More than 3,000 young people from across Australia and half of the Australian Catholic bishops joined Pope Francis for a prayer vigil at Campus Misericordiae, Kraków on Saturday, 30 July as part of World Youth Day 2016.
Twenty-nine-year-old Amanda Coombe, from the Diocese of Broken Bay, joined Pope Francis on the stage along with representatives from many other countries. Amanda attended World Youth Day, Sydney in 2008.
An additional 300 young Australians were invited to join Pope Francis in front of the stage. Throughout the vigil, Australian flags could be seen across the campus where more than 1.6 million gathered.
The vigil is a time of prayer, meditation and singing in preparation for the celebration of the Eucharist at the final Mass of World Youth Day on Sunday, 31 July.
On Saturday morning, young people began the pilgrimage on foot to Campus Misericordiae, a field between Kraków and Wieliczka.
Speaking after the vigil, Bishop Peter Comensoli, a member of the Bishops Commission for Family, Youth and Life, said that the evening had been a powerful encounter with the merciful Lord for Australian young people on their journey of faith, hope and prayer.
“Through all the physical and mental challenges that World Youth Day week can throw up, it has been a life-making experience for each of them. Sharing this vigil with the youth of the world tonight was going to the horizons with Jesus rather than the museum, as Pope Francis told us in his address.”
In a challenging and inspiring address, Pope Francis invited young people to be active and to make a difference in today’s world.
“The times we live in do not call for young couch potatoes but for young people with shoes, or, better, boots laced,” the Pope said. He added that we didn’t come into this world “to make our lives a comfortable couch to fall asleep on. No, we came for another reason, to leave a mark”.
Pope Francis encouraged young people to “build bridges, not walls”, to be “courageous and free”, and to not confuse “happiness with consumption”.
Based on the theme of World Youth Day, ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy’ (Mt 5:7), the field was named by World Youth Day organisers as the place of encounter between the Holy Father and millions of young people from around the world.
Pope Francis entered the vigil site by passing through the ‘Gate of Mercy’ accompanied by representatives of all continents.
The focal point of the vigil was adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, at which the gathering of young people descended into silence.
Central to the vigil were the themes within the World Youth Day prayer: typical behaviours in modern society; the attitude of young people towards suffering brought about by grief, death and war; young people consumed by modern technology, isolated and lonely; forgiveness of neighbours and rejection of evil; the grief that results from addictions and other problems in today’s world. Each theme was performed and expressed through air acrobatics, music, costume and lighting from Acrobatic Dance Theatre Mira-Art.
Young people delivered powerful testimonies about their lives involving war, grief and loss; in particular, Rand Mittri described her tragic life in Aleppo, Syria.
As the Founder of World Youth Day, the vigil included a reflection on the words of St John Paul II during World Youth Day at Czestochowa, Poland in 1991.
The altar at Campus Misericordiae included rich religious symbolism. When open, the centre of the altar was the Eucharist, Jesus under the heart of Mary, and, when closed, the altar showed the form of the two Apostles of Divine Mercy: St Pope John Paul II and St Sister Faustina. During World Youth Day week, many Australians visited St Faustina’s tomb and the St John Paul II Shrine in Kraków.