WYD and the Middle East

The strength and the suffering of young people, in the Middle East and in Krakow: may never feel alone again

From Beirut, from Jerusalem, from Gaza, from Amman, from Bethlehem, from Haifa, from Baghdad, from Erbil, from Aleppo: all of them have a great wish in their hearts. They wish to see and touch Pope Francis, to listen to his words whilst simultaneously embracing the whole world. At the WYD in Krakow will also be present young people from the Middle East carrying their burden of daily toils caused by conflicts, wars, instability, and fear. They will follow in the footsteps of Saint John Paul II, of Saint Faustina, to say to their peers “that Christian hope is possible even in spite of our daily hardships. There is no need to flee or to emigrate to live the gift of Christian joy in the places where we were born.”


For a few days they will leave behind them their homelands blackened by wars and unprecedented violence committed by the Islamic State (Syria and Iraq), unsolved conflicts (between Israelis and Palestinians), instability, and varying degrees of forced migrations (Lebanon and Jordan). The fear of attacks and terrorism hasn’t stopped Middle-Eastern youths from travelling to Krakow for the WYD. After all, they said with a smile, “we live with the fear of attacks every day.” They will be flying to Krakow where “they will proudly display their banners, in particular the flag with the Cross of Jerusalem, symbol of the Holy Land. All of them united under the Cross.” For many of them, being amidst world youths is “the best way to dispel the fear of being alone, of being abandoned by a destiny that is hard to understand, especially in the face of tensions, violence, insecurity and instability”, said Sister Maria Ester Bisharat, who will be guiding young people who form the group of youths from the Holy Land from Israel and from Palestine.

“Fear won’t hold us back. Terrorism will not win. Our presence must also serve to dispel the fears of youths arriving from world countries. Joy and anticipation are much stronger.”

Holy Land. Some 200 young people of Latin and Greek Catholic rite will be leaving in the next few days, along with a considerable number of young members of ecclesial movements. There will also be some 200 Palestinian youths, most of them from Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Five or six will be leaving from Gaza thanks to a special permission granted by Israeli authorities. The great news is that despite Israeli roadblocks, also Palestinian youths will be able to leave from Tel Aviv airport, thus they will be spared the trip all the way to Amman, Jordan. Two bishops, Monsignor George Bacouni, bishop of the Archeparchy of Akka, Haifa, Nazareth and All Galilee, and Monsignor William Shomali, auxiliary bishop of Jerusalem, Patriarchal Vicar for Palestine, will be with them. The Polish diocese of Szczecin will be welcoming the group from the Holy Land, in the light of the town twinning ahead of the WYD. The journey to Poland was preceded by a long spiritual preparation. “We realized that our youths have a deep thirst of God. In this period we have witnessed many confessions. We are missionaries of the holiness of the Land and our young people feel motivated. We are already living the grace of the WYD”, said Sister Bisharat. The youths from the Holy Land are now waiting to know “when and if” they will be able to visit

Auschwitz. Initially, many of them didn’t want to go, but then they understood. Witnessing the suffering of others might help us understand what is happening today in our Land. The Jewish people have suffered a lot, and their actions today are more a result of reactions than of deliberate choices.”

“In Krakow we hope to find young people’s hearts without prejudices. Middle-Eastern Christians are Arabs but this doesn’t mean that they are terrorists. We want to transmit to them the yearning of God we cherish inside us. We want to embrace all of our brothers and sisters, without fear or prejudice.”

Iraq. Also the two hundred Iraqi youths are looking forward to attending the WYD in Krakow with great anticipation. Especially now, having learned that they will be reciting the Our Father prayer in Aramaic, the idiom spoken by Jesus, during the Via Crucis with Pope Francis. The news was given to SIR by the auxiliary bishop of Baghdad Basel Yaldo, who will lead, with his confrere Bashar Warda, archbishop of Erbil, the group that includes ten priests and seven religious. The youths will be leaving for Wroclaw for the “Days in the dioceses”, after which they will proceed to Krakow. Most of them will be leaving from the Iraqi capital, others from the cities of Erbil, Kirkuk and Dohuk. Also young people from the Nineveh Plain, who fled from the villages during the invasion of the Islamic State, are part of this group. “The group’s standard-bearer will be the traditional Iraqi dress – said Msgr. Yaldo -. In Krakow they will bear witness to our faith, the faith of a Country at war. Prayer and solidarity is what we are asking to world youths. Our young people mustn’t feel alone; we need the spiritual embrace of the universal Church.

We will be in Krakow also to reflect on the suffering of our Country, to share that suffering with world youths. I hope to convey the message that Christian hope is possible despite the hardships we are forced to endure. There is no need to flee or to emigrate in order to live the gift of Christian joy in the places where we were born.”

Lebanon. The Land of the Cedars will be represented by 1200 young people from all Christian rites and from all dioceses, including members of ecclesial movements. Among them figure also a few Syrian and Iraqi refugees who managed to obtain an entry visa. All of them will participate in the twinning with the Polish diocese of Opole, near Czestochowa and Krakow. “There is great anticipation – said Fr Firas Wehbe, coordinator of the pastoral ministry of Lebanese youths – we will follow in the footsteps of Saint John Paul II, visiting the places that were most dear to him. We will also be visiting Auschwitz where we will pray for peace.” Three years of preparation and now the dream is about to come true also thanks to the support of the Catholic Church in Lebanon. The key word of this time has also been “mercy.” Father Wehbe said:

“Our Country is undergoing severe strain caused by regional tensions and by the high numbers of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. We should be merciful towards our neighbour.

In Krakow we will also be testimonies of hope that the entire world – not only in Lebanon and in the Middle East – direly needs. We want to remain in our homeland. We want to continue living here in a spirit of brotherhood.” Among the Lebanese group figure two disabled youths whose travel and lodging costs have been covered by their peers, thanks to a fund-raising initiative.

Jordan. Also one hundred Jordan youths will participate in the WYD in Krakow. “Unfortunately young Syrians and Iraqis won’t be able to participate as they did not obtain a visa”, said Fr Ala’ Musharbash, chaplain for youth ministry in the Country. “We are finalizing the preparations. Soon we will hold a meeting with the Ambassador of Poland in Jordan, to learn more about this European country.” In Poland the young Jordanians will follow in the footsteps of St. John Paul II and St. Faustina, the Apostle of Mercy. “We are going to experience a great testimony of faith, to receive and give hope – the priest said – we live in a country darkened by the tensions of the war in Syria. We welcome many refugees. Our greatest desire is to bear witness to our faith and to the generosity of our people before world youths.

We also intend to say to Europe that it must welcome fleeing refugees.”

Syria. Aleppo calls Krakow. According to the registrations received for the WYD several groups of young people are expected to arrive from the Country afflicted by a five-year long civil war, However, Poland’s organizing committee pointed out that “registrations have not yet been completed and paid. This doesn’t mean that Syrian pilgrims won’t be present. They could have been registered within other groups or nations.” For sure, young Syrians from Aleppo, a martyr-city, symbol of the war, are organizing with the Salesians a local Youth Day due to take place July 29-20, simultaneously with the one in Krakow. “Despite the war – said the local Salesians – we want to send a strong message of hope to the whole world. We are a people of peace and we want peace.” In the meantime the situation is growing worse: “we are in the hands of the Lord and we are subject to the mercy of those who have decision-making powers. We know that we have a bitter chalice to drink … a very bitter chalice!