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Pope will meet Polish bishops behind closed doors during World Youth Day

20 July 2016 | by Christopher Lamb

Francis is expected to face a testing time on his first visit to the birthplace of Pope John Paul II

Pope Francis will make his first visit to Poland next week for World Youth Day (25-31st July) where he will be greeted by enthusiastic crowds of young Catholics - but the trip comes amid tensions between Francis and the country’s bishops, many of whom are at odds with the direction of his papacy. 

Fr Federico Lombardi, spokesman for the Holy See, told journalists on Wednesday that the Pope will have a behind-closed-doors meeting with the Polish hierarchy explaining that the meeting will not be televised and that Francis will not deliver a formal speech. Instead, Fr Lombardi explained, the Pope and the hierarchy will have an “informal dialogue” when they gather in Krakow Cathedral - he stressed that Francis has before opted to meet bishops in such a way. 

The meeting with the polish hierarchy, however, will be in stark contrast to Francis recent trips to the United States and Mexico where he used his meetings with the country’s bishops to upbraid them. The same happened when he met the Italian and German episcopate towards the end of last year.  

For their part, the hierarchy in Poland were among the staunchest opponents to any shift in teaching during the 2014 and 2015 synod gatherings on the family, in particular over the possibility of giving communion to divorced and remarried Catholics. While Francis has made a cautious opening in this area, his Polish predecessor John Paul II ruled out such a possibility - and in Poland John Paul II is held up as a national icon who provided the template of how to be a bold and strong Pope. 

Francis’ meeting with the bishops takes place in John Paul II’s former cathedral and the decision to ban cameras from the gathering and not having a papal speech will ensure no one can draw contrasts between this Pope and his recent predecessor. Another point of tension is the closeness between the polish bishops and the country’s ruling Law and Justice party, a government that has shown itself hostile to welcoming migrants. Francis, on the other hand, has made helping refugees a key part of his pontificate. 

Fr Pawel Rytel-Andrianik, a spokesman for the polish bishops, stressed that the country's parishes had been helping migrants and that his hierarchy had appealed to Catholics to assist refugees the day before Francis had called for parishes and religious houses to take in at least one migrant family. 

He said that Francis will receive a warm welcome in Poland for World Youth Day which he said is expected to attract crowds up of to 1.8 million. 800 bishops and 70 cardinals are also attending.

The Pope, for whom this will be his first ever visit to Poland, will on Friday travel to Auschwitz: when there he is expected to pray in silence, meet ten holocaust survivors and go to the cell of Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan friar killed by the Nazis. Fr Lombardi added that the priest of a parish where Catholics were killed for helping Jews will chant Psalm 130 in Polish after a Rabbi sings it in Hebrew. 

World Youth day, which was started by John Paul II, is a seven-day long event which brings together young Catholics from all over the globe for prayer and catechesis. The main event is a Mass celebrated by Francis in Krakow on the Sunday although there are a series of meetings between the Pope and young people throughout his visit. On Saturday (30th July) Francis will have lunch with five young people representing continents from across the world and in the evening he will take part in a prayer vigil which includes testimony from young people, including a Syrian woman. 

Fr Lombardi added that the Pope will travel to some events in an ecologically friendly tram which is in keeping with Francis’ concern for the environment. God’s mercy will also be a strong theme running throughout World Youth Day: it is central to Francis’ pontificate and was also emphasised by John Paul II.  



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