Attending World Youth Day celebrations has been on Ina Baylon's wish list since she was 16-years-old. Now at 20, Ina is traveling to Krakow, Poland, not to realize a dream but to fulfill a mission. "I look at this experience as my road to holiness," says Ina. "I look forward to having a deeper understanding of the Catholic faith, of prayer, and of God's power in this world." Ina, a student at the pontifical University of Santo Tomas in Manila is one of 1,500 Filipinos attending this year's youth celebration in the childhood home of Saint Pope John Paul II. With 29 of the Filipino delegates coming from Ina's diocese in Paranaque, she is hopeful of coming back with lessons to share with her community.
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"My local church has become my home," says Ina. "I have become a servant and a leader through my ten years of participation in our church," she adds. "When I come home, I want to give back and echo what I've heard and learned to my fellow youth," she says. "I want to give them a bigger perspective on faith and how this faith moves people." "Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy" is the theme of this year's World Youth Day celebrations from July 25-31. In a video message, Pope Francis said he wished participants to be "inspired by mercy during this Jubilee Year." He also expressed his excitement at the prospect of meeting "a mosaic of different faces, from many races, languages, peoples and cultures, but all united in the name of Jesus, who is the face of mercy." With an age limit of 16-39 years old, the week-long festival and celebration of faith is expected to be attended by some 2.5 million "millennials." Ina hopes the large number will serve as a reminder that the youth can also lead in their own ways. "I hope that we break the notion that the young are irresponsible," says Ina. "I want to show the world that we are also faithful and committed, and we are part of the church." This year's gathering in Krakow is expected to be the most international event since its inception in 1986. With a total of 187 participating countries, this year's celebrations will showcase a wide array of songs and dances from different delegations. "I look forward to meeting people from all parts of the world who share the same faith," says Ina. "I want to see how they practice their faith, and how God's love moves among the people." Behind her enthusiasm Ina also worries about being away from her comfort zone. With recent attacks around the world, she admits to getting anxious from time to time. "When I think about it, I would always pray," she says. "I know that this is a test of faith, and to get through this is to become a warrior," adds the young girl. Saint Pope John Paul II, who was from Poland, established World Youth Day in 1985. The first event was held in Rome in 1986. Since then it has been staged in various cities throughout the world, typically every three years. This year, the World Youth Day officially kicks off July 25, with Pope Francis arriving on July 27. It will be Pope Francis' second World Youth Day during his pontificate.