National News

Webinar Addresses Security for WYD

wyd-krakow16-logoWith World Youth Day (WYD) less than 100 days away, organizers are making sure to be as prepared as possible for this international celebration of faith in Krakow, Poland, July 26-31. To ensure this, the USCCB hosted a webinar on safety, security and traveling for group leaders on April 14.

Moderated by Dr. Charlotte McCorquodale, a researcher working with the USCCB, the webinar featured a panel of experts talking about security in WYD’s host city. Several diocesan leaders who will guide the 400 pilgrims from Brooklyn and Queens participated in the webinar.

This included Father Dwayne Davis, parochial vicar at St. Thomas Aquinas, Flatlands, who said safety during WYD was very important for his parish, especially after the recent terrorists attacks in Paris and Brussels.

A survey prior to the webinar showed that most safety questions involved emergency situations, international crisis/terrorism and the security of Krakow.

“Every time a security breach happens, we have reactions from the parents with concerns about their children’s safety,” Father Davis said. “The safety of the pilgrims is our first and foremost priority.”

Except for him, all 10 pilgrims from St. Thomas are participating in their first WYD, so keeping the families informed is important, he added. Father Davis participated in the webinar to assure the youth’s relatives that there is no need to be fearful.

Aaron Luster, consular chief at the U.S. Consulate General in Krakow, said that even though recent terror attacks have worried people about the security situation in Europe, he has “high confidence on the Polish security approach to World Youth Day.”

“There’ll be military presence and extra police. They are already conducting exercises for crisis preparedness,” he said.

As often happens during big events, Poland will reinstate border controls between July 2 and 31 due to a NATO meeting in Warsaw and WYD in Krakow. Pilgrims coming from other countries would need to show their passports until they arrive in Krakow. Afterward, they should put the passport in a safe place and carry a copy around, Luster added.

“Poland is a pretty safe place,” said Father Vincenzo Cardilicchia, who will be one of 36 pilgrims going from St. Brigid Church, Bushwick. The priest has visited Poland before and thought the webinar’s hosts were responsive to the security concerns from people who are not familiar with the country.

Panelists also cautioned leaders to avoid speculation about the event’s safety until the Polish authorities release their plan on May 15. It will include the plan to secure venues like Campus Misericordiare in Brzegi – located nine miles south of Krakow – where the WYD Papal Vigil and Closing Mass will take place.

The webinar also addressed the importance of protecting children and ensuring a safe environment.

About 2 million people are expected for the 14th international World Youth Day gathering. With over 30,000 already registered from the U.S., authorities said this is the third largest U.S. contingent going to a WYD since 2002.

Paul Morisi, the coordinator of adolescent and young adult faith formation for the Diocese of Brooklyn, said it is important to be mindful of safe environment regulations and safety concerns.

“The webinar was very-much needed because it reassured us how safe Poland is, how safe the borders are, how hard the government in Poland is working to assure our safety,” he said.

Panelists and leaders shared some good-practice tips for the pilgrimage, which included having everybody’s contact information and knowing to call 112 in case of an emergency, staying in groups, sharing the day’s game plan in advance, having a meeting place and keeping the business card from the hotel in case there is the need to ask for directions.

Paul Jarzembowski, World Youth Day USA coordinator and assistant director of youth and young adult ministries for USCCB, also suggested having a contingency plan to remain connected in case there are technological difficulties.

Jerry Rodriguez, group leader from St. Joan of Arc Church in Jackson Heights, said he was thankful for all the little tips because he can now make sure the 11 teens going with him have a great time.

“The webinar was enlightening,” he said. “Knowing what to do in case of an emergency helps because for the kids to have a good experience they need to be safe and feel comfortable. … My being prepared also helps me to then focus on prayer and questions for the small group – to highlight the graces of World Youth Day.”

Morisi said that a lot of the safety measures were already part of the culture of the diocesan delegation’s approach to World Youth Day.

“We are very blessed to have Father Gerard Sauer who is a veteran of past World Youth Days that has really guided us in how we operate,” Morisi said. “So a lot of these precautions we already have been doing for years.”

Panelist ended the webinar providing a list of resources that will soon become available to help leaders and pilgrims to prepare for this celebration of faith – most of these can be found at Rodriguez was looking forward to reading them to make sure the teens can “feel the joy of the Universal Church” in Krakow.

“(World Youth Day) is an opportunity to see the bigger Church, hundreds of thousands of young people like them. It can enkindle (their faith) and light up that fire,” he said.