RELIGION
07/26/2016 08:07 pm ET

Catholics Celebrate Opening Of World Youth Day Ahead Of Pope's Visit

This Catholic youth festival looks more like a rock concert than a faith gathering.
A woman from Brazil prays during the holy mass opening ceremony in the Blonia Park on July 26, 2016 in Krakow, Poland.
Carsten Koall via Getty Images
A woman from Brazil prays during the holy mass opening ceremony in the Blonia Park on July 26, 2016 in Krakow, Poland.

Despite fears that Pope Francis may find a lukewarm greeting in Poland this week, the festival bringing him to the conservative Catholic country kicked off on Tuesday with great fanfare.

The pontiff is due to arrive in Krakow on Wednesday for a five-day visit in celebration of World Youth Day. Initiated by Pope John Paul II in 1985, the event takes place roughly every three years and gives young Catholics an opportunity to celebrate their faith in the company of their pontiff.

The festival officially began on Tuesday with an opening Mass led by Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, the archbishop of Krakow. Hundreds of thousands attended the opening event, according to the festival’s U.S. branch, recalling the throngs of pilgrims who made their way to the 2013 World Youth Day in Brazil.

Pilgrims from all over the world celebrate after the Opening Mass on the first day of the World Youth Days, on the Blonia Mea
JANEK SKARZYNSKI via Getty Images
Pilgrims from all over the world celebrate after the Opening Mass on the first day of the World Youth Days, on the Blonia Meadows in Krakow, on July 26, 2016.

“World Youth Day is a unique way to deepen your faith and grow closer to Christ, by means of prayer and the sacraments, together with thousands of other young people who share your interests and ambitions,” the festival’s website says.

During his trip, Pope Francis will hear confessions, break bread and lead a prayer vigil with several selected groups of young Catholics. The pontiff will also visit the former Nazi camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau, where he has asked that those in attendance offer prayers and tears rather than speeches.

“I would like to go to that place of horror without speeches, without crowds - only the few people necessary,” Francis told reporters in June. “Alone, enter, pray. And may the Lord give me the grace to cry.”

A man walks on the railway tracks in the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Kacper Pempel / Reuters
A man walks on the railway tracks in the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Poland’s Catholic Church is known to be politically and socially conservative, which may give rise to tensions if the pope preaches on topics close to his heart like the environment and the plight of migrants.

“I am absolutely convinced the meeting between Francis and the Polish Church will be challenging for both sides,” Jaroslaw Makowski, a liberal Polish theologian, told Reuters.

For the youth gathered at the festival, though, it could be a different story. As one young pilgrim traveling from Zimbabwe told Catholic News Agency on Monday: “It’s going to be out of this world.”

See photos from World Youth Day’s celebratory kick off below:

  • Pilgrims gather for the opening ceremony of World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland July 26, 2016.
    Agencja Gazeta / Reuters
    Pilgrims gather for the opening ceremony of World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland July 26, 2016.
  • Pilgrims covered in rain coats gather before the opening mass of World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland July 26, 2016.
    Agencja Gazeta / Reuters
    Pilgrims covered in rain coats gather before the opening mass of World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland July 26, 2016.
  • Pilgrims hold a cross during the opening mass of World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland July 26, 2016.
    Agencja Gazeta / Reuters
    Pilgrims hold a cross during the opening mass of World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland July 26, 2016.
  • A pilgrim poses next to a picture of Pope Francis at the main square during World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, July 26, 2016.
    David W Cerny / Reuters
    A pilgrim poses next to a picture of Pope Francis at the main square during World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, July 26, 2016.
  • A nun walks past a poster on the main stage before the opening ceremony of World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, July 26, 2016.
    David W Cerny / Reuters
    A nun walks past a poster on the main stage before the opening ceremony of World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, July 26, 2016.
  • Pilgrims covered in rain coats walk during heavy rain on World Youth Day at the Main Square in Krakow, Poland July 26, 2016.
    Agencja Gazeta / Reuters
    Pilgrims covered in rain coats walk during heavy rain on World Youth Day at the Main Square in Krakow, Poland July 26, 2016.
  • Nuns hold flags near the main square during World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, July 26, 2016.
    David W Cerny / Reuters
    Nuns hold flags near the main square during World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, July 26, 2016.
  • Pilgrims confess during World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland July 26, 2016.
    Agencja Gazeta / Reuters
    Pilgrims confess during World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland July 26, 2016.
  • Pilgrims sing songs at the main square during World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, July 26, 2016.
    David W Cerny / Reuters
    Pilgrims sing songs at the main square during World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, July 26, 2016.
  • A pilgrim prays before the opening ceremony of World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, July 26, 2016.
    David W Cerny / Reuters
    A pilgrim prays before the opening ceremony of World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, July 26, 2016.
  • A pilgrim waits for the opening ceremony of World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, July 26, 2016.
    David W Cerny / Reuters
    A pilgrim waits for the opening ceremony of World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, July 26, 2016.
  • Pilgrims rest on a bus stop during World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, July 26, 2016.
    David W Cerny / Reuters
    Pilgrims rest on a bus stop during World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, July 26, 2016.
  • Pilgrims sing songs at the main square during World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, July 26, 2016.
    David W Cerny / Reuters
    Pilgrims sing songs at the main square during World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, July 26, 2016.
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