World Youth Days: Controversy Abounds

The final countdown has begun. There are less than three months left to the launch of World Youth Days (WYD), a meeting of Catholic youth with the Pope, scheduled for July 25th–31st, 2016 in Krakow. Pope Francis is to join on July 27 and participate in prayers, a procession and a night vigil.

Polish youth is poised in expectation, as well as a large part of society and the authorities, as Krakow has a special meaning for Poles. A UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site, Krakow is the beloved city of Holy Father John Paul II, who initiated these World Youth Days. However, this exceptional event raises some serious concerns.

The Government Security Centre recently published a report concerning the state of preparations for the WYD, expressing a critical opinion of its intended location, Campus Misericordiae in Brzegi. The area near Wieliczka, east off Krakow, was scheduled as the place of the main ceremonies at the end of 2014. It seems the only place capable of simultaneously accommodating 1.8 million pilgrims, allowing maximum optimum comfort and visibility for all participants. However, the report directly recommends selecting another place for an event due to security and convenience reasons. The document by the GSC points out that the WYD plan does not include proper medical background and an evacuation plan. It points out the vicinity of power lines, inadequate access road capacity, and the possible danger caused by breaking or damaging the flood bank, and more.

However, Catholic Church authorities believe Brzegi to be the best localization. Also, according to the Church, the Błonia meadow, i.e. the area where John Paul II’s masses took place, is practically ready for the arrival of Pope Francis and millions of young pilgrims. It doesn’t require special investments apart from the construction of the altar, sectors, LED screen settings and improvement of backstage facilities. However, calculations prove that this location is by far too small, even taking into account surrounding territories. The final ceremonies may assemble as many as 1.5-1.8 million pilgrims (Saturday vigil and Sunday mass). Although Błonia hosted millions of believers in the past, it should be noted that those were a several hours-long meetings only. The youth who will take part in the Saturday vigil with Holy Father Francis, will stay there for the night. As such, the participants must be guaranteed suitable conditions.

When asked for comment on the GSC report, Prime Minister Beata said that the purpose of such reports is to provide the authorities with insight, which will then serve as a starting point for improving safety.

The spokesperson for the WYD, Dorota Abdelmoula pointed out that intensive, joint work is carried out to prepare the visit of the Pope and the WYD, and their detailed programme. ‘Official decisions are those that are made in collaboration between the Church and the government. These pertain to safety, logistics and the programme, she said.

Official website of the World Youth Days

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