Pope: Estimated 2 million waiting in Krakow for WYD

Francis will arrive by tram, along with a group of disabled people. He will visit Auschwitz, in silence, and Father Kolbe’s cell. "There are no particular concerns regarding security" and "no groups have withdrawn over security concerns".

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – An estimated 1.5 to 1.8 million young people taking part in World Youth Day in Krakow, July 28 to 31. The young people will be accompanied by 800 bishops and 70 cardinals. These are just some of the data revealed by Father Federico Lombardi, Holy See Press Office director, in a briefing ahead of Pope Francis’ journey to Poland for the 31st World Youth Day.

In a video message released yesterday, the Pope said he hopes that the journey towards World Youth Day is "a pilgrimage of faith and brotherhood" and that the Day is "a mosaic of different faces, so many races, languages, peoples and cultures, but all united in the name of Jesus who is the face of Mercy".

The WYD in Poland, said Father Lombardi, will be the first trip of Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the homeland of John Paul II who, as Pope, he returned nine times to Poland, seven of which with stops in Krakow, while Benedict XVI visited the land of his "venerated" predecessor in 2006, and his visit to the concentration camp of Auschwitz, which Francis will also visit, that had a "special meaning" for the German Joseph Ratzinger.

Francis will travel to the concentration camp on July 29. "On that day exactly 75 years ago - said Father Lombardi - Father Maximilian Kolbe"  was sentenced to death. The Pope will visit, the priests cell alone. It was the Pope himself who said on the return trip from the last flight, to Armenia: "I want go to that place of horror no speeches, no people, only the necessary few... But there will surely be journalists! But no greeting this person, this person ... No, no. alone, I come, I pray ... And may the Lord give me the grace to cry".

On leaving the cell of St. Maximilian Kolbe, Francis will sign the book of honor, "these will probably be the only words the Pope will say at Auschwitz", where he will meet ten survivors of the concentration camp. At 10.30, Francis will go to the nearby camp of Birkenau, three kilometers away, where, in the presence of a thousand guests, he will pass in front of the commemorative plaques in different languages, he will light a candle, "and will meet 25 Just among Nations" . Here a rabbi will sing Psalm 130 in Hebrew, the "De Profundis", which will then be read in Polish by a pastor of a town where a Catholic family lived, a family "that was exterminated, everyone, including children, for harboring Jews, and for whom a cause for beatification has been initiated ". The visit to the camp will last about two hours.

The visit to the concentration camp will be one of the events outside of the WYD trip to Poland, where Francis will arrive - in Krakow - on the afternoon of July 27. There will be meetings with President of the Republic, the authorities and the Polish bishops. Father Lombardi noted that this last meeting "will neither be broadcast, nor will any discourse be published”. The meeting will take place behind closed doors "in dialogue and confidentiality", with "an atmosphere of familiarity, openness and ease to all participants: not that there are secrets to hide but to underline the total familiarity and informality of the meeting" .

The next day, in the morning, the Pope will travel to the shrine of Czestochowa, where he will celebrate Mass on the 105th anniversary of the Baptism of Poland.

Francis will arrive in the afternoon at 17.30 in Krakow's Blonie Park to “greet" the  young people. To get there, the Pope will wait for a tram with the mayor of Krakow, accompanied by a group of young people with disabilities.

Among the highlights the testimony of a young Syrian from Aleppo during the prayer vigil presided by the Pope on Saturday 30 July.

Currently there are 335 thousand people registered, but usually more turn up who have not been registered, explained the spokesman of the Polish Church, Father Pavel Rytel-Andrianik:" The organization expects 1.5 and 1.8 million young people to come to the meetings with the Holy Father".  The largest numbers, in descending order, are from Poland, Italy, France, Spain, USA, Germany, France, Ukraine, Portugal. And “for the first time since the Second Vatican Council 800 bishops and 70 cardinals will be gathered in the same place".

Responding to a question, Father Lombardi said that "there are particular concerns in Poland with regard to security”. Poland, he added, "has recently hosted a NATO summit that took place in complete calm" and "no groups have withdrawn over security concerns." "There is an atmosphere of normality and tranquility".