At WYD in Lisbon, the Vigil with Pope Francis gathers 1.5 million faithful

1.5 million believers gathered in Lisbon on Saturday for the vigil of the 37th World Youth Day, presided over by Pope Francis. The Vatican, citing an estimate from Portuguese authorities, provided the number of attendees. Earlier in the day, the pontiff made a brief visit to the Fatima sanctuary.

A massive crowd of 1.5 million believers surged in Lisbon on Saturday, August 5 for the vigil of the World Youth Day (WYD) presided over by Pope Francis.

The number of people present at the vast esplanade created for the occasion at the mouth of the Tagus River was communicated by the Vatican, citing an estimate from Portuguese authorities. Arriving throughout the afternoon under scorching sun, with backpacks and sleeping bags in tow, many pilgrims prepared to spend the night on site.

The Pope made his appearance in the “Papamobile” just after 7 PM GMT for this prayer vigil with the atmosphere of a giant festival, which began with pop-rock chants led by hundreds of choristers and musicians on the colossal altar overlooking the site of this former landfill.

The organizers had expected around one million people for this evening and the final Mass on Sunday morning, the highlight of a week of festive, cultural, and spiritual events that constitutes the largest international Catholic gathering.

Amidst the tents, flags from many countries, and temporary sanitation facilities, young pilgrims started dancing in a festive atmosphere, overseen by heavy security measures.

“We walked here from Barcelona, we left 40 days ago … it’s a pilgrimage to see the Pope,” said 19-year-old Spanish student Santi Salvador, who covered 1,300 kilometers. Tiago Carlos, a 30-year-old Portuguese, was determined to participate because “it is a grand event, for what it represents for us Catholics with people from different cultures.”

Quick visit to the Fatima sanctuary

On Saturday morning, 200,000 faithful had already gathered at the Fatima sanctuary in central Portugal, where the Pope made a two-hour fleeting visit to recite the rosary with young sick and disabled people.

Unlike what was planned, Pope Francis improvised almost his entire first speech without reading his text and did not give the second one. He did not mention the main expected theme for this stage, the war in Ukraine and the pursuit of peace, which he had already spoken about on Wednesday. The Pope had already improvised his speech on Friday.

The Vatican spokesperson explained to AFP that this change was due to “vision discomfort” caused by a reflection on his glasses, but that on Saturday, it was “a choice” made by the pontiff. In Fatima, the spiritual leader of 1.3 billion Catholics reiterated his message in favor of a Church that is open “to all, without exclusion.”

“The Church has no doors, so that everyone can enter,” he said. Aboard his “Papamobile” and then sitting in a wheelchair, Jorge Bergoglio enjoyed a long bath of crowds on the esplanade surrounding the small chapel marking the place where, according to Catholic tradition, the Virgin Mary appeared to three children in 1917. Blessing and kissing many infants, the Pope appeared smiling and blessed the faithful gathered along the barriers.

A rock-star welcome

A few minutes earlier, the pontiff had flown over the vast esplanade of the sanctuary aboard a helicopter, in a sky reddened and darkened by smoke and ash caused by a forest fire about a hundred kilometers away.

He had already visited the sanctuary in 2017 to canonize two of the shepherds on the occasion of the “apparitions” centenary. Since the beginning of his visit, the longest by a Pope to this Iberian country, he has already addressed numerous topics, such as ecology, social media, the war in Ukraine, and pedocriminality within the Church.

On Thursday and Friday, up to 800,000 faithful flooded the streets of Lisbon before massing in a park overlooking the city center to give him a rock-star welcome, according to authorities’ figures. With AFP

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