2023.08.05 Viaggio Apostolico in Portogallo in occasione della XXXVII Giornata Mondiale della Gioventu' - Veglia con i giovani

WYD Day Five: Joy and closeness at vigil celebration

Our correspondent in Lisbon, Francesca Merlo, describes the joy that gripped the 1.5 million young pilgrims who took part in the World Youth Day vigil celebration.

By Francesca Merlo – Lisbon, Portugal

A hot end to day five in Lisbon, the hottest its been this World Youth Day, but at the Parque Tejo the pilgrims and volunteers did everything they could to stay cool and hydrated.

The breeze helped, and the heat shield blankets kept everything cool, whilst makeshift tents and umbrellas kept the sun off the pilgrims’ skin.

As time passed, the air gets cooler and the sun lower. A group of pilgrims from Jamaica share the story of their two-day journey and of their excitement for what they describe as “a big sleepover”. It is a big sleepover. The pilgrims have come with mattresses, sleeping bags, pillows and warm clothes, in hope that the temperatures will drop in the night.

In an overcrowded press room journalists, too, share their stories: “I hate crowds, but there’s something different about this one,” a French journalist tells me. “It’s like a little village. When I was walking around, I bumped into three different people I know, pilgrims, all from different countries.” He’s typically shy, but suddenly grows quite loquacious.

Suddenly, all the pilgrims jump up, the giant screens showing that the Pope is arriving. They grab their cameras and rush out.

The sound of excited pilgrims gives us a rough estimate of how far along the path the Pope is, and in no time, just as quickly as he draws near, he’s gone, until he reappears on stage, not long after.

The crowd calms down, and as the sky around the white, wave-shaped stage darkens, the large crucifix in the middle lights up. Two Portuguese fighter jets fly over the crowd to welcome the Pope, contemporary dancers in beautiful blue dresses float across the stage and the first testimony begins.

We hear from 33-year-old Matos from Portugal, who risked his life when he almost fell asleep driving and then decided to become a priest.

Then the dancing starts again, before we hear the testimony of 18-year-old Marta from Mozambique. Her area in the north of the country has been at the heart of the violence of extremist groups. After her father died, she and her three sisters were forced to flee into the forest twice in six months, but “we never lost our faith”, she says.

Then, as pilgrims begin to shed tears, the dancing picks up again, having adapted the music to the mood, more sombre, somewhat sad, melancholic, reminiscent of a world in which they wish these testimonies didn’t have to be told.

The pilgrims are asked, via text on the screens, to place a hand on someone else’s shoulder, and suddenly 1.5 million people are all connected.

Then, Pope Francis starts to speak, reminding pilgrims of their duty to each other. “The only time you should look down at someone is when you are helping them get up,” he said, in extensive off-the-cuff remarks.

He spoke about being constant and consistent, of never giving up and of getting up when we fall. “There are no lessons for learning how to go through life,” he says. We learn through practice.

“Do not be afraid”, he concludes, quoting one of the first phrases used by Pope St. John Paul II at the beginning of his pontificate.

It is with these words that the pilgrims, after having adored Christ in the Eucharist, go into the night. Words of comfort, and in the best of company.

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05 August 2023, 23:36