World Youth Day draws to a colourful close
Almost seven days of intense ‘celebration’ are drawing to a close in Lisbon today after the largest single event of its kind in the Portuguese capital.
Pope Francis, at 86, has shown that even in a year when the country faced up to a shameful Church ‘pederasty scandal’, all has not been lost. The one and a half million pilgrims predicted for this event turned up, according to numbers given by the Vatican, and the atmosphere among them has patently been uplifting. Every news reporter within the crowds has projected the sense of joy and excitement that has carried pilgrims through increasingly punishing temperatures.
President Marcelo, taking an active part in the event since the planning stages, has appeared so buoyed by the ‘delight’ of being surrounded by a sea of young faces, that he told journalists he thinks there should be more young people in political decision-making, and that he will be attending the next World Youth Day “wherever it is…” (the mega-event is due to be staged next in South Korea in 2027, by which time Portugal’s president will be 78).
In last night’s prayers, the Pope said Lisbon would remain in the memories of all those taking part this time round, as “the home of fraternity”, and “city of dreams”.
Already starting ‘thank-you’s’ that will continue today as the pontiff meets finally with volunteers – before leaving for Figo Maduro airport and the plane journey home – Pope Francis gave special mention to President Marcelo, along with all the country’s bishops, priests, church and lay organisers and institutions.
But his main message was ultimately to his vast audience, the young pilgrims from almost every country of the world, who have accompanied this marathon with energetic exuberance.
“God sees all the good that you are, only he knows what he has sown in your hearts. Today you will leave here with what God has sown in your hearts”, he said, asking them to “keep in mind and in your hearts the most beautiful moments“, so that when you have “moments of tiredness and discouragement” and perhaps the temptation to stop on the way or to close in on yourselves, “you can revive the experiences and the grace of these days”.
Earlier this year, there had been doubts Pope Francis’ health would even allow him to visit Portugal, let along take such an active role in World Youth Day. But he has been remarkable: blessing babies, blessing people, stopping his Popemobile to sip ‘maté’ (an Argentine pick-me-up) from a young man in the crowds, and effortlessly dropping phrases that people have been sharing over social media for their ‘deep wisdom’ and clarity that somehow goes beyond habitual conceptions of ‘the Church’.
At the start of World Youth Day, columnists were suggesting that this particular event, overshadowed as it was by the horror of an abuse scandal, was “an opportunity for redemption“. If it was, they will probably all agree that Pope Francis seized it, and ‘nailed it’.
He literally held his audience in his hands over days and hours that they will almost certainly never forget.
The photo above shows how ‘different’ his approach has been from predecessors who have arguably taken themselves a great deal more seriously.
Source material: Lusa, including photos