‘Kraków in the Capital’ makes World Youth Day local

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As millions of Catholics from all over the world gathered in Kraków, Poland, for the vigil Mass with Pope Francis, halfway around the world more than 1,200 Catholic youths arrived at Catholic University to participate in the second World Youth Day in DC event July 30. Organizers provided guests with a full day of prayer, inspirational talks and sacraments, not to mention pierogis, paczki and Polish music and dancing.

The event, called Kraków in the Capital, was started in 2013 after unforeseen circumstances left the Archdiocese of Washington Youth Office without tickets to World Youth Day in Rio.

"We decided to host an event locally for those who did not have the resources or capability to travel abroad," said Jonathan Lewis, Director of Young Adult Ministry and Evangelization Initiatives for the Archdiocese of Washington. "We called it Rio in DC and had 500 people show up, speaking to the need and desire of young people to celebrate World Youth Day in solidarity with the Holy Father."

Three years later the Archdiocese started planning the event a year in advance and worked closely with a number of catholic groups to the area to host the event. Co-hosts included the Arlington Diocese, Archdiocese of Baltimore, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Catholic University of America, Saint John Paul II National Shrine and Dominican House of Studies.

The Kraków in the Capital event started in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for opening prayer. During the service, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington Mario E. Dorsonville joined the pilgrims praying the Divine Mercy chaplet, parts of which were recited in English, Spanish, Tagalog, Vietnamese and Polish.

Following the service, attendees made their way to breakout sessions offered at Catholic University and the St. John Paul II Shrine. Topics ranged from how to form community as young adults to encountering Christ through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. There were tracks available for Spanish-speaking pilgrims, as well as sessions for deaf pilgrims and those with disabilities.

A large group gathered in the Great Room in the Pryzbyla Center to hear a panel discussion about growing in holiness where God calls you in your vocation. One of the panelists was Sister Clare Hunter, director of Arlington's Respect Life Office.

"St. Francis looked where he was and he started with the rock in front of him," said Sister Clare. "During this time of violence and crime, see yourself as an agent of reconciliation. Listen to others."

Throughout the event, pilgrims were invited to peruse the vendor tables in the Pryzbyla Center. Rachel Wiener, who came with a group from Christendom College in Front Royal led by Father Stephen F. McGraw, spoke with several vendors.

"There was one for the St. Francis Xavier Lay Missionary Society that I was excited about because I have been called to the missionary field," said Wiener. The rising senior hopes to do missionary work in China after graduation.

One of the big draws of World Youth Day is the opportunity to meet Catholics from all over the world and experience the global universality of the church. While World Youth Day in DC could not provide that experience on as large a scale, it was successful in bringing young Catholics together from all over the country while also reconnecting old friends.

Having the Pope John Paul II Shrine within walking distance held special meaning for Elizabeth Leader who was baptized by the saint in Rome.

"I was really impressed," she said. "It helps you get into the moments of his life before and after being pope and helps to provide a historical and biographical context. Then you are able to go and pray in the chapel and appreciate the shrine as a whole."

For the closing of Kraków in the Capital, Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington led the pilgrims in the Stations of the Cross and Mass. Cardinal Wuerl encouraged the pilgrims to reach out with the love of Christ to their peers saying, "You will be more successful at reaching (them) than the older generation. They are not looking at me. They are looking at you."

World Youth Day 2019 will be held in Panama.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016