The XXXVII World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal ended with the celebration of Holy Mass in Lisbon’s Tejo Park in front of one and a half million young people, priests, religious, authorities and volunteers.
A week of events that featured young people from all over the world who accepted the Pope’s invitation to gather, to meet, to reflect and to pray on the theme chosen for the occasion: “Mary got up and went quickly” (Lk 1, 39). Already in the first Eucharistic celebration, presided over on the 1st August in Eduardo VII Park by the Latin Patriarch of Lisbon, H.E. Card. Manuel Clemente, this verse from the Gospel of Luke showed all its “potential”: the themes of getting up, leaving and hurrying accompanied the young people in every appointment of this Portuguese WYD.
Pope Francis, who arrived in Lisbon on the 2nd August, in the meeting with the students of the Portuguese Catholic University spoke of being pilgrims, of wanting to “leave your comfort zone in search of something, walking towards a destination”. Obviously this path can involve risks, but we must never let ourselves be discouraged by fear. Everything must be done as soon as possible, the Pope continued, focusing attention on integral ecology: “We must recognize the dramatic urgency of taking care of our Common Home. […] You are the generation that can win this challenge: don’t forget that we need integral ecology, we need to listen to the suffering of the planet together with that of the poor; we need to parallel the drama of desertification with that of refugees; the theme of migrations together with that of falling birth rates; we need to deal with the material dimension of life within a spiritual dimension.”
In this regard, throughout the WYD the “City of Joy” welcomed young people precisely on the theme of integral ecology. Amongst the organizers, were also the friars from the General Curia Office of JPIC (Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation), who together with 45 other friars and the volunteers of the Laudato Si’ Movement who created a series of events throughout the week. Fr. Daniel Rodriguez Blanco, Director General Curia’s Office of JPIC, commented on this experience as follows: “During this WYD 2023 we reflected, prayed and celebrated our faith with Pope Francis. Justice, peace and care for creation were present in each of the moments with him. Living these Christian and Franciscan values is a joy and, as the Pope told us, it is a missionary joy. The JPIC Office of the General Curia, with 45 volunteer friars, wanted to witness this in the Church of St. Anthony and in the City of Joy. Thank you, Lisbon!”
Moreover, WYD is not just about joy, and this became clear during the Via Crucis on Friday the 4th August: in a very empathic celebration with a strong emotional character, each station compared the sufferings of Jesus to those of contemporary young people. Sick relationships, addictions, turning one’s back on God, the fear of loneliness, of not making it, of the future, the discomfort in the current ephemeral society, based on appearances: difficulties certainly amplified by the pandemic, which sometimes do not seem to have any solutions in the eyes of young people. Pope Francis has shown the way: “Jesus comes out Himself to walk amongst us. […] Jesus undertakes this journey to give His life for you, for me, for us. No one has more love than he who lays down his life for his friends than he who lays down his life for others.
Perhaps the most intimate moment in the relationship between the Pope and the young people present was reached when he asked them: “Now I’m going to ask you a question, each of you should answer within yourself. Do I cry sometimes? Are there things in life that make me cry? Then, after a moment of profound silence, almost unbelievable in a park with hundreds of thousands present, he added: “Jesus, with His tenderness, wipes away our hidden tears. Jesus hopes to fill our solitude with His closeness. Jesus wants to fill our fear with His consolation”.
During the Saturday evening vigil, perhaps the most vivid memory that remains in the hearts of those who participated, was the theme of Mary’s “haste”, understood not as anxiety, but as a desire to do things urgently, was underlined by Pope Francis in his speech to the young people: “Why does Mary get up and hastily go to her cousin? […] Why go if no one had asked her? Mary performs an unsolicited and undue gesture; Mary goes because she loves. This is what love does to us.”
Speaking of the joy of Mary, who had just received the announcement of the Archangel Gabriel and the news of her cousin’s pregnancy, Pope Francis defined the “missionary spirit of joy“: in a dialogue with young people made up of questions and answers, the Holy Father invited everyone to bring the joy they experienced to others, not to keep it for themselves. He then reflected upon the roots of this joy: “If we look back, we all have people who have been a ray of light in our lives: parents, grandparents, friends, priests, religious, catechists, animators, teachers… They are like the roots of our joy. […] And in the same way we can be roots of joy for others”. To be roots of joy for others, we need to get up and help those who have fallen, we need to lift them up: “The only occasion, the only moment in which it is legitimate to look down on a person, is to help them get up”, the Pope said, addressing the children and, who knows, perhaps also the adults, who often judge without knowing.
Pope Francis wanted to concretely express the missionary mandate for young people: “I leave you these ideas. Walk and, if you fall, get up again; walk with a goal; exercise every day in life. In life, nothing is free, everything is paid for. Only one thing is free: the love of Jesus! So, with this free gift that we have – the love of Jesus – and with the desire to walk, let us walk in hope, look to our roots and move forward, without fear. Do not be afraid!”.
The Sunday Liturgy of the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord was the “fulfillment” of the journey of the young people in Lisbon. The beauty of the radiant face of Jesus and of being together, which Peter underlines, the desire to remain in that “bubble”, away from the chaos and anxieties of life, collides with what Jesus Himself says: “Get up and do not be afraid” ( Mt 17.7).
The Pontiff wanted to give the young people three concrete actions to take with them in everyday life: to shine, but not in the spotlight of worldliness, but in the light of the merciful and charitable love of Jesus; to listen, because it is God Himself who tells us to listen to His beloved son (Mt 17:5); and, do not be afraid in the face of unfulfilled dreams, the judgments of others, discouragement, not feeling adequate, pain and suffering, because “the Church and the world need you like the land needs rain”.
Before leaving, the Holy Father met the volunteers who made WYD possible. After hearing the testimony of three of them, referring to an ocean location famous for the height of its waves, he took his leave with these words: “With God’s help, with so much generosity and mutual support, you have ridden this great wave: you are really brave! Thank you! I want to tell you: keep going, keep riding the waves of love, the waves of charity, be surfers of love!”
The next WYD will take place in Seoul, South Korea, in 2027. Pope Francis invited everyone to participate in the great “Youth Jubilee” which will take place in Rome in the Jubilee Year of 2025.
The complete texts of the Holy Father are available on the website www.vatican.va