National Security & Defense

Hope and Fear in Krakow

Pope Francis walks with World Youth Day attendees in Brzegi, July 30, 2016. (Stefano Rellandini/Reuters)
The young people assembled for World Youth Day find faith, not ideology.

Krakow, Poland — The only thing we have to fear is fear itself, Hillary Clinton repeated from President Franklin D. Roosevelt during her acceptance of the Democratic nomination. And she also said that Americans aren’t fearful. They are frustrated and angry, she acknowledged, but not fearful.

Frustrated and angry is definitely a good part of the reason Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for president.

But just about everywhere I go these days — including a brief visit to Rome and a longer one here in Krakow — I run into many Americans, and they’re fearful. And so are many Europeans I meet, who ask what on earth American voters are doing. Surely there had to be better possibilities for president of the United States, they say to me, almost to a person.

I agreed with one thing Hillary Clinton said in her acceptance speech. Going after Trump, she warned against trusting anyone who says he’s the only one who can fix things. Those are, indeed, dangerous words, evoking memories of all kinds of power grabs. But in the same speech, she referred to President Barack Obama as the man of hope.

And here is where the problem is: what we expect of our political leaders. Barack Obama doesn’t give me hope. And, for the record, neither did George W. Bush, or even the frequently exalted Ronald Reagan.

I’ve been in Krakow this week in a fairly intimate setting of 20,000 — intimate relative to the 2.5 million here to celebrate World Youth Day, which is ongoing as I write. On Wednesday, we experienced an explosion of hope. The young people gathered at the largest venue in Krakow, Tauron Arena — which has become for the week the Knights of Columbus–sponsored “Mercy Centre” for English-speaking pilgrims — could be seen in a position of surrender, in the ultimate display of freedom. They come here and sleep on the floor, or even outdoors, on the ground. They make sacrifices of comfort, walking miles from venue to venue, especially when it involves the opportunity to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis, who arrived here the same day.

But their surrender is to no ideology. And they desire to see Pope Francis not as sycophants. These are people of faith, who have tasted the alternative lifestyle that is Christianity. They see the Gospel as the stuff of human happiness, a love that must be shared. They are followers and friends of Jesus Christ. They want that to be the reality of their lives. They want to be transformed by Him. They want to be instruments of His peace.

“Electrified.” “Vivified.” These are among the words a newly ordained priest used to explain what it was like to be at the head of a Eucharistic procession that night, drinking in what everyone seemed to be experiencing to exponential degrees. The morning after a “Night of Mercy” at the Mercy Centre, he related how members of the production crew said that they would never do anything more important in their lives than they did that night. He agreed.

#share#Pope Francis talks a lot about mercy, and at this largest building in Krakow — in a country where praying was forbidden for nearly five decades — God was ever-present. Men whom I had seen stressed had been transfigured by a peace that is not of this world. For a day, all was focused on Jesus Christ; the whole gathering was immersed in sacramental grace. If you had seen the joy I saw on these faces, if you had heard the desire for goodness and beauty here, you would have no fear.

Have you been smiled upon by fate? Chelsea Clinton, during her introduction of her mother on Thursday evening, said she had been. If you have experienced such a smile, you have a responsibility.

It’s more than having food on the table and parents who make you feel loved. It’s knowing that even if you do not have these things, you have been gifted by the Creator of the Universe. That you, in fact, are a gift.

These are people of faith, who have tasted the alternative lifestyle that is Christianity. They see the Gospel as the stuff of human happiness, a love that must be shared.

Chelsea Clinton has the right idea. But the young people who are all over this town, where Saint John Paul II — one of the seminal leaders of moral courage in the last century — spent years as a student, priest, and cardinal archbishop, go a step deeper. They see everything — but most especially their lives and the lives of each and every person they encounter — as beautiful, indispensable gifts from God. Their lives are not simply smiled upon. They belong to Him. And so every day is a gift that must be given back to Him in love.

This radical gratitude bears witness to why exactly it is that even the atheist should love religious freedom: because people on fire with this kind of all-consuming love live lives in the fullest freedom, which benefits everyone. It nourishes families. It builds communities. It renews culture. It is hope alive in the world, in service to the Source of all that is good and merciful and just.

Hillary Clinton, during her acceptance speech, talked about human and civil rights. She even mentioned lives that are not disposable. But her politics don’t always reflect an understanding of these things.

#related#I have a renewed sense of hope, not because of almost eight years of President Obama, but because I have seen a miracle of young people here choosing God, choosing the Beatitudes, choosing mercy over all that is important to the world. Taking the Gospel seriously, being bold and creative in implementing Catholic social teaching, seeing more than a smile of fate but the gaze of a gratuitously loving Father, they will do great things. They will be true witnesses of hope, in the spirit of the man so beloved in this city — whose spirit seems alive on the streets here today — John Paul II.

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