Brzegi, Poland—Pope Francis was set to celebrate mass Sunday with some 1.6 million pilgrims in a vast field, wrapping up a emotionally charged trip to Poland which took him to Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz.
High-spirited teenagers, scouts, priests and families had camped under the stars in the vast “Campus Misericordiae” (Field of Mercy) near the Polish city of Krakow ahead of the final mass of a week-long Catholic festival.
Francis waved to the bleary-eyed crowds as he toured the site in his pope-mobile at the start of a ceremony attended by 1.6 million worshippers, according to Bishop Damian Muskus, the festival’s coordinator.
He had kicked off the day blessing new houses for the poor and elderly built by Catholic charity Caritas.
Hundreds of thousands of people had streamed to the grassy site Saturday with folding chairs, sleeping bags, umbrellas and sun-hats, amid warnings hours in the baking July sun could be broken with a rainstorm.
At the evening vigil on Saturday, Francis chastised “drowsy and dull kids who confuse happiness with a sofa,” urging them to get out and live life rather than spend it glued to smartphones.
Latin America’s first pontiff had faced stiff competition at the start of his five-day trip with the memory of immensely popular Polish pope and saint John Paul II, but quickly made the festivities his own.
As he visited the death camp in Auschwitz, he warned that the cruelty seen there “did not end” with World War II.
The “world is at war,” Francis said, but the way to “overcome fear” was to welcome people fleeing conflicts and persecution – a message with particular resonance in Poland, which has taken a hard line against refugees.
On Saturday he prayed for God to rid the world of the “devastating wave of terrorism.”
“In these dangerous times, he is convincing people not to be afraid to open up,” Polish pilgrim Kasia Czajka, 40, said ahead of the mass. “While John Paul II was especially focused on the young, Francis is for all people in need.”
The head of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics cracked joke after joke with youngsters gathered nightly beneath his window, cranking up the party spirit at an event dubbed “the Catholic Woodstock.”