Young people preparing for World Youth Day 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal Young people preparing for World Youth Day 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal  (AFP or licensors)

Fr João Chagas: WYD to be 'beautiful moment between young and elderly'

Fr. João Chagas, the Vatican official responsible for World Youth Days, shares young people’s excitement for their imminent encounter with Pope Francis in Lisbon, saying WYD will be a spiritually transformative event and a beautiful exchange between the young and elderly.

By Deborah Castellano Lubov

"I'm sure that young people will leave Lisbon having experienced transfiguration of Christ, a paschal experience, and transformation in their deepest of hearts."

Father João Chagas, the Head of the Youth office of the Vatican's Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, expressed this in an interview with Vatican News on Tuesday, ahead of the Pope's upcoming Apostolic Journey to Lisbon for the occasion, marking his 42nd Apostolic Journey abroad and second to the country.

The joy and enthusiasm on the ground in the European country, Fr. Chagas expressed, is palpable, even by the elderly people who have been awaiting the young in a special way.

Greatly-anticipated WYD

Accepting the invitation of the civil and ecclesiastical authorities of Portugal, Pope Francis will travel to Lisbon and Fatima in August to take part in the World Youth Day. He will be in Lisbon from 2-6 August, and will make a special return visit to the Shrine of Fatima on 5 August.

Lisbon is hosting the fourth World Youth Day over which Pope Francis will preside, having done so for the WYDs in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2013; Krakow, Poland, in 2016; and Panama City, Panama, in 2019.

The 37th World Youth Day was originally scheduled to take place in the Portuguese capital in 2022, but was postponed due to the health emergency caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

For this year's WYD's motto, Pope Francis has chosen "Mary arose and went with haste" (Lk 1:39), the Bible quote opening the account of the Visitation, when Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth following the angel’s announcement to the Blessed Mother that she would be the mother of the Son of God.

An exchange between Father Chagas and Pope Francis
An exchange between Father Chagas and Pope Francis

On the ground in Lisbon

The Vatican official responsible for the WYD spoke about the imminent arrival of the Pope and the joy for the Portuguese to welcome him once again to their country.

"I was very impressed by how the parishes, and how the local Church, is preparing to welcome young people from all over the world. They are preparing all the details. Parishes are very enthusiastic, and elderly people are very involved."

Link between elderly and young

Fr. Chagas observed that what "we lived last Sunday with the Pope, for the World Day of Grandparents and Elderly people, in the Vatican, was felt very strong here."

“Elderly people are preparing to welcome young people. I think it will be a very beautiful meeting between young people and the elderly.”

"I met, for example," he recalled, "a lady who already has great grandchildren, and she will welcome many young people in her home." 

Desire of young people to meet Christ

"This time of waiting," he recalled, "has expanded the desire of all young people from all over the world for this meeting with Christ, with the Pope, with each other."

The Vatican official has been in Lisbon since 17 July, and said he has seen countless young people gathering in the Portuguese capital from all over the world. 

"I see the young people with so much joy, so much enthusiasm, so much desire, to meet other young people from all over the world. The city is already full of volunteers. The days in the diocese are beginning these days. We see a lot of enthusiasm, and the desire to meet together."

The 'secret' of the WYD

Asked about the "secret" that has kept World Youth Day's so powerful over the span of 40 years, Fr. Chagas said the elements of Christian pilgrimage and the encounter with Christ always keep new generations of young people enthusiastic about it.

"The World Days started in the Year of Redemption, in which we celebrated, with Saint John Paul II, the event of the Cross and Resurrection, the Paschal mystery. So, it's a Paschal event. It's an event of pilgrimage."

In these days, he said, "we are reading the Book of Exodus in the liturgy," he said. "We can see this passage, the dimension of pilgrimage, the meeting with Christ in His Death and Resurrection."

Transformation through Christ

The World Youth Day, he observed, is an event "in which young people are invited to share the sacrifice of priests of Christ" because pilgrimage, he underscored, calls for daily sacrifices. Yet, he continued, it is an event of resurrection, of transfiguration, recalling that the last Mass will reflect on the transfiguration.

"I'm sure that young people will go out from Lisbon having experienced transfiguration of Christ, a partial experience, an experience of also of transformation in the heart and the deepest of their hearts."

Fr. Chagas also addressed the extreme heat in Europe, but reassured that the "weather here in Lisbon is perfect."

"I can say it's more or less 10 degrees Celsius cooler than in Rome," he enthused. "It may even be necessary to bring something for moments of the journey where it is cooler. It's not cold, but it can be cool, and there is a lot of wind. I hope next week it will be the same, because we have had excellent weather here."

File photo of Pope Francis praying at Fatima Shrine
File photo of Pope Francis praying at Fatima Shrine

Pope's upcoming Journey

For the second time as Pope, the Holy Father will visit the Marian pilgrimage site of Fatima, the destination of millions of pilgrims every year.

The Pope visited the Shrine on 12-13 May 2017, for the centenary of the Apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Cova da Iria. On that occasion, the Pope prayed for an end to the wars "lacerating" the world.

In Fatima, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to three Portuguese children slightly more than 100 years ago, in what was then a poor farming village.

Recently, the Pope approved decrees recognizing the heroic virtues of five Servants of God, including Sr. Lucia de Juesus Rosa dos Santos, one of the visionaries of Fatima.

Listen to Fr. João Chagas describe the atmosphere in Lisbon ahead of WYD:

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25 July 2023, 11:30