While the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations are able to recruit small numbers of young people into their deadly campaigns, hundreds of thousands of Catholic youth from all across the planet came together in the streets of a major European city and left no destruction behind, but rather indelible images of friendship and fraternity.
For another, World Youth Day went ahead despite apprehensions about security threats. The presence of police and military throughout the week was palpable but never overweening or distracting, and every night, late into the night, young revellers filled up the squares and parks of the city as if their team had just won the Super Bowl or the World Cup.
In effect, this was a vast throng of loving, caring, positive young people saying to the Islamic State and the other wreakers of havoc in the early 21st century, “We refuse to be terrorized.”
As opposed to other scenarios of large-scale mobilizations one might imagine, crime rates in Krakow plummeted last week, garbage collections declined as these young pilgrims picked up after themselves, and locals were left smiling and delighted with the positive energy coursing through the city.
Finally, these young people exuded a different vision for the future of humanity, one based on a global solidarity, respecting differences of class, race and culture without viewing them as divisive, and embracing religion not as the problem but as the wellspring of the solution.
“Our response to a world at war has a name: its name is fraternity, its name is brotherhood, its name is communion, its name is family,” Pope Francis told the roughly one million youth gathered for a prayer vigil Saturday night.
“We celebrate the fact that coming from different cultures, we have come together to pray. Let our best word, our best argument, be our unity in prayer,” he said.
That might sound like hollow rhetoric, but if you had been in the streets and squares of Krakow in late July, you would understand that it’s not artifice or a pious aspiration, but the living, beating heart of an honest-to-God youth army – in this case, an army dedicated not to violence or hatred, but to hope.