Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jul 30, 2013 / 09:38 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With the final Mass of World Youth Day 2013 barely coming to a close, young people from Poland were already thinking about the next time the event will be held – in their home country.
“I can’t wait,” said Ola Rzezinowska. “I think it’s going to be a really great experience. Krakow is an awesome city.”
Born in Poland, Rzezinowska now lives in Chicago, but maintains close ties to her Polish roots.
She told CNA that it was “amazing” to hear that Krakow would be hosting the next World Youth Day and added, “I’m going to start raising money now.”
At the end of Mass in Rio de Janeiro on July 28, Pope Francis announced that the next World Youth Day will be held in 2016 in Krakow, Poland.
One of the most Catholic countries in Europe, Poland is home to 38 million people, about 90 percent of whom are Catholic, according to the CIA World Fact Book.
While the nation was strongly Catholic under Soviet-imposed atheistic communism and the papacy of John Paul II, church attendance has dropped in recent decades.
The location has particular significance because it is the former diocese of Archbishop Karol Wojtyla, who would become John Paul II, the Pope who instituted World Youth Day nearly 30 years ago and will soon be canonized.
Cardinal Stanislaw Dzwisz of Krakow, who served as personal secretary to Pope John Paul II, responded to the announcement with a statement of joy and anticipation.
“It is a joy, an honor and a great responsibility for us,” he said, noting that 2016 will also mark “the 1050th anniversary of the Baptism of Poland.”
“Among the many pastoral initiatives of John Paul II, World Youth Days has undoubtedly been among the most successful, far-reaching and fruitful,” the cardinal observed.
“Today Poland and Kraków open wide their hearts, so that in three years time they may welcome young pilgrims under the leadership of Pope Francis.”
Polish young people on Copacabana beach for the Closing Mass of World Youth Day 2013 cheered and waved flags when the announcement was made.
Piotr Sledz, age 24, said he is thrilled about the news “because it’s going to give me an opportunity not only to attend a World Youth Day again but also to attend it with family from Poland.”
He is also excited “to have everything in Polish, which is my first language.”
Lukasz and Piotr Barnas both said they were “very excited” as well, although the July 28 announcement was not a surprise to them.
Lukasz explained that they had attended Mass at a Polish parish the week before, and the bishops instructed them, “Bring the flags (to the final Mass). You’re going to have a surprise.”
The 21-year-old pilgrim said that he loves Pope John Paul II and recalls seeing him during a Papal trip to Poland.
“It was the best experience I’ve ever had,” he said. “That day it was pouring, we were drowning in mud to our knees. As soon as he landed, the sun came out, everything dried out.”
Piotr added that the choice of location is particularly exciting because Pope John Paul II was the founder of World Youth Day.
“I think it’ll be great for the country and for Catholics,” he observed. “And I’m looking forward to going – hopefully I can.”