KRAKOW, Poland (AP) — The world is at war, but it is not a war of religions, Pope Francis said Wednesday as he traveled to Poland on his first visit to Central and Eastern Europe in the shadow of the slaying of a priest in France.
The killing of an 85-year-old priest in a Normandy church on Tuesday added to security fears surrounding Francis’ five-day visit for the World Youth Day celebrations, which were already high due to a string of violent attacks in France and Germany. Polish officials say they have deployed tens of thousands of security officials to cover the event.
Francis spoke to reporters on the papal plane en route from Rome to Poland. Asked about the slaying of the priest, Francis replied: “It’s war, we don’t have to be afraid to say this.”
After greeting reporters on his papal plane he returned to the topic to clarify that when he speaks of war, he is speaking of “a war of interests, for money, resources, dominion of peoples.”
“I am not speaking of a war of religions. Religions don’t want war. The others want war,” Francis said.
Upon arrival at Krakow airport a pensive Francis was greeted by Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, First Lady Agata Kornhauser-Duda and other state officials, and hundreds of faithful who had waited for hours to see him.
The Polish Army band played the anthems of the Vatican and of Poland. He then traveled in an open car through the city, waving at crowds as he headed to the Wawel Castle for the main welcoming ceremony.
In the evening Francis is to appear in the window of the residence of Krakow bishops, where he will be staying, and chat with some among the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from around the world gathered for the World Youth Day celebrations that will run through Sunday.
“Let’s live WYD (World Youth Day) in Krakow together!” the pontiff tweeted before departing from Rome, where he was bid farewell outside his Santa Marta residence by 15 refugees, new arrivals in Italy.
Just hours before Francis’ arrival for the major Catholic event, groups of cheerful young pilgrims were seen in the streets of Krakow.
Relics of St. Mary Magdalene came to the St. Casimir Church from France for the duration of World Youth Day, and were displayed in a case by the altar.
“Their presence helps us concentrate on our prayers and brings us closer to God,” said Nounella Blanchedent, 22, from the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.
She was one of the volunteers helping with security and logistics at the packed church, where a Mass was being held in French for pilgrims from France, Belgium and other countries.
Poland, a predominantly Catholic country remains proud of the late pontiff, St. John Paul II, who served as priest and archbishop in Krakow before becoming pope.
A sense of excitement 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.
Vanessa Gera in Warsaw contributed to this report.