Our days in Lisbon have been, as our youth chaplain summarised it, a ‘microcosm of the Christian’s life’, full of challenges and opportunities, sufferings and joys, centred around Jesus and an experience of his love. In the company of the Pope, we’ll never forget the days we’ve spent together.
After a busy morning, packing for the journey, we said a warm goodbye to our host families and began the long journey to the Fatima.
The several hours on the coach was a fruitful time, offering the opportunity for prayer, fellowship and rest. As on many of the other days, we did morning and evening prayers during transit, reflecting on our journey and sharing in each other’s testimonies and encounters.
Upon arriving in Fatima, we settled into our hotel and got the chance to explore the museum of the shrine. This museum contains many relics and objects which have a close link to the story of Mary’s apparition in Fatima and the people involved in the works of her message. A pilgrim recalled having seen sculptures shaped in the form of specific body parts, which people created to testify their physical healing upon asking for the intercession of Our Lady.
After the visit some pilgrims visited the main places of the shrine and prayed a decade of the rosary at each. The group then had Mass, celebrated by Fr Mike Guthrie, on the feast of St Ignatius of Loyola. In his homily, Fr Mike spoke of how the journey was leading towards the days in Lisbon, encouraging each person present to pay particular attention to where God might be calling them.
Leaving bright and early, this was the first day spent in Lisbon. It’s fair to say it came as a bit of a shock to see the sheer amount of pilgrims who had come to join in the celebrations, and much of today was spent navigating the city and getting used to the way the systems worked. For example, the original intention was to try and make it to the City of Joy, an area dedicated to religious orders, congregations and communities, to share their charisms and works. However, we didn’t make it!
Instead, we got about half way and ended up splitting off into groups to explore the area we made it to. However, although it wasn’t the original plan, it turned out to be a good opportunity to acclimatise and begin to meet other pilgrims. As our group explored, they began to encounter groups from other countries, share stories and swap small items to remember each other by.
Eventually, we made our way to the Parque Eduardo VII, where the opening Mass was to be celebrated. This in itself was a learning experience about timings! The park rapidly filled up as thousands upon thousands of pilgrims made their way in, with a total running into the hundreds of thousands. Nevertheless, it was a time to rest and consider the unifying thing that had brought all these young people together: Jesus!
The mass was celebrated by the Patriarch of Lisbon, Cardinal Manuel Clemente. In his homily, he drew attention to the theme of the pilgrimage, ‘Mary arose and went with haste’ (Lk 1:39) as being an expression of encounter with Elizabeth, with the purpose of sharing the good news, the Gospel.
The way out of the park was definitely a moment of encounter, as we slowly and carefully made it to the coach in a sea of other pilgrims. Packed as it was, the atmosphere was one of joy, with singing and chanting. However, once we got back on the coach, silence quickly descended as our pilgrims quickly fell asleep.
After a morning Mass with the pilgrimage group from Brentwood diocese, celebrated by Bishop Alan, the middle of the week was an opportunity to rest and restore some energy. Many of our group went to the beach in Nazare, with the others exploring more of the Shrine. In the evening, we all came together for a meal, after which we took part in the shrine’s torchlight procession, led by our very own Deacon Robert Smialek.
On this day we took the decision to leave a little later, and rather than having the catechesis in Lisbon, it was given by Deacon Robert on the coach in. He spoke powerfully on the eucharistic prayer unwrapping for all the pilgrims how it’s actually not simply a part of the Mass which the priest recites on his own, but an opportunity for all those present to pray and participate deeply.
Getting off the coach in Lisbon around lunchtime, our pilgrims went to look for food, with the plan to regroup later in Parque Eduardo. This was because Pope Francis was coming for the welcoming ceremony, the first opportunity to see him and spend time with him. In the end, we got a seat right at the front of the upper section and a great sight as he drove past on the Popemobile. His words were also striking, as he emphasised that it was Jesus who had called everyone there.
‘You are not here by accident. The Lord has called you, not only in these days, but from the beginning of your days. He called you by name.’
This theme of being called continued as he defined the Church as ‘the community of those who are called as we are.’ Therefore, ‘don’t be afraid, take heart, move forward, knowing that all of us are “mortgaged” by the love God has for us. God loves us.’
This profound reminder resonated deeply in the pilgrims, as they cheered and declared ‘God loves us’ until it seemed to echo around all of Lisbon.
Unlike the previous day, this was an early start as, with packed breakfasts prepared by the Hotel, we travelled to a location in Lisbon for a Catechesis. This morning of prayer and praise included Adoration and Mass with our very own Bishops Paul McAleenan and Nicholas Hudson. It was a great opportunity to be together as a diocesan group.
After the catechesis, our pilgrims had time to explore more of World Youth Day, but before long they had to get back on the coach as the route to Fatima was being closed off in preparation for the Pope’s visit the following morning. Sadly this meant missing the Way of the Cross, but the alternative proved to be equally moving. Fr Philip Miller, who had joined us on Monday, led us in the Shepherds Way at Fatima, which is the walk through the olive groves leading to the original site of the apparitions, lined by the Stations of the Cross.
We were able to unite ourselves to the wider World Youth Day celebrations by using the same text that the Pope was using in Lisbon. Many of our group remarked at the moving and sincere nature of the words, made all the more so by the peace that surrounded us in the beautiful setting of Fatima.
Finally the longest day of the pilgrimage had arrived. However before we made the journey into Lisbon, our group had the unique opportunity to unite ourselves with the Pope once more through his visit to Fatima. Many of our number left early to secure their place in the crowd which gathered to greet Pope Francis and pray the rosary with him for peace.
In his speech at the shrine, Pope Francis said that, ‘the little chapel in which we find ourselves is like a beautiful image of the Church: welcoming, without doors. The Church has no doors, so that everyone can enter.’
‘Dear brothers and sisters, let us feel today the presence of Mary, our mother. The mother who always looks at what Jesus tells her. She points us to Jesus.’
After this special moment, our group embarked the coach for the trip into Lisbon, having prepared for that night’s vigil. Arriving, we had glimpses of the site and could already see the masses of people gathering. It was difficult to put into words the sheer enormity of the movement of people, all heading in the same direction, but it was strengthening and by the time we arrived, the anticipation was high. Setting off in the blazing heat, it was tough going but we stuck to the shoreline and benefited from the sea breeze. Getting closer to the site, the masses of people meant that we were moving forward inch by inch making it difficult to stay together.
However, eventually, the site came into view and wearily we marched into our sector. The energy soon returned as we found a space and began interacting with the many people around us, some from Portugal, others from Spain, Italy, Australia, Poland, and many other countries. The energy began returning, just in time for the arrival of the Pope, who led us in a moving service of prayer and Adoration.
In his words at that event he gave his most strident call yet to share the joy which we were all feeling with others, saying, ‘Joy is missionary, joy is not just for one person, it is for sharing something with others.’
‘Joy is not to be found in a locked library, even though study is necessary! Joy lies somewhere else. It is not kept under lock and key, but must be sought, must be discovered. It has to be found in dialogue with others, where we share these roots of joy that we have received.’
‘I leave you with these thoughts. Carry on; if you fall, get back up; walk with a goal in mind, and train each day of your lives. Nothing is free in life, everything has to be paid for. Only one thing is free, the love of Jesus! So, with this free gift that we have – the love of Jesus – and with the desire to carry on the journey, let us walk in hope, let us be mindful of our roots, and move forwards, without fear. Do not be afraid!’
As he departed, we were left among the 1.5 million other young people all sleeping out under the stars, reflecting and waiting for the final day.
As the sun rose, most of our group were woken with the tunes and beats from Fr Guilherme Peixotoa, who also works as a DJ. Our priests headed towards the altar, getting ready to concelebrate. One priest said that some of them had slept outside the gates to the front sector, and saw other priests sprinting when the gates opened.
Soon after, the arrival of Pope Francis heralded the start of the final missioning Mass on the feast of the Transfiguration.
‘I would respond with these three words: to shine, to listen, and to be unafraid.’
Referencing how Jesus’ face ‘shone like the sun’ (Mt 17:2), Pope Francis said, ‘today we need something of this burst of light, so that it can fill us with hope as we face the many failures fo each day and the darkness that assails us in life, and respond to them with the light of the resurrection of Jesus.’
From the Gospel, where God’s voice comes from a cloud and says, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved… listen to him!’ (Mt 17:5), Pope Francis used this to encourage the young people to ‘listen to Jesus; for he will show you which paths are those of love.’
‘Take the Gospels and read there what Jesus is saying, what he is saying to your heart.’
Finally, from the last words spoken by Jesus to the disciples at the moment of the Transfiguration: ‘Do not be afraid!’ (Mt 17:7), the Pope said, ‘it is no longer I, but Jesus himself who is now looking at you. He knows each of your hearts, each of your lives; he knows your joys, your sorrows, your successes and failures. He knows your heart. Today, he says to you, here in Lisbon, at this World Youth Day: “Have no fear, take heart, do not be afraid!”’
This final statement was most apt, as we joyfully ended Mass and began to long journey to the coach. Somehow, despite it being hotter and more packed, the journey felt easier.
We ended the day with a meal together and handing out some group awards. Through this time together, there was real sense of joy having been enkindled in the hearts of everyone present.
‘Esta es la juventud del Papa’
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