Catholic Church: The Pope Takes Flight to Lisbon’s World Youth Day, One Million Young People Expected

The Pope Francis has flown to Lisbon where one million young Catholics are expected for the 16th edition of World Youth Day (WYD).

The 86-year-old Pope Francis flew to Lisbon on Wednesday, August 2, where one million young pilgrims from all continents are gathered to participate in World Youth Day (WYD), a major event for a Catholic Church reflecting on its future.

With 11 speeches and around twenty meetings, the program for this 42nd trip abroad is busy for the Argentinian Jesuit, just two months after a major abdominal surgery.

War in Ukraine, ecology, social justice: Jorge Bergoglio, whose direct and spontaneous style is popular with young people, is expected to address themes that are dear to this generation as the Catholic Church faces the challenge of secularization in Europe.

The Pope’s plane, which took off from Rome in the early morning, is expected to arrive at 10 a.m. (9 a.m. GMT) at Lisbon’s military airport. He will be greeted by Portuguese conservative President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, with whom he will then have a meeting at the Belém Palace.

In total, organizers are expecting one million pilgrims from more than 200 countries for this week of festive, cultural, and spiritual events that began on Tuesday with a mass at the top of a hill overlooking the city center and the Tagus Estuary.

In recent days, the Portuguese capital has been filled with groups of pilgrims carrying flags from all over the world, while banners and posters with the yellow, green, and red logo of the event decorate the streets.

About 16,000 members of law enforcement and medical services are deployed for the occasion, and several roads and metro stations will be closed, a challenge for this city of 550,000 inhabitants that already attracts many tourists during the summer period.

Less than two months before the opening of a global gathering in Rome to discuss the future of the Church, this event also serves as a gauge of young Catholics’ stance on issues such as the inclusion of LGBT+ individuals, the marriage of priests, and the role of women. These are all subjects on which Francis has gradually outlined reforms during his ten-year pontificate.

Speech to authorities

Prior to the first meeting with young people on Thursday, Wednesday will be devoted to authorities and the clergy of the country, where 80% of the 10 million inhabitants identify as Catholics.

Francis will deliver his first speech at midday to the authorities and diplomatic corps at the Belém Cultural Center, then he will speak in the late afternoon to the Portuguese clergy at the Jeronimos Monastery, a famous 16th-century building on the banks of the Tagus River.

As the fourth Pope to visit Portugal, where he had already traveled to in 2017, Francis may take the opportunity to address the sensitive issue of pedocriminality within the Church, six months after the publication of a shocking report by an independent expert commission.

The report, published in February at the request of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference, revealed the existence of 4,815 minor victims of sexual violence within a religious context since 1950, acts that were systematically concealed by the Church hierarchy.

According to the Portuguese Episcopal Conference and the head of the local organizing committee of WYD, the Pope is also expected to privately meet with victims of sexual assault on minors, a meeting that is not currently included in the official program.

On Saturday, the Pope will make a brief visit to the Marian sanctuary of Fatima (central Portugal) before returning to Lisbon to participate in a large vigil in a park in the nearby suburbs, and preside over the final mass the next day.

Originally scheduled for August 2022 but postponed due to the pandemic, this event created in 1986 by John Paul II, which is the largest Catholic gathering in the world, revolves around numerous events (concerts, prayer and exchange times, conferences, debates, etc.).

After Rio de Janeiro (Brazil, 2013), Krakow (Poland, 2016), and Panama City (Panama, 2019), these are the fourth World Youth Days for Francis, whose health appears increasingly fragile. Hospitalized three times since 2021, he now moves around in a wheelchair or with the support of a cane.


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