The World Youth Day from the 1-6 August 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal was truly a moment of God for all of us who could connect with it in any way – there was no distance! When a lamp is put on the lampstand there is no limit to where the light can reach. At his weekly General Audience in Rome on the Wednesday afterwards, Pope Francis reflected on his visit and the great fruits it provided:
“World Youth Day in Lisbon, after the pandemic, was felt by all to be a gift of God.”
God, the Pope recalled, set in motion the young people’s hearts and steps, to go and find Jesus. The World Youth Day, he stressed, was an encounter with the living Christ through the Church, “an encounter that makes one grow in faith and where many discover God’s call,” often “to marriage, to consecrated life, to the priesthood.
“For each and every person,” he said, “it is the joy of discovering that they are called, by grace, to be part of the people of God, a different people … sent to proclaim to all peoples the joyful Gospel of Christ: that God is Father and loves all His children.”
Each day as each part of the programme unfolded the authentic light, hope and joy of relationship with God was tangible. This too can be a daily discovery for each of us, a discovery beyond age or time or location. We too can be ‘surfers of love’. Below are just some of the highlights of a packed schedule of encounters. See https://www.lisboa2023.org/en/news
There were many inspirational signposts along this way of discovery as we unwrapped the Pope’s Messages at various parts of the journey, and the passionate response by that global mass of young people ‘making haste’ to travel along the way together with Mary, so evident from the YouTube transmissions.
Here are just some of the signposts for our pilgrim way so that we too can be ‘surfers of love’.
At the concluding Mass Pope Francis expressed his deep gratitude to every person who made “this grace-filled event” possible and announced Seoul, South Korea as the location for the next WYD site in 2027. Pope Francis also expressed gratitude to all those who have made WYD2023 in Lisbon come true. There is an expression, he said, that we have heard frequently during these days: “Thank you,” or rather, “Obrigado.”
“That obrigado not only conveys a sense of gratitude for what we have received but also the desire to give in return,” the Holy Father explained, highlighting how much each pilgrim has received “in this grace-filled event.”
“Now, as we return home, the Lord makes us, in turn, feel the need to share and to give, to bear witness joyfully and eagerly to the good that God has poured into our hearts.”
“And obrigado to all of you, dear young people! God sees how good you are. He alone knows what he has sown in your hearts. Please treasure it. I want to say to you: Hold fast to the memory of these days, remembering the best moments.”
The Pope then exhorted young pilgrims to “relive the experiences and the graces of these days” in the “inevitable times of fatigue and discouragement,” when “the temptation to give up or close in on yourselves” will be stronger.
Called by name
The highlight of the Welcome Ceremony was a Liturgy of the Word, focusing on St Luke’s account of Jesus’ sending forth the seventy-two disciples. In his reflection on the Gospel reading, Pope Francis warmly welcomed the young people taking part in World Youth Day, reminding them that God has called them by name precisely because He loves each one of them. “At this World Youth Day,” the Pope said, “let us help one another to recognise this fundamental reality: May these days be vibrant echoes of God’s call of love.”
“You are not here by accident. The Lord has called you, not only in these days, but from the very beginning of your days. He called you by name. Let us listen to the word of God that called us by name. Try to imagine these three words written in large letters.
Then consider that they were written within you, on your hearts, as if setting the direction of your lives, the meaning of who you are: you have been called by name. Each of us is called by name. You, you and you, all of us here, myself included: all of us have been called by name. Not impersonally, but by name.
Think of this: Jesus called me by name. His words are inscribed in our hearts, and we come to realise that they are written in the hearts of every one of us, as a kind of title that tells people who we are, who you are. You have been called by name. None of us is a Christian by chance; all of us were called by name. At the beginning of the story of our lives, before any talents we may have, before any shadows or wounds we may be carrying in our hearts, we were called. Why? Because we are loved. This is something beautiful. In God’s eyes, we are precious children, and he calls us each day in order to embrace and encourage us, to make of us a unique and original masterpiece. Each of us is an “original”, whose beauty we can only begin to glimpse”.
The Pope placed the future of humanity into the hands of “Mary, Queen of Peace,” urging the young pilgrims, as they return to their homes, “to continue to pray for peace.”
“What is more, you are a sign of peace for the world, showing how different nationalities, languages and histories can unite instead of divide. You are the hope of a different world. Thank you for this. Onwards!”
“Come, take heart, keep going!”
The following is a brief extract from the words of Pope Francis at the Catholic University of Portugal.
To be a pilgrim literally means to put aside our daily routine and choose to set out on a different path, moving away from our comfort zone towards a new horizon of meaning. The notion of “pilgrimage” nicely describes our human condition for, like pilgrims, we find ourselves facing great questions that have no simple or immediate answers, but challenge us to continue the journey, to rise above ourselves and to press beyond the here and now. This is a process familiar to every university student, because that is how knowledge is born. It is also how spiritual journeys begin.
Our condition as seekers and pilgrims means that we will always be somewhat restless, for, as Jesus tells us, we are in the world, but not of the world (cf. Jn 17:15-16). We are always journeying “towards”. We are called to something higher, and we will never be able to soar unless we first take flight. We should not be alarmed, then, if we sense an inner thirst, a restless, unfulfilled longing for meaning and a future, com saudades do futuro! [Looking to the future]. And here, in addition to the saudades do futuro, do not forget to keep alive the memory of the future. We should not be lethargic, but alive!
A university would have little use if it were simply to train the next generation to perpetuate the present global system of elitism and inequality, in which higher education is the privilege of a happy few. Unless knowledge is embraced as a responsibility, it bears little fruit. [ … ] An academic degree should not be seen merely as a licence to pursue personal wellbeing, but as a mandate to work for a more just and inclusive society, a truly progressive society. I am told that one of your great poets, Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, was asked in an interview, which served as a kind of testament: “What would you like to see Portugal achieve in this new century?” She answered without hesitation: “I would like to see the attainment of social justice, the reduction of the gap between rich and poor” (Interview with Joaci Oliveira, in Cidade Nova, No. 3/2001). I put this same question to you, dear students, as “pilgrims of knowledge”: What do you want to achieve in Portugal and in the world? What changes, what transformations? And how can universities, especially the Catholic university, contribute to this?
The Global Compact on Education, with its seven overarching principles, encompasses many of these issues, from caring for our common home to the full participation of women and the need for innovative ways of understanding economics, politics, growth and progress. I encourage you to study the Global Compact and to become enthusiastic about its contents. One of the points it addresses is the need to educate about acceptance and inclusion. We cannot pretend that we have not heard the words of Jesus in Chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (v. 35).
Getting your hands dirty
On the second day of Pope Francis’ visit to Lisbon for the 2023 World Youth Day, he met with members of the “Scholas Occurrentes” community at its Portuguese headquarters in Cascais, and put the finishing touch to a multi-coloured mural symbolising the beauty of unity in diversity. The worldwide Scholas movement for education, was founded in 2013 and inspired by Pope Francis’ calls for the transformation of global education in the spirit of encounter and inclusion.
“Life is transformed by the chaos of life and the cosmos,” he noted, but said it is up to each of us to find a path of truth and beauty.
He too had a painting, a gift for the students consisting of an ancient oil on wood artwork in a very different style, depicting the Good Samaritan. Pointing to the representation, he invited those present never to be afraid of “getting their hands dirty” and to always be there for those in need.
“Only by getting your hands dirty,” he said, “will you keep your hearts clean.”
Joy is missionary & requires training
As evening fell in Lisbon, young pilgrims gathered in Parque Tejo to celebrate the Vigil with Pope Francis on the fifth day of World Youth Day. The World Youth Day’s motto, “Mary set out and went with haste” (Lk 1:39), was at the base of Pope Francis’ address to the young pilgrims at the Vigil.
“Mary does something that was not asked of her, something that she really did not have to do. Why?” wondered the Holy Father. He answered by quoting a passage from The Imitation of Christ: “Because she loved, and ‘whoever loves flies, runs and rejoices.’”
Setting aside his prepared remarks, the Pope spoke off-the-cuff to the 1.5 million young pilgrims assembled in Lisbon about our mission to bring the joy of the Gospel to all around us.
“Joy is missionary!” he said. “So, each of us has the duty to bring that joy to others.”
To shine, to listen, to be unafraid
At the concluding Mass for this year’s World Youth Day, Pope Francis echoed the words of the Apostles who witnessed the Transfiguration of Christ on the Mount: “It is good for us to be here!”
At the same time, he challenged the young people to ask themselves, “What will we take back with us to the valley of our daily lives?” Drawing on the day’s Gospel, the Holy Father proposed three verbs: to shine, to listen, and to be unafraid.
“We, too, need light, a burst of light that is hope to face so much darkness that assails us in life,” the Pope said. That light, he explained, “is Jesus, because He is the light that does not go out, the light that shines even in the night.” It is Jesus, he said, “that enlightens our eyes, enlightens our heart, enlightens our mind, enlightens our desire to do something in life, always with the light of the Lord.”
At the same time, he warned that “we do not become luminous when we focus the spotlight on ourselves.” Instead, “We become luminous, we shine, when, welcoming Jesus, we learn to love like Him. To love like Jesus: that makes us luminous, that leads us to do works of love.”
“Dear young people,” the Pope said continued, “I would like to look into the eyes of each one of you and say to you: Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid.”
He assured them that Jesus Himself is looking out on them:
“What is more, I tell you something very beautiful: It is no longer me, it is Jesus Himself who is looking at you, at this moment. He is looking at us. He knows you, He knows the heart of each one of you, He knows the life of each one of you. He knows your joys, He knows your sorrows, your successes, and your failures. He knows your hearts, and He says to you today, here, in Lisbon, at this World Youth Day, ‘Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. Take heart, do not be afraid.”