KRAKOW, Poland (AP) — The Latest on Pope Francis’ trip to Poland for World Youth Day events (all times local):
Pope Francis has been greeted in Poland by President Andrzej Duda and hundreds of singing and cheering people as he arrived at the airport in Krakow.
He will join hundreds of thousands of young people from around the globe for a major Catholic gathering.
Among those greeting the pope were also First Lady Agata Kornhauser-Duda and Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, who kneeled and kissed the papal ring in Poland’s traditional way of greeting high Church officials.
Szydlo’s conservative government openly declares attachment to the Catholic faith.
A military band played the anthems of the Vatican of Poland and the crowd waved the white-and-yellow flags of the Holy See and white-and-red flags of Poland. Despite visibly tight security the pontiff waved from an open car window to the cheering crowd.
An official welcoming ceremony with speeches was to be held shortly later, at the royal Wawel Castle in Krakow.
It is the first time that Francis visits an East European nation.
Pope Francis says the world is at war, but is stressing that it’s not a war of religions.
Francis spoke to reporters on the papal plane en route from Rome to Poland, where he began a five-day visit Wednesday.
Asked about the slaying of an 85-year-old priest in a Normandy church on Tuesday, Francis replied: “the real word is war…yes, it’s war. This holy priest died at the very moment he was offering a prayer for all the church.”
He went on: “I only want to clarify, when I speak of war, I am really speaking of war … a war of interests, for money, resources. … I am not speaking of a war of religions, religions don’t want war. The others want war.”
Poland’s interior minister says more than 39,000 police and other security officers will be ensuring the safety of Pope Francis’ meeting with hundreds of thousands of young pilgrims from around the globe in southern Poland.
Security concerns were heightened after a Catholic priest was killed in France on Tuesday in a knife attack claimed by the Islamic State group.
Mariusz Blaszczak spoke about the extraordinary security measures on Wednesday just three hours before Francis was due to arrive in Krakow for a visit through Sunday that includes open air Masses and prayers with some 1.5 million participants of World Youth Day, and visits to the site of the former German Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau and to Poland’s holiest shrine of Jasna Gora.
“We have sent onto the Polish streets more than 7,500 officers who will be there providing security each day at railways stations, airports and shopping centers,” Blaszczak told a news conference.
Blaszczak also appealed to people to be vigilant and to report and unusual or worrying situations to police or other security officials.
“We do not disregard any signals but Poland is a very safe country,” Blaszczak said.
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.
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.
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.