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Sports are a ‘unique tool to connect society and the church’

December 12th, 2017 Posted in Vatican News Tags: ,

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VATICAN CITY (CNS) — After more than four years in office, Pope Francis probably has one of the world’s largest collections of authentic soccer-team shirts. He receives them and other sports paraphernalia during meetings with pro athletes where he encourages them to be models of virtue for their younger fans.

But the high-profile visits are just a hint of the work the Vatican does each day to promote values that should shine on and off the field.

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Pope Francis chooses Mary as focus for upcoming World Youth Day celebrations

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has chosen a focus on Mary for the next World Youth Day celebrations, which will be held in dioceses in 2017 and 2018 and with an international gathering in Panama in 2019.

The pope has highlighted the way the Mother of Jesus was always open to the Lord’s will and has described her “as a role model to be imitated,” said the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life in a press release Nov. 22.

A statue of Mary and the Christ child are seen Nov. 12 at Our Lady of the Island Shrine in Eastport, N.Y. Pope Francis has chosen a focus on Mary for the next World Youth Day celebrations, which will be held in dioceses in 2017 and 2018 and as an international gathering in Panama in 2019. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

A statue of Mary and the Christ child are seen Nov. 12 at Our Lady of the Island Shrine in Eastport, N.Y. Pope Francis has chosen a focus on Mary for the next World Youth Day celebrations, which will be held in dioceses in 2017 and 2018 and as an international gathering in Panama in 2019. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

The themes “are intended to give a clear Marian tone to the spiritual journey” of the next three World Youth Days as well as to “give a picture of young people on a journey between the past (2017), present (2018) and future (2019), inspired by the three theological virtues of faith, charity and hope.”

World Youth Day is celebrated annually on a local level, and every two or three years with an international gathering with the pope. At the end of the World Youth Day celebration in July in Krakow, Poland, Pope Francis announced the next international gathering would be held in Panama in 2019.

The annual Rome diocesan celebration with the pope is held on Palm Sunday each year; the date of the celebration in other dioceses varies.

The themes chosen by the pope, the dicastery said, were:

  • For 2017: “The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” (Luke 1:49).
  • For 2018: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” (Luke 1:30).
  • For 2019: “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38).

This journey the pope is proposing to young people coincides with the reflection the pope “has entrusted to the next Synod of Bishops: Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment,” the press release said.

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World at war needs signs of brotherhood, friendship, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — In a world traumatized by war, young people gathered for World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, gave strong signs of hope and brotherhood, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis greets a bride during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Aug. 3.  (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

Pope Francis greets a bride during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Aug. 3. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

World Youth Day was a “prophetic sign for Poland and Europe” and took on a “global dimension” in a world threatened by a war fought in pieces, the pope said Aug. 3 at his weekly general audience.

“Precisely in this world at war, we need brotherhood, we need closeness, we need dialogue, and we need friendship. And this is the sign of hope: when there is brotherhood,” he said.

The pope entered the Paul VI audience hall greeted by thousands of pilgrims reaching out to him, asking him to bless their religious articles, kiss their babies or receive their gifts. But one gift stopped the pope in his tracks: a pope doll.

Pope Francis pointed to the doll and to himself, not completely convinced of the similarity, and then laughed, thanking the pilgrim for her present.

Before taking his place on the stage, the pope greeted Rabbi Alejandro Avruj, an old friend from Argentina seated in the front row. Also present were bishops and pilgrims from Panama, the country Pope Francis announced would host World Youth Day 2019.

In addition, a group of 65 young refugees from Eritrea and Syria came to see the pope. According to the Vatican, the children are from the Center for Asylum Seekers at Castelnuovo di Porto, about 15 miles north of Rome. The pope greeted them and posed for a group photo after the audience.

In his main audience talk, Pope Francis reflected on his visit to Krakow July 27-31 to join hundreds of thousands of young people from across the globe who met to celebrate their faith and who answered the call to “go forth together, to build bridges of brotherhood,” he said.

“They also came with their wounds, with their questions but, above all, with the joy of meeting each other,” the pope said.

Despite language barriers, he said, the youths were able to understand each other, creating a “mosaic of brotherhood” that is “emblematic of World Youth Day.”

Recalling his visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp, the pope said the great silence there “was more eloquent than any spoken word.”

“In that silence I heard, I felt the presence of all the souls that have passed there; I felt the compassion, the mercy of God that several holy souls brought there to that great abyss,” Pope Francis said. “In that great silence, I prayed for all the victims of violence and war.”

At Auschwitz, he said, he learned the “value of memory” not only as a remembrance of past tragedies, but also as a warning and call to responsibility today “so that the seed of hate and violence does not take root in the furrows of history.”

“Looking at that cruelty, at that concentration camp, I immediately thought of today’s cruelty, which is very similar. Not as concentrated as in that place, but around the world. This world that is sick with cruelty, pain, war, hate and sadness. And for this I ask you to pray so that the Lord may give us peace,” he said.

 

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Don’t be afraid to say ‘yes’ to Jesus, pope tells youth at closing WYD Mass

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Catholic News Service

KRAKOW, Poland — Take risks and do not let life’s obstacles get in the way of encountering the true joy and life that Jesus can give, Pope Francis told more than 1 million young people.

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to celebrate the closing Mass of World Youth Day at Campus Misericordiae in Krakow, Poland, July 31. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to celebrate the closing Mass of World Youth Day at Campus Misericordiae in Krakow, Poland, July 31. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“Don’t be afraid to say ‘yes’ to him with all your heart, to respond generously and to follow him,” the pope told pilgrims at the closing Mass July 31 for World Youth Day. “Don’t let your soul grow numb, but aim for the goal of a beautiful love which also demands sacrifice.”

“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,” he told the young people, thousands of whom had spent the night camping at an area dubbed the Field of Mercy.

The lack of sleep and morning heat seemed to have little impact as the young men and women energetically waved their flags and ran as close as possible to the popemobile to greet Pope Francis.

In his homily, the pope reflected on the Gospel story of Zacchaeus, a reviled tax collector who, due to his short height, climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus.

The obstacles Zacchaeus faced, including his short stature, the pope said, can also “say something to us.”

“Even today we can risk not getting close to Jesus because we don’t feel big enough, because we don’t think ourselves worthy. This is a great temptation; it has to do not only with self-esteem, but with faith itself,” he said.

By not accepting themselves and their limitations, Christians deny their “real stature” as children of God and see themselves as unworthy of God’s love.

At the same time, he said, people will try to convince Christians that there are others who are unworthy of God’s love.

“People will try to block you, to make you think that God is distant, rigid and insensitive, good to the good and bad to the bad,” he told the young people. “Instead, our heavenly Father ‘makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good.’ He demands of us real courage: the courage to be more powerful than evil by loving everyone, even our enemies.”

The pope noted that Jesus looks at all people with the same gaze he looked at Zacchaeus, not taking into account his sins, wealth or social standing.

“God counts on you for what you are, not for what you possess. In his eyes the clothes you wear or the kind of cell phone you use are of absolutely no concern. He doesn’t care whether you are stylish or not, he cares about you! In his eyes, you are precious and your value is priceless,” the pope said.

Another obstacle, the pope continued, is the “paralysis of shame,” one that Zacchaeus overcame by climbing the sycamore tree at “the risk of appearing completely ridiculous.”

Pope Francis encouraged the young men and women to not be ashamed in bringing “everything to the Lord in confession, especially your weaknesses, your struggles and your sins.”

“Don’t be afraid to say ‘yes’ to him with all your heart, to respond generously and to follow him! Don’t let your soul grow numb, but aim for the goal of a beautiful love which also demands sacrifice,” the pope said.

Zacchaeus’ final obstacle, he noted, did not come from within but from the “grumbling of the crowd” who first blocked him and then criticized him” for being a sinner.

God challenges Christians to be more powerful than evil by loving everyone and to risk being ridiculed for believing “in the gentle and unassuming power of mercy,” he said.

As he did with Zacchaeus, Jesus looks beyond appearances and faults to the heart, something young people are called to imitate, the pope said.

“Don’t stop at the surface of things; distrust the worldly cult of appearances, applying makeup on our souls so we seem better than we are,” he said. “Instead, establish the most secure connection, that of the heart that sees and transmits goodness without tiring.”

Although the Mass brought the World Youth Day celebrations to an end, Pope Francis invited the youth to continue along the path that began with their pilgrimage to Krakow and bring the remembrance of God’s love to others.

“Trust the memory of God: his memory is not a ‘hard disk’ that saves and archives all our data, but a tender heart full of compassion that rejoices in definitively erasing every trace of evil,” the pope said.

Before concluding the Mass with the recitation of the Angelus prayer, the pope invited the youths to carry the “spiritual breath of fresh air” back to their countries and communities and “wherever God’s providence leads you.”

That same providence, he concluded, is “one step ahead of us” and “has already determined the next stop in this great pilgrimage begun in 1985 by St. John Paul II!”

“So now I am happy to announce that the next World Youth Day, after the two that will be held on the diocesan level,will take place in 2019 in Panama,” Pope Francis told the youths.

The Panama delegation Krakow greeted the announcement with shouts of joy — dancing, bouncing and high-fiving each other.

Pope Francis invited bishops from Panama to join him at center stage in blessing the crowd.

 

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Pierogies with the pope: World Youth Day volunteers get papal advice at lunch

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Catholic News Service

KRAKOW, Poland — Pope Francis has a “stomach of iron” and considers the German Richard Wagner his favorite composer, said young Catholics who lunched privately with him July 30 during World Youth Day.

Pope Francis poses for a selfie with young people attending World Youth Day during a lunch in Krakow, Poland, July 30. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano, handout) .

Pope Francis poses for a selfie with young people attending World Youth Day during a lunch in Krakow, Poland, July 30. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano, handout) .

Thirteen World Youth Day organizers from a dozen countries shared the meal at the cardinal’s residence. They were chosen by lottery to attend the 80-minute encounter, during which questions were put to the pope in Italian and Spanish with simultaneous translations. Organizers said participants were notified three weeks earlier of their selection from among World Youth Day volunteers of at least three months’ standing.

Malgorzata Krupnik, who was one of two Poles at the lunch, said she had been “very nervous and unsure what to expect,” but said her stress had vanished as soon as the pope arrived.

“As we sat there, he said, ‘Speak to me; I want to talk to you.’ He was really optimistic, lighthearted and humorous, and not at all stiff and severe,” Krupnik said.

“We talked about practical things, not just philosophy. It was really like being at home and at the end, he hugged each of us, smiling, in a very Franciscan way. I felt an amazing internal peace to meet him so closely.”

Paula Mora of Colombia said Pope Francis advised them to be “guided by their hearts” when seeking to evangelize.

“We asked how he’d felt when he was elected pope, and he said he’d experienced the gift of inner peace from God, which is still with him,” said Mora said. “You can feel this peace and humility when you speak to him. It was as if we were children meeting their father over a normal family lunch.”

Quan Vu Hong, a young Vietnamese on the World Youth Day’s organization committee, said he could barely contain his emotion and disbelief at having been among those chosen to dine with the pope.

“It’s the first time I have an opportunity to have a meal with one of the most important people in the world,” he told CNS. “I was chosen from among hundreds of thousands of young people, and I will never forget this day.”

Hong said he also had asked the pope how youths could live as faithful Christians in today’s world.

He told us “the first thing to do is to accompany others to a life of faith,” Hong said. The pope, he added, impressed upon them the importance of prayer and confession, even giving them tips on how to confess to a priest.

Hong also noted Pope Francis’ easygoing nature, saying it was the most touching quality of all.

“He took a selfie with us and joked around during lunch. It made us closer to him and we did not feel he was a pope anymore. He was a father for us,” Hong said.

Fatima Leung-Wai, a 28-year-old Samoan from New Zealand, told CNS there was a “mix of emotions” at the meeting, adding that some youngsters had been moved to tears when a Ukrainian Catholic, Uliana Zurawczak, described conditions in her war-torn country.

She added that the pope declined to list his preferred reading, but said he routinely ate anything and had a “stomach of iron.”

The New Zealander, who gave up her engineer’s job to work as a World Youth Day volunteer, said Pope Francis was asked his opinion of Catholic charismatic communities and also described how he discovered his priestly vocation while making his confession at age 17. Later, she said, he again stressed the importance of regular confessions and advised young Catholics to “find another priest” if they disliked their regular confessor.

“As a young Catholic, trying my best to live the faith in today’s world, when it’s so easy not to believe, it was really important to meet an authority who was open, humble and at peace and would allow me to be myself,” she said. “If you’re going to follow the church, in all your daily struggles, you need to know its leader is genuine and can be trusted. But the pope also asked us to pray for him, since it’s not easy being the church’s leader.”

Poland’s Catholic information agency, KAI, said the youths ate a hearty traditional Polish meal with the pope, which included beef soup, rice with pieces of pork, as well as traditional dumplings, known as pierogi, and sernik, a popular Polish cheesecake made with a local curdled cheese known as twarog.

The Krakow Archdiocese’s deputy spokesman, Father Piotr Studnicki, told KAI the lunch was prepared by Sacred Heart sisters, who also had cooked for St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI during their visits to the city.

 

Contributing to this story was Junno Arocho.

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‘Make history,’ pope tells youths at World Youth Day, don’t find happiness on a sofa

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Catholic News Service

KRAKOW, Poland — Pope Francis told young people they are not called to be couch potatoes, living boring lives, but should leave their mark in history and not let others determine their future.

Pope Francis arrives with World Youth Day pilgrims for the July 30 prayer vigil at the Field of Mercy in Krakow, Poland. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis arrives with World Youth Day pilgrims for the July 30 prayer vigil at the Field of Mercy in Krakow, Poland. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Like a soccer match, life “only takes players on the first string and has no room for benchwarmers,” the pope young people at the World Youth Day prayer vigil July 30. “Today’s world demands that you be a protagonist of history, because life is always beautiful when we choose to live it fully, when we choose to leave a mark.”

Organizers said up to 1.6 million youths from around the world — many of whom walked more than four miles to the Field of Mercy — attended the prayer vigil with the pope.

Arriving in his popemobile, Pope Francis waved at the throngs of young people who stretched out their hands. Stopping at a wooden Door of Mercy inscribed with the words “Jesus, I trust in you” in five languages, he was greeted by several young men and women. Hand-in-hand with the pope, they entered through the door.

The pope then surprised the youths by inviting them aboard the popemobile. Visibly emotional and wide-eyed, the youths boarded the vehicle and joined Pope Francis, waving at the crowd.

After taking his place on the stage, young people from Poland, Syria and Paraguay gave their experiences of finding hope in the midst of disbelief, war and addiction.

Natalia, a young Polish woman from Lodz, spoke of her experience of encountering the love of God through the sacrament of reconciliation after 20 years of “not having anything in common with the church.”

“Going to confession, I was convinced of having irredeemably lost eternal life. Instead, I had heard that God had made everything evil I had done disappear forever,” she said.

Rand Mittri, a 26-year-old Syrian woman from Aleppo, shared the pain and sorrow that comes from seeing her city “destroyed, ruined and broken.”

“The meaning in our lives has been canceled. We are the forgotten city,” she said.

Mittri went on to describe how she and many families live in constant fear of leaving their homes, not knowing when disaster will strike.

“Perhaps we will be killed that day. Or perhaps our families will. It is a hard and painful feeling to know that you are surrounded by death and killing, and there is no way to escape, no one to help,” she recounted.

Despite the horror she faces daily, Mittri said she learned her faith in Jesus “supersedes the circumstances” and that with each passing day she believes “God exists despite all of our pain.”

“Jesus, I trust in you,” she concluded.

Miguel from Asuncion, Paraguay, gave the final testimony of the evening, recounting his 16-year struggle with drug addiction.

Beginning to experiment with drugs at age 11 and imprisoned for a crime by 15, Miguel said he continued committing crimes until he was eventually imprisoned for six years.

A priest, he said, took him to a halfway house in Brazil, Fazenda de la Esperanza, where he learned to live as a family with his fellow companions.

“I recovered 10 years ago and today I am responsible for ‘Quo Vadis’ house of Fazenda de la Esperanza in Cerro Chato, Uruguay, for the past three years,” he said.

Between the testimonies, dancers performed. A woman depicting St. Faustina Kowalska looked on in disbelief as youths in glass boxes were fixated on their cellphones and tablets. A young woman dressed in white danced around them, beckoning them to come out.

Another performance on the beauty of forgiveness recreated the scene in which St. John Paul II sat down with would-be assassin Mehmet Ali Agca in his prison cell and forgave him.

After listening to their experiences, Pope Francis addressed the youths, calling on them first to not be absorbed by their cellphones and computers and to think about those, like Mittri, who live through violence and war daily.

“They have a name, they have a face, they have a story, they are close at hand,” he said forcefully.

Recalling Natalia and Miguel’s experiences, the pope thanked them for sharing their struggles and said they are a “living sign of what God’s mercy wants to accomplish in us.”

In a world beset by conflict, terror and death, he continued, brotherhood and communion remain the only true response.

The pope then invited everyone present to hold hands and pray silently, asking them to “place before the Lord your own battles, the interior struggles that each of you carries in his or her heart.”

Silence descended on the field as the pope bowed and joined the youths in prayer.

Pope Francis continued his address by warning the pilgrims to not fall into a “paralysis that comes from confusing happiness with a sofa.” This sofa that promises comfort, safety and relaxation, he said, instead is an “insidious form of paralysis” that makes young men and women become “dull and drowsy.”

Pope Francis encouraged the pilgrims, reminding them they are not called to “vegetate” in life but to leave a mark in the world.

“When we opt for ease and convenience, for confusing happiness with consumption, then we end up paying a high price indeed: We lose our freedom,” he said.

He invited them to instead embark on the “path of ‘craziness’ of our God” that urges Christians to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

Like Miguel, who discovered God’s calling by helping others at the halfway house, the pope said God is also calling them, encouraging them to dream.

“He wants to make you see that, with you, the world can be different. For the fact is, unless you offer the best of yourselves, the world will never be different,” he said.

However, the pope also called on adults to teach younger generations “how to live in diversity, in dialogue, to experience multiculturalism, not as a threat but an opportunity.”

Young people, he said, must “be our accusers if we choose a life of walls, a life of enmity, a life of war.”

“Have the courage to teach us that it is easier to build bridges than walls. We need this,” he said.

 

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Youthful face of mercy can change the world, pope tells young people

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Catholic News Service

KRAKOW, Poland — The youthful face of God’s mercy can change the hearts of people who have lost hope, Pope Francis said. Read more »

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In Krakow for World Youth Day, Pope urges Poles to value their memories, but be open to change

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Catholic News Service

KRAKOW, Poland — Poland’s memory and identity are the two catalysts that will lead the country forward and turn hopeless situations, such as those facing migrants, into opportunities for future generations, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis, Polish President Andrzej Duda and first lady Agata Kornhauser-Duda arrive for a meeting with government authorities and the diplomatic corps in the courtyard of Wawel Royal Castle in Krakow, Poland, July 27. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis, Polish President Andrzej Duda and first lady Agata Kornhauser-Duda arrive for a meeting with government authorities and the diplomatic corps in the courtyard of Wawel Royal Castle in Krakow, Poland, July 27. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Cloudy skies and a light drizzle did little to dampen the spirits of pilgrims cheering loudly as the pope’s plane landed in Krakow July 27. The arrival ceremony at Krakow’s John Paul II International Airport was marked by the presence of hundreds of Polish men and women, dressed in traditional clothes and dancing.

Stepping down from his plane and before he departed for Wawel Castle, Pope Francis was greeted by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, Polish President Andrzej Duda and first lady Agata Kornhauser-Duda.

Addressing civil authorities and members of the country’s diplomatic corps, the pope noted that “memory is the hallmark of the Polish people,” a notable characteristic of his predecessor, St. John Paul II.

He said being aware of identity was “indispensable for establishing a national community on the foundation of its human, social, political, economic and religious heritage,” but that people must remain open to renewal and to change. He added that while good memory can remind society of God and his saving work, bad memory keeps the mind and heart “obsessively fixed on evil, especially the wrongs committed by others,” he said.

Pope Francis called on the people of Poland to hold on to their positive memories so they can look to the future with hope in respecting human dignity, economical and environmental concerns and “the complex phenomenon of migration.”

The issue of migration, he added, “calls for great wisdom and compassion, in order to overcome fear and to achieve the greater good.”

“Also needed is a spirit of readiness to welcome those fleeing from wars and hunger, and solidarity with those deprived of their fundamental rights, including the right to profess one’s faith in freedom and safety,” he said.

Pope Francis, who has brought attention to the plight of migrants in the past, met with 15 young refugees prior to his departure to Krakow. The Vatican press office said the young refugees are currently in Italy without documents that will allow them to travel out of the country.

“The youths, accompanied by the papal almoner, wished the pope a good journey and a happy participation at WYD, to which they cannot participate but are united spiritually,” the Vatican said.

Inviting Polish people to “look with hope to the future,” the pope said the memory of their thousand-year history would create a climate of respect that fosters a better life for future generations.

“The young should not simply have to deal with problems, but rather be able to enjoy the beauty of creation, the benefits we can provide and the hope we can offer,” he said.

Social policies, he added, must also support families who are “the primary and fundamental cell of society” as well as “helping responsibly to welcome life” so that children may be seen as a gift and not a burden.

“Life must always be welcome and protected. These two things go together, welcome and protection, from conception to natural death. All of us are called to respect life and care for it.”

 

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World is waging a fragmented war, but religions want peace, Pope Francis says

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Catholic News Service

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT TO KRAKOW, POLAND — The world, not religion, is waging a war in pieces, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis gestures as he speaks to journalists aboard his flight from Rome to Krakow, Poland, July 27. The pope is attending World Youth Day in Krakow. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis gestures as he speaks to journalists aboard his flight from Rome to Krakow, Poland, July 27. The pope is attending World Youth Day in Krakow. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

While it “is not at as organic” as past world wars, “it is organized and it is war,” the pope told journalists July 27 on his flight to Krakow.

“Someone may think that I am speaking about a war of religions. No, all religions want peace. Others want war,” the pope said.

He spoke one day after the murder of a priest during Mass in a Catholic church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, France. Two men, armed with knives, entered the church during Mass. The attackers murdered 84-year-old Father Jacques Hamel, slitting his throat.

“This holy priest who died precisely at the moment he was offering prayers for the whole church,” he said. While lamenting the priest’s death, the pope added that was one of countless innocents butchered by a war fought in pieces.

“How many Christians, how many children, how many innocents?” he said. “We are not afraid of saying this truth: The world is at war because it has lost peace.”

The pope also thanked people for their the countless condolences following the murder. He said this included French President Francois Hollande, who “wished to connect with me by telephone, like a brother.”

Pope Francis expressed his desire that young people attending World Youth Day in Krakow offer a message of hope in a chaotic world.

“Youths always give us hope. Let us hope the youths may tell us something that will give us more hope in this moment,” he said.

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Krakow police raise security threat level at World Youth Day but say no concrete danger

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Catholic News Service

KRAKOW, Poland — Polish police have raised the official security threat level at World Youth Day in Krakow, after an Iraqi man was arrested with traces of explosives.

Police officers stand guard during World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, July 26. Mariusz Ciarka, spokesman for Poland's Warsaw-based police headquarters, said Polish police have raised the official threat level after an Iraqi man was arrested with traces of explosives. (CNS photo/David W. Cerny, Reuters)

Police officers stand guard during World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, July 26. Mariusz Ciarka, spokesman for Poland’s Warsaw-based police headquarters, said Polish police have raised the official threat level after an Iraqi man was arrested with traces of explosives. (CNS photo/David W. Cerny, Reuters)

However, a police spokesman said the category of high, was not linked to any “concrete threat,” adding that security arrangements were “proceeding smoothly” for the expected arrival of 2 million young people in the southern city.

“We’re determined to assure maximum security for all, and our staffers are doing everything they should,” said Mariusz Ciarka, spokesman for Poland’s Warsaw-based police headquarters.

“But we’re also urging everyone to be vigilant and to inform the police or Youth Day volunteers if they see anything suspicious, such as baggage or packs left unattended, and to show understanding if we implement selective controls and movement restrictions. Safety of such a huge gathering of people is what’s most important,” Ciarka said July 26 ahead of the official opening ceremony World Youth Day.

Officials were expecting half a million young people to attend opening ceremonies from 187 countries in Krakow’s Blonia Park.

He said security services had so far noted only “minor incidents,” such as lost documents and small injuries, as well as a July 25 bus crash in which no one was reported injured.

He said police were using mobile X-ray devices and metal detectors, as well as using dogs trained to detect explosives, at railway and bus stations and major road hubs around the city, as well as anywhere crowds gathered.

Gas tankers and large trucks had been barred from Krakow, Ciarka said, after a 19-ton truck was driven into a celebration in Nice, France, July 15.

Security fears are high in Europe in the wake of the Nice outrage and a spate of Islamist-linked attacks in neighboring Germany, as well as the July 26 killing of French Father Jacques Hamel, 84, during an attack during a Mass at Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, France. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for that attack.

Polish police said they had arrested a 48-year-old Iraqi man July 24 in Krakow, after explosive traces were found in his luggage and his clothes, as well as at hotels where he had stayed in Krakow and Lodz.

However, a Krakow prosecutor told journalists there were no grounds for charging the man with terrorism and said not enough explosive material had been detected to cause an explosion.

Ciarka said July 26 that 200 people had so far been barred from entering the country.

The police spokesman said drones and “unauthorized flying objects” had also been banned over a 65-mile zone around Krakow, as well as over the nearby city of Czestochowa, where Pope Francis will celebrate an open-air Mass July 29.

The carrying of arms and dangerous substances had also been outlawed, Ciarka added, as well as any objects normally not permitted aboard planes.

“From today, all movements are being limited around Krakow, as well as at Blonia and the Lagiewniki suburb, where pedestrians will have total priority,” the police official said. “The Polish government has given the police the task of serving society by ensuring this huge event passes off safely, and that’s what we will do.”

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