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K of C-sponsored Mercy Centre closes out with a Papal Send-Off


In his last public visit before leaving Poland, Pope Francis met with 12,000 World Youth Day volunteers at the Knights of Columbus-sponsored Mercy Centre at Tauron Arena Kraków, on Sunday, July 31.

The arena counted 10,000 volunteers from Poland and 2,000 from other parts of the world, who came together to celebrate their hard work and to rejoice in the presence of the Holy Father. Many of the volunteers had been working for months to plan World Youth Day, which drew approximately two million young people to Kraków.

Pope Francis, who was accompanied by Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz of Kraków and Auxiliary Bishop Damian Muskus, O.F.M., the coordinator-general of WYD Kraków, arrived at the Mercy Centre around 5:00 p.m. CET. The Holy Father was privately greeted and welcomed by Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore.

When the Holy Father arrived on stage, he paused in prayer before the WYD cross and the image of Our Lady of Kalwaria, a 17th-century Polish painting of Our Lady of Calvary. The presence of the miraculous image was especially significant as it was only the third time it traveled out of the Church of the Angelic Mother of God adjacent to the Franciscan Monastery in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska — one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in Poland.

It was also before this painting that young Karol Wojtyła’s father had entrusted his son to the protection of the Blessed Mother following the death of his wife, Karol’s mother. Young Wojtyła is today’s St. John Paul II, who as pope had an unshakable devotion to the Blessed Mother.

Pope Francis then spent some quiet moments venerating the relics on stage of five Polish saints: St. John Paul II and St. Faustina Kowalska, co-patrons of World Youth Day 2016; St. Albert Chmielowski, St. Maximilian Kolbe and Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko. The relics will return to the United States and remain at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C., which is owned and operated by the Knights of Columbus.

Archbishop Lori, together with Dominican Father Jonathan Kalisch and Szymon Czyszek, representing the Knights of Columbus, were among those sitting on stage with the Holy Father throughout the event. The college Knights, who had volunteered all week at the Mercy Centre, formed part of the excited crowd, a lucky few receiving front row seats.

Having prepared a five-page speech in Italian for the volunteers, Pope Francis referred to it, telling the WYD volunteers that ‘it was a little boring.’ To an eruption of cheers and applause, he set it aside, choosing instead to speak off-the-cuff in his native Spanish.

"Preparing the World Youth Day is an adventure, a real adventure. I wish to thank all you volunteers for all you've done, for those hours you sacrificed for prayer.”

“Do you want to be the hope for the future?” he asked. “Well, there’s no need to pay an entry fee — you just have to meet some conditions. The first is to preserve your memory: of your people, your family and where you come from, the memory of your journey and what you received from those closest to you.”

The pope added, “But the second condition for the future of hope, aside from memory of the past, is to have courage — to be courageous, not fearful.”

Dominican Father Patrick Briscoe, a member of the Knights of Columbus organizing team for the Mercy Centre, had the best vantage point on stage, assisting the Holy Father with the microphone throughout the event.

“It’s so clear that the Holy Father loves being with pilgrims,” Father Briscoe said. “You can tell he was speaking from the heart when he spoke to the volunteers, appreciating all they did to make this event possible.”

Offering words of encouragement to the volunteers, the Pope Francis concluded:

“Once Mary had finished assisting Elizabeth, she went back home to Nazareth … You too, dear volunteers, will not witness all the fruits of your work here in Kraków. Your brothers and sisters whom you served will see them in their lives and rejoice in them. That is the ‘gratuitousness’ of love! Yet God knows your dedication, your commitment and your generosity. You can be sure that he will not fail to repay you for everything you have done for this Church!”