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Behind the Numbers: 1.5m take part in World Youth Day

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According to recent estimates, Krakow’s World Youth Day will be attended by 1 million fewer people than previously estimated; down more than 2.2 million on the event in Brazil in 2013. Are pilgrims disaffected by the Polish government’s lack of empathy towards refugees and women? Or are they just scared of swords?

The World Youth Day event - a global Catholic festival described by the British Benedictine monk Christopher Jamison as "Glastonbury with God" - began in Krakow on 26 July and will last until 31 July.

According to the organisers’ initial estimate, 2.5 million pilgrims were expected to attend the event. Soon it descreased to only 1.5 million. Only 300,000 are officially registered. By comparison, around 3.7 million people attended the last event three years ago in Rio de Janeiro.  

Considering Poland has recently turned into a battleground, violently dividing society between conservatives and liberals, the World Youth Day might be an occasion to improve its image in the eyes of international observers.     

But it probably will not, and a very unfortunate programme of events is only one of the reasons behind it - a programme which has been organised by the Ministry of National Defence, of all groups. So less "Glastonbury with God", more "Glastonbury with Guns". In the programme, entitled "The Polish Army as the multigenerational intercessor of Christian values", pilgrims from over 180 countries will be treated to, among other things, a reconstruction of Battle of Vienna, one of the bloodiest clashes between Christianity and Islam in history.   

Such a military staging of an attack on the "unfaithful" brutally contrasts with the main theme of World Youth Day, which promotes the spirit of reconciliation and intercultural dialogue. The deficiencies in diplomacy and sensitivity are even more stark in the context of the Polish government’s recent decision to refuse all quotas of refugees and xenophobic comments of some members of the ruling Law and Justice party.  

The headline act of World Youth Day, Pope Francis, has been calling for solidarity and compassion towards those who flee violence and persecution since the beginning of the refugee crisis.

However, the treatment of refugees is not the only issue demonstrating the deepening dissonance between the radical hybrid of the Polish government and the country’s Catholic church on one hand, and the more and more liberal attitude of Vatican on the other. During the Sunday mass Pope Francis is expected to ponder upon the question of the total ban on abortion (even in the event of rape or foetus deformation) that the ruling Law and Justice plans to introduce.

Despite the fact that Francis, alike his predecessors, condemns abortion, he has recently criticized the church for being "obsessed" with issues like abortion and homosexuality. In 2015, he also gave priests permission to absolve women who underwent abortion.

Whether they call it "Glastonbury with God" or "Glastonbury with Guns", hopefully festivalgoers won't get too covered in mud or be too hungover by the end of the week.


This article is part of our Behind the Numbers series, illustrating newsworthy stats with artistic design and a brief analysis.

Translated from Liczby mówią: 1,5 mln uczestników podczas krakowskich Światowych Dni Młodzieży