Today was all about practicalities – preparing for the logistics, location, safety, and security related to our World Youth Day pilgrimage this July. But I was able to sandwich the day with two more Krakovian experiences – first thing this morning, I went to the College Church of St. Anne to pray at the tomb of another of the many saints of this city – St. Jan Kanty, whose name in Enlglish is often given as St. John Cantius. He was a professor at the college here – Krakow is very much a university town – and is one of the patrons of Poland. As I prayed at his tomb, I said a specific prayer for all of the college students who will be part of our World Youth Day pilgrimage.
I then headed to the US Consulate in Krakow, where I had a very productive and informative meeting with three officials of the US State Department – the Consular Chief, the Regional Security Advisor, and the consulate’s political-economic officer. They were joined by a native of Krakow who works with the consulate in security matters. The information exchange went both ways – I was able to learn about the US Consulate’s role before and during World Youth Day as it pertains to US citizens, and they were also very interested in hearing about the specifics of our plans so that they can best prepare for the event. Of course, security and safety was a big topic of conversation, and I received assurances that the US Consulate trusts that all necessary measures are being taken by the local, regional, and national officials in Poland to ensure everyone’s safety during World Youth Day. The officers I met with are in regular communication with people at every level of organization – both governmental and non-governmental – and it was good to hear their perspective. I’ll share more details on specific plans related to safety and security with our pilgrimage leadership team when I return to the States.
Following my meeting at the consulate, I boarded a tram – one of the primary forms of public transportation in Krakow – to go to Nowa Huta, where the hotel we will be staying at this July is located. Nowa Huta was a planned Communist community, built around a massive steel mill after World War II. It contains block after block of identical apartment buildings – one of which has been transformed into the hotel where we will be staying. Nowa Huta was purposely designed without any churches – but under the leadership and determination of then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla – later Pope John Paul II – the residents first erected a cross on an empty lot, then started celebrating Mass outdoors in that spot, and didn’t stop until the government allowed them to build a church. That very church – called the Arka Pana or Ark of the Lord (because it is designed to look like Noah’s ark on the stormy waters – is only about a block from our hotel and is an amazing worship space that our whole group will be able to visit in July.
At the hotel, I met the director of the hotel network and the manager of our particular facility, who showed me some of the rooms, the breakfast area, and other parts of the facility. I also wandered around the neighborhood to get an idea of what is around. Within a few blcoks of the hotel are a grocery store, a police station, a hospital, and a church – what else could we need!
After making my way back into the Old Town of Krakow, tonight the other end of my “sandwich”of non-practicalities came with the beginning of 24 Hours for the Lord, an initiative of the Jubilee of Mercy being held throughout the world. In Krakow, four churches have been designated to be open for 24 Hours of prayer and the Sacrament of Reconciliation – one of them is the Franciscan Church of All Saints, just down the street from where I am staying this week. The evening began with a Penitential Service with one of the Auxiliary Bishops of Krakow, followed by a concert of sacred music with a group called Voces Angeli. Ending the day with prayer in one of the many active, vibrant churches in the city was a great way to bring this day of practicalities to a close.