“Dear friends, World Youth Day 2016 is open! Poland and Kraków rejoice at you,” said Cardinal Stanis≈Çaw Dziwisz during a special outdoor Mass kicking off the 31st WYD.

Despite heavy rain and having completed an eight-mile journey to the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy earlier that day, L.A. pilgrims joined a few hundred thousand young pilgrims from all over the world together with priests, bishops and cardinals for a Votive Mass dedicated to Saint John Paul II.

Cardinal Dziwisz, archbishop of Kraków, encouraged the participants to pray for “peace for our troubled world” — especially for Father Jacques Hamel who had been murdered earlier that morning in France.  

 “The field was full of pilgrims from all over the world, even though we spoke different languages and didn’t know each other, I felt so connected to them,” said Kevin Lai, 19, a parishioner at St. Christopher in West Covina. “The Mass was in Polish and I couldn’t understand, but that didn’t matter because we were united in faith and prayer.”  

Polish youth dressed in traditional clothes greeted the youth saying, “We are overjoyed that Pope Francis has invited all to Kraków, the city of St. John Paul II and St. Sister Faustina. We trust that World Youth Day will help us become apostles of the Merciful Jesus.”

The B≈Çonia Park is just minutes away from the papal window in the bishops’ residence where Pope Francis will greet pilgrims gathered in the square on Thursday evening. On his visits to Krakow, St. John Paul II would greet faithful from the same window.

Adrian Marquez is the Director of Media Relations for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and a WYD 2016 pilgrim.