The road to Krakow

The road to Krakow

Gerard Gallagher reflects on the importance of WYD and the “amazing events that have helped to shape a generation in faith”

I have been attending and working on World Youth Days as part of various roles in my work going back to the 1990s. They are amazing events that have helped to shape a generation in faith. Over the years some of these young pilgrims have become leaders in industry, politics and the Church. Another generation of young people from Ireland have begun their pilgrimage to WYD 2016 in Poland. A future of hope is now before them.

It is fitting that World Youth Day 2016 is returning to Poland. It had previously been held in Czestochowa in 1991.This will be Pope Francis’ first pilgrimage to Poland as Pope. Krakow is known as the city of saints. Its modern history has been shaped and impacted by the life, testimony and journey of the salt-mine worker who became priest, bishop  of Krakow and cardinal before Pope.


Krakow has also been shaped by the recent devotion to St Faustina and the Divine Mercy spirituality.

The story and narrative of St John Paul II will shape WYD 2016. Many of the young pilgrims have no memory of him. However, after a week in Krakow they will not only witness the regard the Poles have for John Paul II, they will also be part of a new relationship that Poland will begin with Pope Francis.

Over 1,600 young people from Ireland will attend World Youth Day in Poland which is due to begin on July 26.

The largest group is from the Archdiocese of Dublin with over 300 pilgrims. Young people from all around the world will arrive in Poland, some will spend time in other Polish dioceses to experience ‘Days in the Diocese’ as part of the life of the local Church. In the past week Irish pilgrims from the dioceses of Ferns, Meath, Derry, Dublin were among the first to depart for Poland. Ten bishops from Ireland will attend WYD, and many of our newer bishops are attending for the first time.

Each morning all pilgrims receive catechesis in parishes in and around Krakow. A number of Irish dioceses are collaborating on one English language catechesis site.

On the Wednesday, for example, Irish pilgrims will gather for prayer led by Bishop Denis Nulty and the young people of Kildare and Leighlin. Pope Francis will be welcomed to WYD on Thursday 28. As has become traditional now, the Pope will lead the Way of the Cross on the Friday.

Gerard Gallagher works in the Office for Evangelisation and Ecumenism in the Archdiocese of Dublin and author of Are we Losing the Young Church? and Our Child’s Confirmation.

Small beginnings

WYDs began in the 1980s. John Paul believed in enabling young people to become the ‘apostles of youth’ and understood the role that gathering them in large numbers could bolster their faith and create a memory of doing something significant.

He often referred to the fact that he had kept an ‘appointment’ with the youth of the world. His pilgrimage to them was also the beginning of many of these young people’s first step on their pilgrimage into faith.

At his first World Youth Day, he remarked: “What a fantastic spectacle is presented on this stage by your gathering here today! Who claimed that today’s youth has lost their sense of values?”

What happens afterwards?

Millions of young people have attended World Youth Day over the years, including thousands of Irish people. I have been privileged to have accompanied many as part of my work. Repeatedly, young people have reflected that WYD has made a unique impact on their life. As I look around the Church in Dublin and Ireland, the WYD generation is beginning to emerge into the adult Church. Some are parents of young families, some are priests and religious. Some have an active role in their local parish and struggle with the local issues of maintenance of parish life.

This is a million miles from their days at WYD! However, even in the Gospels, joyful memories were not enough for Jesus, he instructed the disciples who were with him at the Transfiguration to leave the mountain and return to where they had started. It would be great if parishes could consider planning ahead and creating foundations for the Krakow generation to integrate into parish life at home.  Hopefully some of them will take up active roles during the World Meeting of Families in 2018.

It is not easy to be a young Catholic. We need to support and encourage this generation in their journey into faith. After all it is from this generation that the new saints of this new millennium will emerge!