There were thousands and thousands and thousands, on the roads, on foot, heading towards Campo da Graça. In the end, they totalled 1.5 million pilgrims at the Vigil of World Youth Day Lisbon 2023.
It began with two testimonies on the importance of faith. António Matos, a young priest about his vocational journey, and the painful account of Marta, an 18-year-old from Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, of fleeing the terrorist attacks on her village. Faith was what enabled them to overcome doubt, fear, hunger and thirst.
“Dear brothers and sisters, good evening. It gives me joy to see you. Thank you for travelling, for walking. Thank you for being here”, Pope Francis began. “And I think that the Virgin Mary also had to travel to see Elizabeth. She left and went without delay. We wonder why Mary left in haste to see her cousin. Of course, she has just learnt that her cousin is pregnant, but so is she. So why is she going if no-one asked her to. Mary makes an unsolicited, non-mandatory gesture. Mary goes because she loves. And the one who loves flies, runs and rejoices. That is what love does to us”.
“Joy is missionary, it is not for us, it is for others”
Like Mary, who does not think of herself but of others, Francis invited us to share the joy we have received. “Joy is missionary, it is not for us, it is for others”. And, asking for a second of silence, he asked: “Now let us look back, everything we have received, what we have already received, all this has prepared our hearts for 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”.
As usual, Pope Francis “eschewed” the written text. He spoke to the crowd, asking them to follow the difficult paths, which can tire them, which can bring them down, through tiredness or personal failings.
“The only situation in which it is legitimate to look down on a person is to help them get up”
“When you see a friend who has fallen, what do you do? Lift them up, with strength. When you have to lift or help someone up, what do you do? We look at them from top to bottom. The only situation in which it is legitimate to look down on a person is to help them up. How many times do we see people looking at us like that, over our shoulder, from above? It’s sad.”
“There is no course that teaches you how to walk in life”, he recalled, “you learn, you learn from your parents, from your grandparents, from your friends, to give each other a hand”. And he asked them to get up whenever they are knocked down by life.
In the end, he reminded us that only the love of Christ is free: “There is only one thing that is free, the love of Jesus. So with this gift that we have, the love of Jesus, and with the desire and the will to walk, let us walk in hope. Let us look to our roots, without fear, do not be afraid!”.
And at the moment of Eucharistic Adoration, silence marked the evening in the Field of Grace.
The performance of the fado singer Carminho will remain in everyone’s memory. The arrival of the WYD symbols in the Tagus will remain in memory. The performance of the choir “Mãos que cantam” will remain in memory. As will the other musical performances, the choir and orchestra of WYD Lisbon 2023, the performance of Ensemble23.
And the marks of creativity that the Pope asked for, the logistics, the organisation of the welcome, the organisation of the city, the 100 hectares of the venue, the distribution of food to hundreds of thousands of people on the way to Parque Tejo, the attention to waste, the solidarity among volunteers, the sharing among pilgrims will also remain in memory. And the presence of all, despite making very different efforts: almost two thousand pilgrims with disabilities or reduced mobility were at this World Youth Day, with access at all central events to reserved areas and the assistance of many volunteers and family members.