We don’t see coronation processions much these days. But when cities like Krakow were built, the layout of the city was designed based on the fact that it was a royal city and that kings and queens would be crowned there. Most of these ancient European royal cities have what is called a Royal Way or Coronation Way – the path that a new monarch would follow in procession to his or her coronation, most often in the city’s cathedral. In Krakow, the Royal Way begins on the north end of town, at Florianska Gate, so called because of the nearby church of St. Florian, the patron of firefighters, and in more recent history, the church where a young Fr. Karol Wojtyla ministered as a college chaplain. It led to the Main Square of the city – Rynek Glowny – dominated on one corner by a huge church dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God. And the Royal Way ended at the other end of the old city of Krakow on Wawel Hill at the Cathedral built over the tomb of the patron of the city and the nation, St. Stanislas.
These days, Krakow’s Royal Way is one of the main pedestrian thoroughfares for the many tourists who visit this city to enjoy its historic atmosphere, beautiful churches, sumptuous culture, and hearty food. The streets are lined with restaurants and cafes, souvenir shops and bars, churches and plazas. But no more royal processions. Today, however, I think I may have glimpsed some of what a coronation day might have been like in Krakow of old. The official welcoming ceremony of Pope Francis to World Youth Day was held tonight in Blonia Park, on the outskirts of the Old Town of Krakow. While I didn’t actually go to the welcoming ceremony myself – many in our group were there, however – I did spend the afternoon and evening wandering through the Old Town, watching as hundreds of thousands of people made their way to the park to see the Pope.
And the most amazing thing to me is that these joyful, rambunctous crowds of young people were parading down Krakow’s Royal Way to see a humble servant of God. Not a king, but a minister of the gospel. Not a coronation, but a witness to love. Not a moment of national pride, but someone who can bring together all the nations. Not a hereditary ruler, but the earthly leader of those who follow the King of Kings.
Tomorrow, the man so many came to see will lead the same crowds in meditations on redemptive suffering in the Way of the Cross. On Saturday, he will lead millions in Eucharistic Adoration. And on Sunday, he will preside at Mass, bringing Jesus Christ to the world once more in Word and Sacrament. This is the Royal Way of Krakow – of Poland – of World Youth Day 2016. The Royal Way of Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, who shows us the way to follow him.