CZESTOCHOWA, Poland (AP) — The Latest on Pope Francis’ visit to Poland and World Youth Day celebrations (all times local):
A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, says more than 500,000 young people from around the world have joined Pope Francis at a pep rally in a meadow in in Krakow, southern Poland.
Lombardi told reporters Thursday evening in Krakow that clearly the “situation is one of enthusiasm” for the Argentine-born pontiff during his first trip to Poland for Catholic World Youth Day events this week.
Lombardi cited Polish church estimates for the Krakow crowd.
Earlier at a morning Mass at Jasna Gora shrine, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) away, Polish church officials estimated 600,000 faithful turned out at the nation’s holiest shrine.
A woman attending the Mass celebrated by Pope Francis had to leave early — when she went into labor.
The town hall in Czestochowa, home to the Jasna Gora shrine, says on its website that the woman was taken to a hospital where she gave birth to a girl Thursday, about two hours after the pope headed back to Krakow.
The hospital declined to give any details, including whether the newborn might have been named the Polish equivalent of Frances, the feminine version of Francis.
Tens of thousands of young Catholics are singing and dancing in joy in the rain for Pope Francis at a park in Poland.
Participants at a youth jamboree Francis is attending this week in Krakow swayed and clapped Thursday evening as they moved to bouncy rhythms while Francis took in the show from a canopied platform.
Participants twirled flags from their homelands, including from Africa and South America, as the Argentine pope listened to greetings in many languages. One woman belted out a U.S. gospel music number
Among the joyful was Alyson Radford, 27, of Steubenville, Ohio. She says “I feel so blessed to be where the pope is.”
She says seeing so many other young Catholics is inspiring and “gives us courage to live out our faith, shows us that we are not alone in our love for God.”
Pope Francis has been greeted during the official inauguration of World Youth Day, a global Catholic celebration taking place in Krakow, Poland, with messages by young people in different languages and dance and musical performances.
As Francis sat on a stage in his white robe, he watched a dance performance below by youth in traditional colorful Polish costumes as well as tango, a tradition in his native Argentina.
Next came a procession of various national flags representing all corners of the world.
Rainfall did not appear to dampen a mood of celebration
Pope Francis has taken a ride with disabled young people through the heart of Krakow in an electric tram — underlining his mission to fight climate change and encouraging more concern for the disadvantaged.
When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires in his native Argentina, Francis rode public transport to inspire humility within the church hierarchy.
The tram was decorated in the Vatican colors of yellow and white. In place of the usual destination indicator were the words “Tram del Papa” — Italian for “the pope’s tram.”
His actual destination was Blonia, a park where young Catholics participating in World Youth Day were gathering.
A large number of young pilgrims are filling a field in Krakow to await Pope Francis for the first official meeting between him and the youth for World Youth Day, a global gathering.
With security high, a warning was repeated in English and Polish over loudspeakers warning people not to leave backpacks or other items unattended.
The young people, many in rain coats and waving their national flags, sang and danced as they waited for Francis. Many nuns also danced with them.
The gathering officially began Tuesday and Francis arrived in Poland on Wednesday, but the meeting in Blonia Park will be the first official encounter between the pontiff and youth.
Poland’s former president and Solidarity founder Lech Walesa, a devout Catholic, says a late invitation prevented him from attending the Mass celebrated by Pope Francis at the nation’s holiest shrine of Jasna Gora.
Francis celebrated the open-air Mass Thursday for hundreds of thousands of faithful. President Andrzej Duda and members of the conservative government — with whom Walesa is at odds — were present.
Walesa said on his Facebook account that his invitation arrived on Tuesday, too late for him to change earlier appointments in the central city of Torun, some 300 kilometers (190 miles) from the Jasna Gora monastery.
A Polish police official has warned that anybody who tries to break through security barriers to approach Pope Francis during his visit to Poland risks being shot.
The warning by police spokesman Mariusz Ciarka on Thursday came a day after a man ran up to the pope as he traveled through Krakow in an open popemobile.
Ciarka said the man was a 36-year-old priest from Argentina, Francis’s homeland, who was overcome with emotion and hoped to have a rosary blessed by the pontiff. Security forces immediately seized the man and took him to a police station for questioning.
Ciarka said: “Anyone who decides on such a move should count on the fact that the services might use coercive measures. In extreme cases, they might even be shot.”
Pope Francis has praised native son St. John Paul II as a “meek and powerful” herald of mercy as well as countless “ordinary yet remarkable people” who held firm to their Catholic faith throughout adversity in the former Communist-ruled nation.
The Argentine pontiff, who had never had set foot in Eastern Europe before this week’s five-day pilgrimage, gazed in awe for several minutes at the Jasna Gora monastery shrine’s iconic image of the so-called Black Madonna and Child. The faces in the images are blackened by centuries of varnish and candle soot since the artwork became the object of veneration starting in the 14th century.
Then, during an outdoor Mass before tens of thousands, Francis lavished praise on a legacy of steadfast Polish Catholic faith as he urged Poles to hold fast to their faith.
The Mass was held in celebration of the 1,050th anniversary this year of the Poland’s acceptance of Roman Catholicism. The baptism of a medieval king in 966 put the nation on course to be part of the Latin-speaking world, setting it apart from Orthodox nations on its borders.
Pope Francis is urging today’s Poles to stay united, as their nation is divided over such issues as how to view refugees and migrants, especially those who aren’t Christians.
During an outdoor Mass before tens of thousands of people, Francis prayed that Poles would have “the desire to leave behind all past wrongs and wounds, and to build fellowship for all, without ever yielding to the temptation to withdraw or to domineer.”
Worry about bad weather prompted a last-minute change in his day’s travel plans, with the pontiff opting to take a car instead of a military helicopter to Czestochowa. But the gray skies held into the Mass.
Francis will have his first big meeting with the young faithful in a Krakow meadow on Thursday evening.
Pope Francis has made an unscheduled stop at a clinic to visit and pray for comatose Cardinal Franciszek Macharski, an-89-year-old retired prelate who had been archbishop of Krakow.
Marcharski had replaced Cardinal Karol Wojtyla in the post after the latter was elected the world’s first Polish pontiff, John Paul II, in 1978.
With John Paul a national hero as well as a beloved saint, Francis on this five-day trip finds himself in a deeply Catholic country that is attached to Czestochowa, where the shrine is located, and where a main boulevard is named after John Paul.