Security is ‘tight’ at World Youth Day

Spokesperson: Krakow is safest European city this week

Karna Swanson

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver sent word back to his staff this week that “security is tight” at the World Youth day events in Krakow, Poland, which culminate Sunday with an outdoor Mass celebrated by Pope Francis.

More than 2.5 million people are expected at the closing event at “Campus Misericordiae” (field of mercy), including some 40,000 Americans, according to the U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Poland. There are some 600 pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Denver.

Campus Misericordiae was designed specifically for the World Youth Day Papal Vigil and Closing Mass, and is located a little more than 9 miles southeast of central Krakow.

Security concerns come on the heels of a recent spate of violence in Europe, including an attack on a Catholic church in northern France, during which two self-proclaimed “soldiers of ISIS” murdered an 84-year-old priest.

In an exclusive interview with ZENIT, Father Pawel Rytel-Andrianik, the spokesman of the Polish bishops’ conference, stated that “there is no signal of any danger in Poland.”

“The Polish government ensures that there are not threats or concerns and that all is expected to take place in a safe and professional manner,” he stated. “The places of celebrations will be some of the safest places in the world at that time.”

Paulina Guzik, the coordinator of the international press office, said in a press briefing Tuesday that “World Youth Day has had the tightest possible security.”

Yago de la Cierva, international media coordinator, added that there are 20,000 agents providing security for the pilgrims.

“They have put in place several additional measures such as police controls at the borders,” he added. “It is possible to say that Krakow is probably the safest city in Europe this week.”

Pilgrims arriving to the major events will find long lines as they pass through a detailed security check, according to the official WYD site.

“The list of objects banned at Błonia and Campus Misericordiae is very similar to the list of items prohibited on an airplane. Just like in the case of an airport security check, any objects from the list will be confiscated before entering the sectors,” explained inspector Mariusz Ciałka, spokesman for the Polish National Police Headquarters.

According to the site, the list includes “all types of weapons, defense sprays, sharp tools, glass containers, alcoholic beverages, drugs, and also substances and liquids of unknown origin.” They added that additional attention will be given to inspecting “everyday objects, which may be dangerous, such as pocket knives or umbrellas with a spike at the top.”

The U.S. embassy in Poland is not currently reporting any active travel alerts or warnings for Poland at this time. An App available for iOS and Android called US Embassy Mobile has up-to-date safety information.

The theme of World Youth Day Krakow 2016 is: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt. 5:7).

Resources

The U.S. bishops’ conference website on WYD safety

The U.S. Embassy in Poland WYD page

The U.S. Embassy travel information page for Poland

COMING UP: Why icons still matter to a modern world

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Icons have existed from the time of the early Church and grew in popularity over the years as an aid in prayer and worship — but today, icons are often seen as irrelevant to our modern world because of their perceived rigidity and austerity.

But it hasn’t died out, and there’s a reason.

In Denver, instructor Laurence Pierson, a former nun in the Community of Beatitudes, teaches a course at the Botanic Gardens called “Sacred Doorways — Byzantine Iconography,” which is the only icon painting class in the greater Denver metro.

Pierson attributes the long-surviving tradition of icons to the same reason the Church still exists.

“Tradition has great value, and if it’s an art that’s survived so many centuries, that’s because there is a great value to it, and it’s not only the tradition, it’s that mainly, it’s rooted in the Gospel,” Pierson said.

In an article called “Sacred Icons,” painter Aidan Hart quotes John of Damascus, who said of icons, “What the written Word proclaims through letters, iconography proclaims and presents through colors.”

Laurence Pierson, left, is a former nun of the Community of the Beatitudes who has been teaching an iconography class at Denver Botanic Gardens called “Sacred Doorways.” It is the only icon painting class in the greater Denver metro area. (Photo provided)

It is the same story of the Gospel, presented in art rather than word, and as the Gospel is timeless, so is the art of icons. And while they may look austere, that’s not something to be afraid of, nor is it irrelevant in our modern time.

“Even though an icon might look austere, it actually drives us beyond superficial emotions — they want us to go deeper. It’s a deep joy,” Pierson said. “I think you have to be quiet and go deeper. In the spiritual life, our ascetic aspect doesn’t have to be forgotten, and sometimes there is an ascetic aspect, and our human condition needs to be redeemed.”

“It’s a medium that has to be rediscovered, and there is so much potential,” Pierson added.

Sacred doorways and symbols

The deep spirituality of icons is part of what has preserved them throughout the roughly 2000 years that they’ve been around. Hart explains that icons are “not just pictures to look at, but are a door to heaven, a way of meeting those who dwell there.”

Hence the name of Denver’s class, “Sacred Doorways.” The material use of the paintings are a way for us to pass through the material world and into a knowing of the holy people depicted. This is just the tip of the spiritual meaning of icons.

The specific look of the icons: the elongated nose, the wide eyes, the dimensions and perspectives, are all intensely symbolic.

“Icons do not depict outward appearances, but reflect something of invisible, spiritual realities. In fact, all good art does this,” Hart said.

“An artist isn’t just someone who puts colors [on a canvas],” Pierson said. “An artist reveals the reality of this world, which sometimes isn’t possible to see. And icon painting is revealing this invisible reality and making it visible with lines and colors.”

Icons do not depict outward appearances, but reflect something of invisible, spiritual realities. In fact, all good art does this.”

So what are icons revealing through their symbols?

Here are just a few insights from Hart:

– Inverse perspective: “There is a number of perspective systems used in icons. With inverse perspective, the lines converge on us, the viewers. This serves to include us in the action depicted,” Hart said. “A sacred event in the past is still acting on us today, ‘Today Christ is risen.’”

– Flatness: “It helps us pass through the icon to the person and events depicted. The aim…is not to replace the subject depicted, but to bring us into living relationship with them,” Hart said.

– Anatomy: “The eyes and ears of people are often enlarged, and the nose elongated. This is to show that the saint is someone who contemplates God, who listens to him, who smells the fragrance of Paradise,” Hart said.

The spiritual process

Pierson has been painting icons for 25 years and teaching for 18. Following the rich tradition of the painting style is the first step of entering into the “spiritual journey” of painting an icon, Pierson said.

“It’s very important for me to get rooted in Byzantine tradition, especially because it’s an art that comes from the Eastern world,” Pierson said. “You have to be very careful not to distort ancient tradition but also find a way to speak to our modern world, so it’s a very delicate balance. For me, that’s crucial, to find this balance.”

“[Painting] has to be a solitary experience because you have to pray, but for me, it’s important to be anchored in a community and liturgical life,” Pierson said.

Pierson, who is commissioned to paint icons for the community often, begins with research and prayer, both to whom the icon is depicting and for the person who will receive the painting. Then the painting begins, which is an intense, multi-layered process.

The art of painting icons is far more than just a creative process; it’s a deeper spiritual journey that requires a lot of prayer, Pierson says. (Photo provided)

First, a binder, which is what the pigment adheres to in order to stay on a board, is created. The binder consists of egg yolk mixed with an equal part of water. This is mixed with the paint pigment and a few drops of water, creating the egg tempera medium with which icons are traditionally painted.

Next, guiding lines are traced into a gesso-covered wooden board and then engraved with a tool. Then, paint is added, layer by layer, beginning with dark colors and finishing with lighter colors. “It is as though the iconographer begins with darkness and death, and ends with light and resurrection,” Hart said.

The final stage is writing the saint’s name; then the icon is blessed by a priest and venerated. The working time varies, but it is a very long process, taking up to a year.

Revealing a Presence

The act of painting is something Pierson discovered she needs for her life to flourish — “essential,” even.

With icon painting, it “combines art and the vertical connection to God,” Pierson said.

And the connection to God is experienced deeply throughout the painting journey.“There is a journey — there’s a time you feel discouraged or bored. Even though you don’t feel it, you live by faith, trusting what you do has meaning and will bear fruit,” Pierson said. “With iconography, there is a Presence.”

“This whole painting journey teaches you about yourself, it takes patience — it takes time. You cannot finish an icon painting in a few hours. You have to trust the process. You have to trust someone else is inspiring you, even though it might not perfect. It’s all very like our spiritual life. It teaches us all that in a very practical way,” she added.