BRZEGI, Poland: Saints dropping disco moves and nuns belting their hearts out rocked the final night of a Catholic youth extravaganza headlined by Pope Francis in Poland on Saturday.
A grinning Francis was cheered on by over one million pilgrims from around the world as he arrived and walked through a special Holy Door with six youngsters he then insisted hitch a lift with him in his pope-mobile.
He used his prayer to urge “dull kids” to swap their sofas and video games for walking boots so life does not pass them by, and got everyone to hold hands, forming a human chain across the vast plain near Krakow.
Youngsters got up and danced as Italy’s famous singing nun Sister Cristina rocked a hymn and performers acted out a scene in which Poland’s Saint Faustina feels her calling during a night out dancing.
“We came from the other side of the world to hear the pope’s message,” said Christina Criseina, 30, from Puerto Rico, who said she took four flights to get to the World Youth Day celebrations.
Security was heavy following a series of jihadist attacks in Europe and snipers could be seen near the altar while helicopters flew overhead. Organisers put the number of people attending the gathering at around 1.6 million.
From above, the grasslands resembled a multi-colored mosaic, with thousands of flags fluttering in the breeze.
“Participating in World Youth Day is like an addiction. I went to the last ones in Rio and Madrid. It’s extraordinary,” said 23-year-old Colombian Alejandro Giron.
He said he knew someone who had worked as a street vendor selling empanadas (stuffed pastries) at night in order to raise the money for the trip to Poland.
As the sun set, families sitting in front of their tents listened to the stories of three pilgrims from Syria, Paraguay and Poland before candles were lit and held aloft, forming a carpet of light as far as the eye could see.
Francis, 79, said being constantly glued to screens — where wars and violence around the world become just another story on the evening news — numbed youngsters to the suffering of others.
“Our response to a world at war has a name: fraternity,” he said, urging the youngsters of today to fight xenophobia and “teach us how to… experience multiculturalism not as a threat, but an opportunity.”
“We’re here to tell the world that Iraqi Christians aren’t all dead,” said pilgrim Mirna, 17, referring to the plight of Christians living in areas of Iraq threatened by the Islamic State group.
“We’re alive and the Poles have made us feel very welcome,” she said.
Brazilian Bishop Pedro Luiz Stringhini told Agence France-Presse “Francis’s WYD message, of war and peace, is for everyone.” AFP