Like thousands of faithful before him, Pope Francis plans on Thursday to head to Czestochowa, Poland, to pray before the country's most important Catholic icon: the Black Madonna.
The private viewing of the icon will be followed by a special Mass to commemorate 1,050 years since Poland was Christianized. A meeting later in the day in Krakow with thousands of young worshippers will round off the second day of his trip to Poland, which coincides with this year's World Youth Day festival.
The pope's trip to Poland in combination with World Youth Day is poignant, since Polish officials are struggling to show themselves as welcoming to the world even as they tussle with the rest of the European Union about concerns that the current government is trying to enforce a rigid conservatism out of step with the rest of Europe.
Francis, who has made a point of trying to modernize the church, has also clashed with Poland, telling its leaders Wednesday that they should share the burden of accepting the crush of refugees who have arrived in Europe since last year. Poland has fought hard against calls to take in more of the asylum seekers.
Nevertheless, after meeting with the pope upon his arrival, Polish Catholic officials assured the country that Francis had not come to lecture, but to celebrate World Youth Day, which is expected to draw more than half a million pilgrims to Poland before it ends on Sunday.
The pope is expected to stay through the end of the event. On Friday, the focus will be his visit to Auschwitz, the death camp set up in Poland by occupying Nazi forces during World War II.
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