Many voices, many messages as World Youth Day nears big finish

For a church that focuses so much energy on having its members agree to a central theology, there were plenty of messages to be heard as World Youth Day entered its next to last day of festivities in Poland on Saturday.

Hundreds of thousands of young Catholics from all over the world have gathered in Poland for the event - which is usually staged every two to three years, each time in a different city.

While the focus is clearly on religion, there were plenty of other messages to be heard, from those of gay Catholics to those just trying to keep alive. But the main voice, of course, is that of Pope Francis, who has been touring Poland on the sidelines of the event.

On Saturday, he implored believers to act as Jesus did, "not as a power seeker, but as a slave," as festivities celebrating Catholic youth entered their second-to-last day in the Polish city of Krakow.

Francis also called for a more open, humble church, telling priests and seminarians gathered at the Sanctuary of St John Paul II that they must break out of their comfort zones.

"Jesus directs us to a one-way street: that of going forth from ourselves. It's a one-way trip with no return ticket."

Wojtek Zawadzki, a practising Catholic who was at the event with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender group Faith and Rainbow, welcomed the pope's call for openness, saying: "Jesus was open to the people who were rejected by society."

For Zawadzki, who is gay, the pope's statement on homosexuality was an important signal, especially in light of the hostility lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals are often subjected to in Poland.

Some Catholic media outlets had warned World Youth Day participants to avoid the Faith and Rainbow meet-up spot, where discussions on the intersection of religion and sexuality were encouraged, unless they wanted to risk becoming "homosexually indoctrinated."

Francis has said in the past that gays must not be judged, though he hasn't gone so far as to openly welcome them in the Catholic Church.

The festivities haven't been limited to the streets of Krakow.

In the Syrian city of Aleppo, 1,200 young people gathered, despite civil war and bomb attacks, to send a photo and video message to the pope.

"It's not easy to do something like this in times of war. We have a lot of problems, but we're trying to overcome them," said Father Pier from the Salesianer community group, according to an event statement.

Thousands of people also got to experience the events vicariously thanks to a Polish bishop with an affinity for social media.

Marek Solarczyk has attracted the attention of the internet and Polish media with his selfies with the pope, popemobile and other pilgrims. His Facebook page, which boasts 24,000 followers and keeps growing, gives fans a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the festivities.

Other highlights of the pope's visit this week have included a stop at the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau and a stop at the revered Black Madonna of Czestochowa.

Last update: Tue, 02/08/2016 - 14:38
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