Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) helping over 3,500 young people from 29 countries to attend World Youth Day in Poland
By Maria Lozano
The countdown has begun. In just a few days’ time young people from all over the world will be gathering together in Cracow, Poland, to take part in the World Youth Day (WYD), an event that goes back to the year 1984, the Jubilee Year of the Redemption, when Pope St John Paul II invited young people from all over the world to take part in an international youth Jubilee. Ever since then, young people have gathered together with the Pope, in various cities around the world, to share their faith with other young people and to ponder the central theme chosen by the Pope on each particular occasion. During this Jubilee year, which is also the Year of Mercy, the city chosen is Cracow, Poland, a city profoundly linked to the message of Divine Mercy given to Saint Faustina, the apostle of Divine Mercy, and of course to Pope St John Paul II himself, who canonised Sister Faustina and established the feast of Divine Mercy Sunday for the entire Church.
More than 3,500 young people from 29 different countries will be able to participate in the meeting in Cracow from 26 to 31 July, thanks to the support of the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) via 40 different aid projects. Given their close geographical proximity to Poland, many of the countries that have received support are countries from Eastern Europe. “The young people of Ukraine, Bosnia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Russia and Macedonia are delighted at this opportunity to come together personally with Pope Francis in Poland. Most of them have never had the opportunity to participate in world youth days, owing to the fact that travel from the countries of Southeast Europe often involves increasingly high costs and difficult journeys. For this reason we wanted this year in particular to enable as many young people as possible to personally experience this closeness with the Pope and with other young people from all over the world”, explains Magda Kaczmarek, one of ACN’s project coordinators for Eastern Europe.
(Bishop Clemens Pickel (back row centre) from the Diocese of Saratov in the Russian Federation and Russian pilgrims holding up little prayer boxes they received from ACN for WYD in Madrid 2011 © Aid to the Church in Need)
Meeting with the Pope and living the experience of the Universal Church can likewise be a life-changing experience for young people from many of the tiny Catholic communities of Central Asia, such as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan for example (the last of these is thought to have little more than 100 active Catholics). Since the groups involved in these cases are very small, the projects are not too expensive, but they do represent a real investment in the future of the Catholic community in these countries.
At the same time, given the situation of great suffering in many countries of the Middle East, and of the Christian populations of these countries in particular, it is not surprising that, in line with one of the great traditions of the foundation, young people from these countries should also figure on the list of beneficiaries of this support by ACN, notably those from Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Palestine. It is not only a matter of alleviating a little the difficulties they face in their daily life, but also of “strengthening and supporting the hope of the Church in the Middle East, so that she can thereby be a living witness to peaceful coexistence. These people have experienced war in this region. The meeting which will be celebrated in Poland in July 2016 looks like an ideal opportunity for providing some sort of concrete and tangible aid for these young Arab Christians.” This is how the importance of the WYD for young Christians from the region is summed up by Father Andraws, SJ, who is coordinating the project for Syria, under which 22 young people from this country will be travelling to the event. “Despite their fear and uncertainty about the future, the Christians continue to live in the hope that “the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light…” These Christians personify the hope of the early centuries of Christianity. They have given courageous witness, despite the death threats”, he continues.
Among the other “veteran” countries which have received support from ACN in the past to enable their young people to take part in the World Youth Day are Sudan and Bangladesh, both countries where Christians daily face discrimination and violent attacks. In a letter of thanks sent to ACN following their participation in the WYD in Rio de Janeiro, the young people from Bangladesh wrote ACN the following: “We have experienced the beauty of the Holy Catholic Church and the profound meaning of what it is to be One. The exchange with young people from other parts of the world has broadened the horizons of our knowledge and understanding of their culture and traditions. It was so encouraging to see that we are united in the One Faith. Despite our many differences, we are united in faith; how comforting it is to remember this! We would never have been able to take part in the World Youth Day without your support. Once again we want to express our warmest thanks for what you have been, for what you are and for what you will be for us. Many thanks! You may be assured of our prayers.”
(Part of the Sudanese youth delegation, funded by ACN, attending World Youth Day in Sydney 2008 © Aid to the Church in Need)
Travelling to the WYD is by no means always easy, despite the fact of living in the 21st century. For many young people, reaching their destination can be an exhausting experience, as we were told by a group of young people from Sudan who travelled to Rio de Janeiro. “In the past, pilgrims left their homes, their families and everything they had in order to travel thousands of kilometres with nothing but what they could carry in their haversacks. So we likewise travelled, like modern pilgrims, leaving behind our families and homes in order to travel to sacred places. This journey includes many sacrifices – tiredness, hunger, thirst, sleepiness, extremes of temperature and general hardship… But all these things are worth the effort in order to reach our final goal, our eternal destiny. For this reason the pilgrim understands that although he lives in the present, the present is not the ultimate goal. This experience of pilgrimage is a fascinating one, and we are so grateful to ACN for having helped and supported us in making it.”
Once again, for this year’s WYD in Cracow, ACN has given financial support, trusting in the help of its many and generous benefactors worldwide. But on this occasion ACN is also calling for prayers for both the above countries – especially given that the terrible situation of civil war in South Sudan, and the violent terrorist attacks in Bangladesh are even now – just a few days before it starts – hanging like a question mark over the participation of these groups of young people.
In the midst of world social and political events that seem to be growing ever more cruel and desperate around us, WYD is an opportunity to renew the sense of hope for so many young people. This was how it was described, for example, by Alberto Velloso, a young Brazilian from the town of Barcelos in the remote Amazon region, on his return from World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in 2013: “I cannot explain what I felt; it was as though the world had stopped, and nothing existed beyond those sacred moments; all the problems of the world went away and for a moment I was able to feel that nothing is lost, the voices of millions of people were heavenly voices, praising the name of Jesus; it was as though all the war, destruction and hunger had ceased to exist. It felt a little bit like paradise, and so I can say that today in my heart it is possible to sow the seed of peace, the seed of hope and the seed of love. Thank you!”
This year ACN is supporting World Youth Day through 40 different projects, involving a total over $700,000. In addition to the financial help for groups of young people attending the event, ACN is also helping to organise meetings at the national level, in parallel with the World Youth Day, in Cuba and other countries of Latin America. ACN is also sponsoring a prayer book entitled “Jesus, I trust in You – an extraordinary book on Divine Mercy”, which is part of the pilgrim pack for the young people at WYD in Cracow 2016.
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 172 languages and 50 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
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