Hundreds of thousands of young Catholic pilgrims are heading to Kraków in Poland for six days of music, prayer and spiritual masterclasses, with Pope Francis headlining an event labelled by some as “Glastonbury with God”.
More than 330,000 pilgrims have registered for World Youth Day, a global Catholic festival that last took place three years ago in Rio, with tens of thousands more expected to attend. Most will be Europeans but more than 180 countries will be represented at the event, which starts on Tuesday.
The young Catholics will be joined by 800 bishops, including 70 cardinals, and 20,000 priests. Their attendance figures are expected to be swell when huge numbers of Poles descend on Kraków for the papal mass on Sunday, with some anticipating a turnout of up to 2 million. More than 92% of Poland’s 38.5 million population is Catholic.
During his first trip to Poland, Pope Francis is to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazi death camp where more than a million people died between 1940 and 1945, and the Jasna Góra monastery in Częstochowa that contains the famous 14th-century icon of the Black Madonna.
At Auschwitz, the pope has cancelled a scheduled speech, saying he would prefer to mark his visit with silent prayer. “I would like to go to that place of horror without speeches, without crowds – only the few people necessary,” he told reporters last month. “Alone, enter, pray. And may the Lord give me the grace to cry.”
The pope’s visit has presented organisers and the Polish authorities with logistical and security challenges. Poland suspended its participation in the EU’s Schengen free movement agreement for the month of July, in order to reintroduce border controls for the Kraków event and for the Nato summit in Warsaw.