve our looks. Instead, ‘download’ the best ‘link’ of all, that of a heart which sees and transmits goodness without growing weary.”
Pope Francis concluded by recounting Jesus’s call to Zacchaeus, “Come down, for I must stay at your house today.” Applying this invitation to World Youth Day attendees, he shared, “We can say that World Youth Day begins today and continues tomorrow, in your homes, since that is where Jesus wants to meet you from now on.” He wants to enter every aspect of our lives from our work to our relationships.
God’s memory is everlasting and we are precious to him always. Pope Francis stressed the importance of emulating God’s memory, “May we too now try to imitate the faithful memory of God and treasure the good things we have received in these days.” Jesus also calls us by name like he called Zacchaeus down from the tree so He can enter and fulfill our lives with His mercy.