Jesus and John Paul II – in Krakow, pilgrims encounter and respond to mercy General view of pilgrims in Krakow, Poland, waiting for the opening Mass of World Youth Day in Blonia Park July 26. (CNS photo/Pawel Supernak, EPA) “May the flame of love engulf our world and rid it of egoism, violence and injustice, so that a civilization of good, reconciliation, love and peace will be strengthened on our earth.”
With these words, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow kicked off today’s opening mass of World Youth Day 2016, just hours after a French priest was stabbed to death while celebrating mass and almost 20 Japanese disabled men and women were killed in a knife attack. All of this comes on the heels of the deadly shooting in Munich last Friday and the Bastille Day attacks in Nice earlier this month.
This World Youth Day’s theme “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy,” seems to come at a time when mercy is in short supply throughout the world. But if anyone present here knows the power of mercy to change the world, it’s Cardinal Dziwisz, who for 40 years served as private secretary to St. Pope John Paul II.
Dziwisz witnessed the course of history change as Pope John Paul II preached a message of mercy to a broken continent reeling from both the aftershocks of World War II and the effects of communism. Now he plays host to Pope Francis who will present that message anew here this week.
Already we’re seeing the effects. At a press conference held on Tuesday spotlighting pilgrims from around the world, one Ukrainian pilgrim spoke of her encounter with fellow Russian pilgrims. “Our human connection destroyed the current political tensions,” she testified.
Another pilgrim, Karolina from Syria, spoke of losing her home and questioning why God would allow such things to happen. She’s present at World Youth Day to attest to the fact that even despite such suffering, she has rediscovered God in the work of young people working to serve refugees. She wants the young people present here in Krakow to know that they too can help rebuild the houses that have been lost by participating in the building of a new home, the kingdom of God. 
At the close of a press conference on theme of mercy, one journalist asked panelist Sister Gaudia Skass from the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, who run the shrine of Divine Mercy in Krakow, how to translate the religious language of mercy into language that a secular world would understand. “Mercy isn’t an idea or a theory, it’s a person,” she responded. “It’s Jesus.”
Responding to that person is the reason over 300,000 pilgrims have gathered here this week and 1.5-2 million are expected to attend Sunday’s papal mass. These young people are here to attest to the fact that the Church is young and alive—and to offer an alternative way of living.
Sister Gaudia went on to note that Saint Faustina wrote in her diaries that mercy is often the last resort for those that are suffering and in despair. But here, this week in Krakow, it will serve as the starting point to building something new and very much needed. Stay tuned!

Christopher White is the Director of Catholic Voices USA.