In Krakow, I have spoken to many veterans of previous editions of World Youth Day. Although most of them were very young when Pope St. John Paul II died, they are nonetheless a “JP2 Generation” and are deeply inspired by the late pope to bring about renewal in their local Church. Perhaps on a smaller scale than World Youth Day, the new Catholic movements that flourished after Vatican II, especially in Europe, are also helping to rejuvenate the Church. Many of them are here in Krakow.
Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, the legendary late archbishop of Paris who was a pioneer of the new evangelization, once said that if the problem of European secularization came out of France (i.e., the problem of heretical bishops and priests), then the solution would come out of there, too. Indeed, although religious practice in France is low, many of the most dynamic new movements in the Church today have originated there. During my days in Krakow, I have met a large number of French pilgrims, many of whom are active in the new movements. In fact, French pilgrims are the third most numerous national group, after the Italians and the Poles. While all of them acknowledge it’s difficult to be a Catholic in France today, when I ask them if the situation will be better tomorrow, they without exception and without hesitation confidently answer oui. Undoubtedly, the new movements have something to do with this.
Numerous new movements were present at World Youth Day. Two French ones, Chemin Neuf and Taize, were the most prominent. During the Days in the Dioceses, 130,000 pilgrims from around the world spent time with volunteers and host families experiencing Polish Catholicism firsthand in all of Poland’s dioceses. In Lodz, the country’s third-largest city, Chemin Neuf, a French charismatic movement that bases itself on Ignatian spirituality, organized a festival called Paradise in the City. About 5,500 pilgrims (almost half of the total in Lodz) took part in the event.
Paradise in the City had an intellectual component. First, the pilgrims learned about what it was like to be a Christian in the social and political sphere thanks to lectures by Zoltan Balog, a Hungarian government minister, and Emmanuel Lafont, a Guinean bishop who worked with Nelson Mandela to fight apartheid in South Africa. The meetings were of an ecumenical nature: Justin Welby, the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury, spoke to the pilgrims about the unity of Christians.
Because St. Faustina Kowalska lived in Lodz, she figured prominently in Paradise in the City. Participants had the opportunity to pray with her relics in the Lodz cathedral. One evening featured a “Road of Mercy,” during which pilgrims from 11 countries gave their testimonies of faith and encouraged their fellow participants to reconcile with God. The event was filled with many occasions for Eucharistic adoration, confession, and individual spiritual talks with bishops and priests.
Ewelina, an architect from Warsaw who attended Paradise in the City, says: “I was in Lodz and I loved it. Jesus is what attracts me to Chemin Neuf. Everything they offer help me to see and experience the fact that God is love.”
Another movement originating in France that has made its presence at World Youth Day in Krakow is the Taize community. Compared to Chemin Neuf, Taize is more contemplative and introspective. This ecumenical monastic community of Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox was founded by the Protestant Brother Roger, and it focuses on elements of both Eastern and Western spiritual practices, such as silent meditation, chanting, song, and Byzantine-style icons. Each year, it organizes two meetings of young people, a European meeting and an international one. Meanwhile, 100,000 pilgrims come to pray, work, and meditate to Taize, France, each year.
During World Youth Day, St. Stephen’s parish has organized several Taize prayers each day. During the first one, 1,500 showed up. Especially numerous are the Polish pilgrims; Poles are by far the most numerous group at all the international Taize prayer meetings. The prayers were soothing and beautiful; the church was dimmed and lit by candles and adorned with icons. However, there were quite a few French pilgrims and even some Asians, showing that the community’s reach has expanded far outside Europe.
On my way to St. Stephen’s, I met up with Marcin, a student from Poznan who has repeatedly stayed at the Taize community and regularly attends the annual international meetings of European youths. In 2009, his home city hosted the event. I asked him if he believes that Taize can lead to the renewal of the Church in Europe and the West. “There is no way that there can be a renewal of Christianity in Europe without the personal conversion of each of us. We need an individual encounter with Jesus in prayer. Taize creates the perfect conditions for this. Without a personal conversion, there can be no genuine acts of charity,” he says.
Numerous other young Catholic movements, such as the Emmanuel and L’Arche communities, have also organized events during World Youth Day. However, the most spectacular and omnipresent were those held by Chemin Neuf and Taize. These two movements are proof that in addition to the great festival of faith that is World Youth Day, there are also other inspiring movements that are bringing countless youths closer to Christ.
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