World Youth Day Krakow: A Pilgrimage of Mercy is a documentary produced by the Knights of Columbus. It airs Sunday, February 26 at 9 p.m., Wednesday, March 1 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 9 at 8 p.m. on Salt + Light Television. Below, Fr. Jonathan Kalisch, O.P., Director of Chaplains and Spiritual Development for the Knights of Columbus and Executive Producer of the Mercy Centre at World Youth Day Krakow shares his experience of World Youth Day 2016 and how its message and spirit was captured in this film.
1. Tell us about the Mercy Centre at Tauron Arena in Poland. What was its mission and purpose within the greater context of the World Youth Day festivities?
The Mercy Centre at the Tauron Arena in Krakow served as the international English-language catechesis and youth festival site during the Krakow World Youth Days drawing over 100,000 pilgrims from around the world.
Highlights included catechesis and Mass offered by Cardinals O'Malley (Boston), Tagle (Manila) and Dolan (New York); the opportunity to venerate the first-class relics of Saints John Paul II, Faustina, Bro. Albert Chmielowski, Maximilian Kolbe, and Bl. Jerszy Popieluszko; School of Mercy lunchtime breakout sessions; a panel on the Persecuted Church; and the Night of Mercy with a Eucharistic Procession around the arena, preaching by Bishop Robert Barron, and music by Matt Maher and Audrey Assad.
The experience of Krakow as the city of saints meant that pilgrims, walking on the same streets and praying in the same churches where a young Karol Wojtyla walked and prayed, would be reminded of the gift of mercy that is the purpose or vocation of one's life. Following Pope Francis' invitation to "be protagonists of mercy and service," the mission of the Mercy Centre was that pilgrims would come to know the Mercy of God - as revealed on the Cross and witnessed to by the saints of Poland – and therefore make a sincere gift of self and live in true freedom as a disciple of Christ. This witness and testimony was given in word, song, and performance at the Mercy Centre by priests, religious, married couples and young adults.
2. What was your role at the Mercy Centre and how did you get involved?
After graduating from college, I spent a year living and working in Poland. I encountered God's merciful invitation to become a Dominican priest while praying at the tombs of the saints of Krakow as a 23 year-old. Later, as a college chaplain, I led student pilgrimages to Krakow in the footsteps of Saint John Paul II. In hindsight, it seems providential that I was asked to serve as the Executive Director overseeing the partnership and collaboration of the Knights of Columbus with the Sisters of Life, Salt + Light Media and over twenty other organizations. Cardinal Dziwisz (Archbishop Emeritus of Krakow) invited the Knights of Columbus to organize the Mercy Centre due to our past efforts in running similar efforts at WYD Sydney and Madrid, and because of the presence of the K of C in Poland, where we have over 4,000 members.
Fr. Jonathan Kalisch, O.P. (center) with Cardinal Tagle and friends at the Mercy Centre, Krakow.
3. What was the most powerful or beautiful moment for you during the events that took place at the Mercy Centre this summer?
We wanted to highlight the witness of the suffering church in the Middle East. Many people advised us that there would not be sufficient interest on the part of young people to showcase the plight of our persecuted brothers and sisters from the main stage of the Tauron Arena. However, as seen in the documentary, when the panel on religious freedom began from the main stage, just after Pope Francis' plane had landed in Poland, the Mercy Centre was packed. When the moderator introduced Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil, Iraq, he was given a standing ovation by over 15,000 youth who were present to hear his witness.
On another occasion, a young woman who was a refugee from Iraq shared her testimony of overcoming persecution and learning to forgive through her own encounter with mercy. When she prays the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, she has been given the ability to say: "have mercy on ISIS, and on the whole world."
Finally, during the Night of Mercy, Bishop Robert Barron preached about the power of the cross to overcome evil, violence, and hatred through love. After the Eucharistic procession, and as Matt Maher led the gathered pilgrims in a concert of joy, a young woman waving an Iraqi flag handed me a card that read: "We are N and we are praying for you."
4. Why do you think it's important to capture the spirit of the Mercy Centre in video as was achieved in World Youth Day Krakow: A Pilgrimage of Mercy?
All important events are worthy of preservation. World Youth Day Krakow was the largest single gathering of the Body of Christ during the Jubilee Year of Mercy. It took place on the same streets and churches where the history of the twentieth century left an indelible mark. John Paul II in his last book, Memory and Identity, wrote that Divine Mercy is God's answer to the evils of the Auschwitz concentration camp and the horrors of Soviet communism. "The limit to evil is Divine Mercy."
For over two million young adults who attended World Youth Day, the first part of their pilgrimage was coming to Krakow to encounter the Lord of Mercy and verify His truth in their lives. Pope Francis reminded us in Krakow, that: "When Jesus touches a young person's heart, he or she becomes capable of truly great things." We are talking not just about an important event but about a breakthrough, of groundbreaking moments – that give their lives new meaning and dimension - for almost everyone who was present in Krakow during these days.
Our goal as organizers, was to prepare a spiritual space or sphere of freedom – so that each pilgrim could find answers to the most important questions in their lives. The second part of any pilgrimage is the return during which the pilgrim is called to testify to what she/he saw and witnessed, and to verify the presence of the encounter with Mercy to those who could not go or who prayed and supported them. Our documentary World Youth Day Krakow: A Pilgrimage of Mercy is one way for pilgrims to share the fruits of their personal encounter in Krakow with others.
5. Who should watch this documentary?
Everyone can be inspired by this documentary, because as Pope Francis said, "Mercy always has a youthful face!" Those pilgrims who had the opportunity to be at World Youth Day now receive a postcard from the past, a great souvenir - not in the form of a photographic image, which can collect dust on a shelf - but rather in the form of a digital notepad with experiences and the teachings of mercy, fraternity, and community.
Besides showing the pilgrim experience, we also showcase the message that Pope Francis and the Church wanted the world to learn about in Krakow, including solidarity with the persecuted church, forgiveness, the Night of Mercy, and the power of the Cross.
The documentary is great for viewing by youth and young adult groups. For those who were not in Krakow or perhaps have never participated in World Youth Day, they will see the phenomenon of millions of youth witnessing their love Christ and His Church. We do not realize on a daily basis how large the young Church is, and our documentary is evidence that the Church is alive with hope for the future.
Fr. Jonathan Kalisch, O.P. with World Youth Day pilgrims in Poland, summer 2016.
6. What is your greatest hope for those who visited the Mercy Centre or who benefitted from its events through video?
To know that they are not alone. John Paul II's first visit to Poland in 1979 sparked the nonviolent solidarity revolution that led to the eventual overthrow of communism by the simple fact that people who were held under oppression could look around and see how many thousands of people believed in God and wanted something more. They could be counted. He later founded the World Youth Days to inspire solidarity among the youth of the Church against the prevailing sense of moral relativism, indifferentism, and the spirit of the world. At the Campus Misericordiae in Krakow, Pope Francis similarly challenged the young people "to trade in the sofa for a pair of walking shoes and…to blaze trails that open up new horizons capable of spreading joy."
We have heard from many pilgrims whose lives have been transformed by WYD and the Mercy Centre. It is our hope that those who watch the film will be open to the graces of mercy that the pilgrims received, and that God who loves to exceed our expectations, will surprise all of us! So we invite the viewers to join us on a spiritual pilgrimage to Krakow. And to be open to the new dimensions of mercy it may open in their lives.
7. What is your experience of mercy and why do you think young people today should seek Divine Mercy?
Mercy is the greatest gift of God – and by gift we must underline that it can never be earned, never 'deserved' - but is freely given by God to all who humbly seek it. It also costs. We must never forget that the 'price' of mercy was the life of the Son of God. And therefore it can never be possessed but always must be freely given away. As a priest, there is no more humbling moment than to say the words of sacramental absolution, giving the eternal gift of freedom from sin, all the while being a sinner oneself. To know that God Himself will not ask the penitent about the sins she/he has confessed at their final judgment is truly stunning.
Yet, mercy remains a dimension which our world continuously needs. We do not always realize this, but at times we fail to 'use' mercy. I mean not only that we are not merciful, do not show mercy, but also that we sometimes do not accept mercy from God or others. Sometimes young people suffer for a long time, even though God has already forgiven them through the sacrament of confession. Many young people are wounded and refuse to believe that they are worthy of God's love and His mercy. That's why we can never cease to proclaim the message of hope that mercy is always available, and as our Lord Jesus said to St. Faustina, that an "inestimable treasure of grace" awaits all those who simply seek out this gift of mercy in the sacraments. We must speak of His infinite love for each of us and of the sensitive gaze, which He has for me even when I fall. It is a reality that awaits every person. And this is precisely the good news of salvation which must be proclaimed to the world.
Fr. Jonathan Kalisch, O.P. and Fr. John Rozembajgier at WYD Poland