While voices criticising the unprogressive and restrictive nature of the Church and the mixing of religion and politics in Poland continue to get louder, particularly among the youth, the number of young Poles still very much attached to tradition and religious ritual might surprise visitors from the West. July 2016's World Youth Day mega-bash drew tens of thousands of pilgrims from around the country - plus hundreds of thousands more from around the world - eager to worship, pray, and celebrate their faith in an international community of their peers. Culminating in a mass lead by Pope Francis, it was one of the largest events that the city of Kraków has ever seen, rivalled only by Pope John Paul II’s visit in 2002.
As the hometown of John Paul II - who founded World Youth Day by inviting Catholic youth to the Vatican in 1984 and 1985 - the late-July celebrations will in large part focus on his teachings and personal legacy in Kraków, where he rose from humble beginnings as Karol Wojtyła - a boy from nearby Wadowice - to become the first non-Italian pontiff in over 400 years. Canonised in 2014, the presence of the late Pope still looms large locally, and there are literally dozens of pilgrimage sites directly related to his life all over Kraków and the surrounding region - read more in our feature on Pope tourism, and on our blog.
JPII, however, is only the most recent in a long line of Kraków saints who continue to contribute to the rich spiritual fabric of the city. Known as the ‘City of Saints,’ read more about the most remarkable of these religious icons on our blog.