KRAKOW, Poland – Pope Francis is coming to southern Poland from July 27-31 to meet with young people from around the globe who gather for the World Youth Day, which is being held July 25-31. Here's a look at his trip and the places he will be visiting.
WHY IS THE POPE VISITING?
World Youth Day was established in 1985 by Polish-born Pope John Paul II, whom Francis declared a saint in 2014, and aims to inspire young people to follow Christian values of peace and love in life. The gatherings are held every two or three years. The first meeting was held in Rome in 1986, attended by John Paul II and some 30,000 participants. The largest World Youth Day gathering was in the Philippines in 1995, when an estimated 5 million people attended a Mass celebrated by John Paul II. This year, World Youth Day is being held in Krakow and its surroundings.
THE CITY OF KRAKOW, ITS ROYAL CASTLE AND CATHEDRAL
Krakow, a city of 760,000 in southern Poland, dates back before the 10th century, when it was already a commercial center. It was the king's residence and Poland's capital from the 14th century through the 16th century. Central Krakow is a Gothic and Renaissance city with a spacious market square, among Europe's largest. During World War II, the city escaped damage. Pope John Paul II, born Karol Wojtyla, lived here, studied here and served as a priest, bishop and archbishop here from 1938 until 1978, when he was chosen pope.
The city's Wawel Hill is the site of the Royal Castle and the Cathedral. The castle was the residence of Poland's kings until 1609, when the capital was moved to Warsaw. It was ravaged during World War II but not destroyed, and later turned into a museum. Poland's many kings, queens, political leaders and writers are buried in the Wawel Cathedral, where Francis will meet with Poland's bishops. The cathedral also houses John Paul II's relics and those of St. Stanislas, Poland's first saint.
The Bishops' Palace is the residence of Krakow bishops and dates back to the 15th century. On his visits to Krakow, John Paul II would appear in the window above the main entrance in the evening and chat with the crowd below. Francis is staying there and planning also to appear in the window.
Krakow's Blonia is a vast meadow of 48 hectares (119 acres) inside the city, where crowds, sometimes exceeding one million, attended Masses led by John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
JASNA GORA MONASTERY
The Jasna Gora Monastery in the city of Czestochowa, 120 kilometers (74 miles) northwest of Krakow, is predominantly Catholic Poland's holiest shrine since the 14th century, when it obtained a picture of the Mother of God reputed to be miraculous and attributed by some to St. Luke the Evangelist. The image has characteristic saber cuts across Mary's face, a remainder of a 15th-century attack on the monastery. The picture draws hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from across Poland each year. Another precious object in the monastery is a sash given by John Paul II that bears bullet holes and his bloodstains from an attempt on his life in 1981.
Francis will celebrate a Mass there on Thursday morning.
THE AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU DEATH CAMP
The memorial site of the former German Nazi Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp is notorious for its cruel entrance sign "Arbeit Macht Frei" ("work makes you free"). The Nazi Germans operated the death camp from 1940-45 in the town of Oswiecim when they occupied Poland during World War II. Some 1.1 million people, mostly Jews from across Europe, were killed in its gas chambers or died from diseases and hunger amid forced hard labor. The victims also include Poles, Roma, Soviet Red Army prisoners of war and citizens of other nations.
On Friday, Francis will pray at the Death Wall in Auschwitz, where Polish resistance fighters were executed in summary procedures, and also in the death cell of a Catholic Franciscan friar, St. Maksymilian Maria Kolbe, who in 1941 volunteered to die to save another inmate's life. That inmate, Franciszek Gajowniczek, survived the war and was united with his wife. John Paul II made Kolbe a saint in 1982.
The wooden barracks of Birkenau were built for those Jews, Roma and others whom the Nazis considered fit for hard labor. All the others were killed in Birkenau's gas chambers. Ceremonies in memory of the victims are held each year at the stone monument in Birkenau.
John Paul II visited the site in 1979 and Pope Benedict XVI visited in 2006.
Francis will also visit the following sites in and near Krakow:
— The University Children's Hospital of Cracow, in the Prokocim district.
— The Divine Mercy Shrine and St. Faustyna's Chapel in Lagiewniki, a Krakow district. It is a 19th-century convent. In 2002, John Paul II visited and consecrated the basilica, with its white marble altar, which holds St. Faustina's relics.
— The Sanctuary of St. John Paul II, less than a mile from the Lagiewniki shrine, consecrated in 2013. The lower church houses the pope's relics, while St. John Paul's II body is entombed inside St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. The sanctuary's bronze doors show the pope in the company of saints.
— The Campus Misericordiae, or Field of Mercy, in a vast meadow in the village of Brzegi, near Krakow, which will host the World Youth Day's July 31 Mass.