The Latest: Pope Francis departs for Poland


KRAKOW, Poland (AP) — The Latest on Pope Francis’ trip to Poland for World Youth Day events (all times local):

2:20 p.m.

Pope Francis has departed Rome for Poland, where he will spend five days meeting with young Catholics and visiting Auschwitz as well as some of Poland’s most important Catholic shrines.

An Alitalia jet, bearing the papal and Italian flags, took off from Rome shortly after 2 p.m. local time (1200 GMT) and is due to land in Krakow, Poland, about two hours later.

It will be the first visit by Francis to Poland, one of Europe’s most deeply Catholic nations and one still devoted to the memory of the late Polish pope, St. John Paul II.

Francis is joining young Catholics for World Youth Day, a global gathering. The usually joyful event, which takes place every two or three years, is overshadowed this year by the brutal slaying Tuesday of a Catholic priest in France by Islamic extremists.

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1 p.m.

Security was high as cheerful young pilgrims from around the globe gathered in Krakow, in southern Poland, just hours before Pope Francis arrives to join World Youth Day.

A shadow was cast on the celebrations by the brutal slaying Tuesday of a priest in France, adding to security fears already high due to a string of violent attacks in France and Germany. Polish officials said they have deployed tens of thousands of security officials to cover the event, which runs through Sunday.

“It shocked me because it seems they waited for the time of World Youth Day to attack us Catholics,” said Nounella Blanchedent, 22, from the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. “They chose the time of such a mass event to gather more attention to what they do. It’s a pity because all that we want to do is to be together, sing and praise God. And they want to disturb that.”

She was one of the volunteers helping with logistics at the packed St. Casimir Church, where a Mass was being held in French for pilgrims from France, Belgium and other countries. Relics of St. Mary Magdalene came to the church from France for the duration of World Youth Day.

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11 a.m.

Pope Francis is arriving on his first visit to Poland, a predominantly Catholic country that is still proud of the late pontiff, St. John Paul II, who served as priest and archbishop in Krakow before becoming pope.

The sense of expectation was apparent in sunny Krakow on Wednesday with papal white-and-yellow flags and images of Francis and John Paul II decorating the streets. Stages were put up at many locations for concerts and other activities that are being held by and for the pilgrims in Krakow.

There was a heavy presence of police and other security forces across the city, as crowds were increasing everywhere.

“I have never seen so many people in Krakow, it’s difficult to move around even though offices have closed (for the event) and many people have left the city,” said Anna Gazda, 43, owner of a souvenir shop.

The weather forecast for Krakow said rainstorms were possible later in the day.

Some 200,000 pilgrims attended an inaugural Mass Tuesday afternoon.

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