One year to go: Krakow prepares for World Youth Day 2016

Ewa Korbut, from the World Youth Day press office in Krakow, discusses preparations for WYD 2016, which takes place July 25–31, 2016

While Pope Francis registered for the World Youth Day 2016—to be held in Krakow, Poland, exactly a year from this week—Krakow came alive as the local organizing committee and young people launched the year-long countdown.

This past Sunday, after Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, longtime aide to Pope Saint John Paul II and President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity which is responsible for World Youth Day, led the celebration on Plac Mariacki (Mariacki Plaza), officially marking the final one year phase of preparations including the opening of pilgrim registration.

Earlier in the week, I had a chance to visit the World Youth Day offices and to interview Ms. Ewa Korbut, from the World Youth Day 2016 press office.

the author with members of the wyd 2016 preparation team (photo: allen ottaro)

CWR: At the closing Mass of World Youth Day 2013, Pope Francis made the announcement that the next World Youth Day will be in Krakow. How did young people in Poland receive this announcement?

Ms. Korbut: I specifically remember the moment. We were having a festival named “Rio in Krakow”. It was in the Sanctuary of God’s Mercy in Lagiewniki and there was a big gathering of young people there, watching the closing Mass of World Youth Day in Rio from a big screen. So when Pope Francis made the announcement, ‘let’s meet next time in Krakow’, there were loud cheers and celebrations in the Church that I have never experienced before.

Everyone was happy… there was applause for another five minutes and people were waving flags of different countries, including the Brazilian one. We could see on the screen that the Pope was saying something more, but we were so happy and were still cheering and applauding all the time. Then we started to imagine how we were going to do it, but no one thought about the entire preparations yet…we were just so happy. We could see on the screen young people from Krakow, from Poland—some who were in Rio—we could see how happy they were too. They later told us that all the people gathered in Rio wanted to swap Polish-tshirts, flags, every little souvenir from Poland, and how much they looked forward to going to Poland for World Youth Day.

Later, with the leadership of Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the official preparations started slowly but surely, and we started preparing ourselves. The committee gathered and started planning. As you know, it’s going to be a big meeting, a big event, and there are so many things to prepare.

CWR: Excellent! It sounds like you are all up to the challenge. This being the home of Saint John Paul II, how significant is it that WYD is coming to Krakow?

world youth day 2016 flags on plac mariacki (photo: allen ottaro)

Ms. Korbut: Straight away after we were chosen to organize, all the people said we should present Krakow as the place where Saint John Paul II lived. He was a Bishop here, but he also studied here and had his priestly formation here. He also worked not too far away from here in a fabric factory. So all the tourists connect Krakow with Saint John Paul II. Now we want to present him not simply as the Pope we knew—head of the Church who travelled all over the world—but we want to present him as the normal boy who lived here, just next to the Vistula river and then as a student, and then as a young priest who worked first in small parish, about 40 kilometers from here. As the world knows him from the 27 years he was Pope, we know him from many years before as a young boy, who grew into a young man, who became a priest and then as our Bishop who was already involved in working with young people, but also with older people in the parishes. He’s known here also as the Bishop who travelled a lot to the small parishes all over the diocese of Krakow, so then we can see he did the same but in a bigger way as the Pope, meeting more and more people.

CWR: Saint John Paul II was from Krakow, but the entire Church in Poland is also full of expectation. How is the Church [in Poland] getting ready?

Ms. Korbut: As you know, the World Youth Day is the week in Krakow, but also the week before with the days in the dioceses. All the other dioceses in Poland are preparing to host people from all across the world. Each and every diocese is preparing a program for the period 20th to 25th July. They are preparing both the spiritual and cultural aspects of the program. They already have centres of preparation and Polish pilgrims are able to sign up with their local dioceses starting next week.

We know that Krakow is the host diocese, but each and every Polish person is a host. Bishop Muskus who is the head of the organizing committee emphasizes this point and he always says “we are organizing”. Not only the local team in Krakow, or citizens of Krakow, but the whole of Poland, especially the youth are hosting. So we can see many Facebook accounts of each parish, each diocese, each region of Poland showcasing how they are preparing and tweets expressing how eagerly they are waiting for World Youth Day.
dancers at the celebration on plac mariacki marking the final year of preparation for wyd 2016(photo: allen ottaro)There are so many initiatives at the moment. For example, I am not sure if you have heard, but there is a bus, a small one, of young people from Kalwaria Zebrzydowska. They got it from the parents of one of the girls, and they painted it with the logo and colors of World Youth Day, pictures from Krakow and Saint John Paul II; now they are going all across Europe inviting people to World Youth Day next year. At the moment they have been to the Czech Republic, Austria, and Italy and the day before yesterday they took the ferry to Greece. They will then go to the Balkans, then Romania, Slovakia and back to Poland. They already arranged meetings with young people and parishes, inviting them to come to Poland, and if they cannot, then to pray for the success of the event.

The second interesting initiative is a group of guys from Torun. They have bicycles and they are going to Zakopane in the mountains, in the south of Poland, and then the most northern point in Poland, at the seaside called Hel, covering a total of about 800 kilometers. They have World Youth Day t-shirts and are getting people excited about next year, reminding them we have only one year left to prepare ourselves, to host other people.

CWR: This all sounds very exciting!

Ms. Korbut: Yes, there are plenty of such, small, but very very energetic and exciting initiatives.

CWR: World Youth Day of course, focuses on young people, but I am curious about how the people who are no longer ‘youth’ have received the news of hosting the World Youth Day in Poland.

Ms. Korbut: When I speak with my family, for example, they know that World Youth Day is going to be hosted in Poland, but no one can imagine how it is going to be like. So now, when our parents or grandparents hear that they are going to host pilgrims from the ends of the world—from Africa, Australia—they are very happy because they can encounter different cultures. Maybe they are a bit afraid of speaking in other languages but, well, I think it won’t be a problem. There is a custom in Poland, that when you have a guest in your house, there is God in your house. So we would really like them to be hospitable to the pilgrims and definitely all the people are waiting to meet Pope Francis. We were used to Pope John Paul II visiting Poland every 3 or 4 years. Now that’s a bit different, but we are still curious to listen to the message he will bring to us. But the older generation also sees the opportunity that World Youth Day offers to renew our faith, in the entire Polish church.

the author in krakow (photo: allen ottaro)

CWR: What can the young people from all across the world preparing to come to Krakow expect?

Ms. Korbut: Definitely there are some facts about Poland that are well known, for example that Saint Pope John Paul II is Polish, the Solidarity movement in the struggle against Communism and so on. But still there are people who contact us by email who are unaware where Poland and Krakow is located. So this will be a big opportunity to see the centre of Europe; we have mountains, we have the seaside, so that is also our strength. The history of Christianity in Poland is over 1000 years. Next year during World Youth Day, there will be the 1050th anniversary of Christianity in Poland. The entire Polish Church is also preparing for this anniversary. The faith in Poland is still strong. About 90 percent [of the Polish people] are Christians so our strength is definitely the faith, but also the culture, which is connected with our faith as religion has been very strong over many centuries.

We recommend pilgrims to try Polish food, of course! It may not be well known right now, but you have to try.

Apart from Saint John Paul II, we have also Saint Faustyna and other saints from Krakow and Poland, whom we will present in our program, ‘Krakow as Saints City’. Many things about culture and religion will be on our website very soon. In September or October, there will be a section on our website called ‘take our strength’ with plenty of information for pilgrims to help them as they prepare to come to Poland.

screen shot of images of pope saint john paul ii and saint faustina (

CWR: So much to look forward to! Speaking of Polish food, any details on what will be on the menu for pilgrims?

Ms. Korbut: Definitely you have to try ‘pierogi’, Polish dumplings, with different fillings for example with cabbage or mushrooms if you are vegetarian, or with meat or with fruits during the summer. In Krakow you have to try ‘obwazanek’, which is very traditional and you have to try it.

CWR: What final message would you have for the young people coming to Poland for World Youth Day?

Ms. Korbut: We are waiting for you and look forward so much to gather in Krakow in 2016. We want to give you as much as we can, from our faith, from our religion, from our strength…but we also want to meet you, to receive the faith from different sides, because each and every pilgrim will have something to offer. We really want it to be a meeting despite the fact there will be two million people and it is almost impossible to really see every person who comes, but everyone who comes is very welcome and is awaited-to be received, to share, to exchange the faith and to come a step closer to Jesus Christ together. It is easier to go to Christ Himself, when we are together.

CWR: Thank you very much and I also look forward to come to World Youth Day next year!

St. Mary's Basilica, Kraków (Photo: Allen Ottaro)

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About Allen Ottaro 32 Articles
Allen Ottaro lives in Nairobi, Kenya, where he is a parishioner at St. Paul’s Catholic University Chapel in the Archdiocese of Nairobi. He is a co-founder of the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa, and is the former national coordinator of MAGIS Kenya.