‘Keep riding the waves of kindness to be surfers of love.’– Pope Francis, Lisbon 2023
Our pilgrims have now returned home safely after spending the latter part of their journey in the vibrant and bountiful city of Lisbon, which was ablaze with excitement for the arrival of Pope Francis and over a million people from around the world! The contingent were given the unique opportunity, alongside an international cohort of pilgrims, to journey to the city of joy, ‘a space which brought together the reconciliation park and the vocational fair, a place of encounter with Jesus where pilgrims will find different experiences of Christian living and joy.’
There were also chances to attend musical performances, including one in which Jonathan Roumie (who plays Jesus in The Chosen) showcased his robust drumming skills! Thought provoking catechesis was on offer, and on one occasion there was an outdoor Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert Barron. Plymouth Diocese’ inspiringly genuine and open hearted group were able to explore Lisbon and visit a variety of historic places of interest. Profound experiences included praying before the relics of St Therese and touching the stone of the birthplace of St Anthony of Padua. There were ample opportunities for walking and taking in the sights and sounds of the city, with some of our group also partaking in visiting the aquarium and tasting local cuisine.
Pilgrims have spoken about how they met a plethora of people from different countries as they journeyed physically and spiritually throughout the week. They were simultaneously blessed with countless moments and encounters of faith, hope, love, and often laughter. In addition, the warmth and hospitality of the beautiful and generous spirited Portuguese people was omnipresent, lacing every street with welcoming love.
The energy when Pope Francis first entered the arena for his welcome ceremony was electric and it was deeply moving to witness the coming together of nations from around the world in an outward display of almost euphoric togetherness. Pope Francis himself has since commented that : ‘World Youth Day showed everyone that another world is possible, a world of brothers and sisters, where the flags of all peoples fly together, without hatred, without fear, without closure, without weapons!’
Despite some challenges (including the extreme weather conditions) a group of our pilgrims bravely attended the epic all night vigil and Papal Mass on Sunday 6th August. As the pilgrimage came to an end, the sense of joy, connectivity and deepening of faith was palpable. The final stop was Fatima, culminating in Holy Mass concelebrated by Fr Ignatius and Fr Albert, with a wonderful homily from Deacon Nick Johnson. As the Mass closed with the pilgrims singing a Marian hymn in unison, their eyes looked towards a painting of The Blessed Mother, who in a mystical sense, was presiding over a profound sense of belonging to God’s global human family.
We are privileged to share some personal reflections from four of our pilgrims below.
My time in Lisbon for World Youth Day was a journey like no other. I have been lucky enough to have experienced this with some of the warmest, genuine and resilient people I have ever known. Celebrating Mass with hundreds of thousands of other Catholics from across the world showcased the vibrancy of the Church, and fostered a sense of belonging and hope for the future in my mind. Whilst there were challenges along the way, the numerous encounters made these times of physical fatigue well worthwhile. These almost overwhelming experiences converged with periods of reflection and prayer to create a profoundly transformative experience. I have left Lisbon with fresh energy to live my faith and answer Pope Francis’ call to bring the light of Christ’s saving love to the world in all that I do.
It has certainly been an adventure, with queueing for public transport, food and to see the major events very much the norm in the energy sapping heat, however this has been completely trumped by meeting people of many nationalities from across the world, each and every single person just as excited as the next to talk to me about their country and the experiences they’ve had in their home country and here in Lisbon. This has well and truly trumped all expectations I had when I came here. The love that each and every person has shown each other here in Lisbon is nothing short of inspirational. I look forward to sharing the same love in my parish and beyond in the future.
We got the opportunity to attend the Night Fever event at World Youth Day, which is a silent adoration of the Holy Eucharist. I really felt God’s loving presence as I sat and talked to him. I told Him all my worries, thoughts and feelings and it was just the most beautiful moment for me. It made me realise that God will listen to you and bring you peace and just be with you when you need Him if you are willing to talk to Him. I don’t regret the decision to come to WYD and it has really enlightened my that I’m not alone as a young Catholic Christian.
Lisbon has been incredible. It’s such a different atmosphere from when I have been previously. I have enjoyed being here with friends I’ve known for a long time and making new friends and being here in Lisbon has made everyone come closer together. This has also helped build my faith because it’s a place where you can be yourself and ask questions to the group as a whole.
Warmest thanks to Dan, Freddy, Ribia and Dannii for their wonderful contributions to this article and to Gabbie for creating the beautiful photo collage!