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World Youth Day remembers those who could not get there

ROME (SE): “We pray and appeal for young Christians who could not go to Poland. We want to show that we care about other young people who could not come to Poland because of war, persecution, hunger or other problems,” Ursula Adamowicz, the coordinator the City of Mercy booth at World Youth Day in Poland, said.

The Warsaw-based City of Mercy is sponsored by the Centre for Thought of John Paul II, which is encouraging young people at the week-long international gathering of young Catholics to remember their brothers and sisters who through one sort of catastrophe or another have been prevented from travelling to Europe.

The centre, set up at the World Youth Day venue in Krakow some days before the official opening of the event, had as of July 21 collected 38,000 signatures for a petition called WorldGo, which is to be presented to Pope Francis and world leaders calling for an end to war, harassment of Christians and religious persecution.

“We call for protection of our friends who are persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ. We speak in the name of those who couldn’t come to Poland, because of poverty, wars, violence and social inequality,” the appeal, which is being distributed in major languages in Krakow, reads.

Government interference in the practice of religion in China has prevented many young people and priests from attending World Youth Day.

AsiaNews reports that dozens of young people and priests from several dioceses in China were blocked from leaving the country to travel to Poland for the worldwide festival.

At least, 2,000 young people from China had been expected in Krakow for the week-long event, although a young man from southern China reported the anticipated attendance was lower than for Asian Youth Day in neighbouring South Korea in August 2014, as the airfare to Krakow is prohibitive for most.

In addition he explained that economics can also be a limiting factor, as the current crisis both in China and internationally has dried up traditional sources of support.

However, politics and the desire to control Church affairs, as well as shield young people from exposure to liberating ideas and ideologies seems to be behind the barring of some young people whose application for permits to leave China were rejected.

In Beijing and areas around the east coast, priests from both the official and unofficial Church communities say they have been barred from leaving the country, because they are deemed to be too supportive of the pope.

Police questioned a priest in central China about his intentions and he was told, “You want to go to Europe to participate in the global religious gathering? If so, you cannot go.”

The priest lied in response, saying, “No, I just want to go as a tourist,” but he is staying in China.

Others have not received passports that they applied for some time ago, while some, who had their passports, tickets and Polish visas were stopped at the airport as they were boarding their flights for Europe.

“The authorities know everything,” a young man from Beijing told AsiaNews. “They know that those who go to Europe at this time may go to Krakow.”

He added that for those who are being allowed to go, there will be difficulties at the other end of World Youth Day.

“The problem will be when these young people and priests return to China. Undoubtedly, they will undergo lengthy interrogation, because they dared to mingle with young people from other nations,” he added.

World Youth Day offers young people an opportunity to expand the horizons of their lives and faith beyond the confines of their own culture and geographical confines by experiencing the ways people from other countries express themselves.

But the young man from southern China explained that such an experience is not consistent with a government that seeks to confine young people’s minds within its own vision.

“Control over religion and the idea of developing a national and independent Church are at odds with global gatherings such as World Youth Day,” the young man commented.

A priest from the official Church community in Beijing said that if a colleague goes to Krakow unofficially, on his return he is likely to lose his pastoral office or government aid for his parish.

“During the upcoming World Youth Day celebrations, we, the undersigned, now announce our intention to pray specially for those young Christians who are not able to join us in Krakow owing to the ongoing persecution of Christians around the world,” the petition being circulated at World Youth Day reads.

On the bright side, the president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, Oswald Cardinal Gracias, said, “Thousands of our young Asians are pilgrimaging to Krakow filled with gratitude to John Paul II and for love of Pope Francis.”

The Indian bishop said, “The massive contingent from Asia to Krakow is the springtime of the universal Church. Springtime, because besides the delegates from the various dioceses, many ecclesial realities and movements are bringing our Young Asia to World Youth Day.”

He described the Asian contingent as not only bringing the grandeur, the vitality and beauty of Asia, but also its multicultural diversity, pluralism and the Asian values of hospitality and family, as well as the presence of a Church of the young.

Cardinal Gracias added that visiting the homeland of Pope John Paul II, who gave birth to World Youth Day, will also give some depth and background to the understanding of the delegates as to why the worldwide, Catholic youth festival is important.

Pope Francis has said that his prayer for Young Asia at World Youth Day is that this encounter will be shared with their families, community, society and nations, so that they can become youthful messengers of God’s Divine Mercy.

The youth of the Church in Asia is truly a sign of hope in the present age. Cardinal Oswald’s prayer is that through World Youth Day, delegates may inject some of their enthusiasm and faith into the mix at the many shared experiences the week-long gathering offers.

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