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A Home of Mercy at WYD


by Alton J. Pelowski

The K of C-sponsored Mercy Centre was the premier English-language catechesis and festival site at World Youth Day

Arena filled with pilgrims at the Mercy Centre

Photos by Jakub Wawrzkowicz, Haley Scott/Spirit Juice Studios, Jaclyn Lippelmann/Archdiocese of Washington, Karol Gut, Jeffrey Bruno, Chris Adamczyk/Salt and Light TV, Maciej Maziarka, Eric Mok, Alton Pelowski, L’Osservatore Romano


As reported in the September issue of Columbia, from July 26-31 the Knights of Columbus sponsored and ran the international site for English-speaking pilgrims attending World Youth Day 2016. With the help of partnering organizations, the Knights transformed Tauron Arena Kraków, one of the biggest entertainment and sports venues in Poland, into the “Mercy Centre,” welcoming more than 100,000 young pilgrims over six days. The most popular catechesis site in any language, the Mercy Centre held the largest WYD gatherings outside the mainstage papal events. And on the final day, the site hosted a meeting with Pope Francis and 12,000 WYD volunteers.

The Order has played a significant role in World Youth Day celebrations since 1984, including the sponsorship of catechesis sites in Sydney (2008) and Madrid (2011), but the scope and reception of the Knights’ participation in Kraków was unprecedented. In addition to national gatherings, daily Mass and catechesis, Mercy Centre programming featured talks, performances, exhibits and countless opportunities for prayer and spiritual encounter.

Of particular note were testimonies of persecuted Christians from the Middle East, the presence of the first-class relics of Poland’s most revered modern saints, and the Night of Mercy – an evening of eucharistic adoration, reflection and music. Although the arena had quickly filled to capacity with more than 18,000 people present for the Night of Mercy, the atmosphere was imbued with prayerful tranquility. Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles later reflected, “I had been asked to lead a eucharistic procession and benediction and to give a short reflection, but nothing prepared me for what I would see and feel. … I can’t remember another time in the last 30 years when I felt the presence of the Lord more vividly.”

College Knights in the Tatra Mountains

College Knights and Dominican priest chaplains gather for a group photo in the Tatra Mountains in southern Poland July 23.


Before serving as World Youth Day volunteers at the Mercy Centre in Kraków, 30 college Knights from schools and seminaries throughout the United states, Canada, Mexico and Poland gathered as pilgrims in the footsteps of St. John Paul II and St. Faustina Kowalska.

Accompanied by Dominican priest chaplains and members of the sisters of Life, the Knights began by visiting Wadowice, where they toured the childhood home of Karol Wojtyła, before traveling to pray at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps. The following day, they visited the shrine of our Lady of Ludźmierz, where the order was first established in Poland in 2006, and proceeded to go on retreat in the Tatra Mountains, a place frequently visited by John Paul II.

The Knights also visited the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy and tomb of St. Faustina Kowalska in Kraków-Łagiewniki and gathered for Mass with Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore at the Arka Pana (Lord’s Ark) church in Nowa Huta, which was built in defiance of soviet pressure while John Paul II was archbishop of Kraków.