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WYD in the time of ISIS. Young people on the way of Mercy “we are not afraid!”

The XXXI World Youth Day celebrated in Krakow occurred in what was probably the most dramatic time of its thirty-year history. War, terrorism, migration flows, coupled by persistent crisis, undermine the hopes and expectations of the young, generating fears and creeping uncertainties for the future. Nonetheless, the youths conveyed powerful messages - we are not afraid, building bridges is easier than erecting walls - and raised many questions: how can we love those who hate us? How can we live life in full? Days of intense dialogue between young people and Pope Francis, a barrage of questions with one answer: "that cannot be purchased, that is not a thing or an object, but a person. His name is Jesus Christ"

Someone said – rightly so – that the WYD in Krakow that just ended was the first authentically social WYD. It was probably also the first WYD in the time of Isis, whereby the acronym of the Islamic state – although “Daesh” is more accurate –signifies blind violence, terror attacks and wars waged in many parts of the world. Fear has thus become a travelling companion for those who are on their way, including the young people who arrived in Poland to take part in the XXXI World Youth Day. But it was a light travel companion in the backpacks of the pilgrims, and it went almost unheard. In fact, much stronger is the bond that ties the youths to Pope Francis, their desire to listen to him and follow him. Everywhere. With courage. That’s why fear did not succeed; as exemplified by the half million pilgrims, maybe more, descending on Krakow, colouring WYD sites such as Blonia Park, the shrines of Sister Faustina and Saint John Paul II and filling the vast meadow of the Campus Misericordiae to attend the vigil and the final Mass. Young people are not afraid. It is the first major achievement of this Day that Pope Francis has dedicated to Mercy.

In Krakow the young people have embraced the Pope, sharing with him their doubts, their hopes and expectations, to the extent of confiding their most intimate pains, as a girl victim of bullying – who asked the Pope’s counsel to fully forgive her aggressors – or as a young Syrian woman, Rand Mittri, from Aleppo. Before the civil war that is destroying her country, she cried: “God where are you? Do you really exist? Are we born to die in a state of suffering?” A student who “by pure chance” survived Italy’s Andria-Corato train wreck, asked “how can I return to a normal life?” The fashion journalist, Natalia, and her anxiety of making up for a misspent life, was healed through the sacrament of Reconciliation searched on Google, and Miguel, who recovered from drug addiction through Confession and forgiveness.

A barrage of questions, testimonies; continuous, sustained dialogue, with Francis, who, making no concessions, reiterated with equal force: “Are you looking for empty thrills in life, or do you want to feel a power that can give you a lasting sense of life and fulfilment?” (Jordan Park in Błonia, Krakow, Thursday, July 28). “Do you want to be young people who nod off, who are drowsy and dull? Do you want others to decide your future for you? Do you want to be free? Do you want to be alert? Do you want to work hard for your future?” (Campus Misericordiae, Krakow, Saturday, July 30). In conclusion, the solution to all questions:

“To find fulfilment, to gain new life, there is a way, a way that is not for sale, that cannot be purchased, a way that is not a thing or an object, but a person. His name is Jesus Christ.”

In the Pope’s style, the debate also involved the bishops in the three planned days for catechesis, as never before in previous WYD.

Pope Francis is well aware of this: it is inspiring to hear young people share their dreams, questions, along with their desire to change the world even though there are those who oppose this thrust for change. And in Krakow

New generations have reiterated that they no longer wish “to live their lives halfway” but act as protagonists, spending themselves for “the poor and weaker brethren”,

to become a “concrete response to the needs and sufferings of humanity.” Young people who do not “confuse happiness with a comfortable sofa” but are determined to “leave a mark.” In Blonia Park, on the esplanade of the shrine of St. John Paul II, at the Campus Misericordia, young people haveconveyed their determined ‘Yes!’ to the Pope’s invitations to follow “Jesus“, “the Lord of risk. Jesus is not the Lord’s comfort, safety and convenience. Following Jesus demands a high dose of courage. ”

In Krakow’s streets were seen many acts of acceptance, brotherhood, solidarity – the embrace to the French pilgrims after the murder of Father Hamel in Rouen remains an indelible snapshot of these days – care for others and the weakest, despite the many adults who brandish faith, flags, ethnicity and skin colour as weapons of division. The young people have borne visible witness to the fact that it is “easier to build bridges than to raise walls.” They have shown that it is worth waiting for something good to happen in life. Far from being a mere illusion, it is a dream that can be realized and on which Francis has imparted his blessing: “God bless your dreams.” The Days in Krakow are over, but the dream of young people continues along the way of Mercy

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