by Elise Ann Allen
ROME — When Pope Francis arrives in Portugal for World Youth Day, he’ll be met by the colorful fanfare and palpable excitement characteristic of these gatherings, yet he’ll also have the task of wading through the aftermath of a recent report on clerical abuse in the country.
Set to take place in Lisbon from Aug. 1-6, this year’s World Youth Day (WYD) bonanza holds the theme, “Mary arose and went in haste.”
Pope Francis will visit Portugal from Aug. 2-6, and will open the gathering, hear confessions from young people, preside over a large prayer vigil, and close the event with a Mass that is expected to draw at least one million people. He will also visit the beloved Marian shrine of Fatima during his visit.
In his prayer video for the month of August, which is dedicated to WYD, Pope Francis noted that current Church demographics tend to skew older, but said the Church is “not an old people’s club any more than it is a youth club.
“If it becomes something for old people, it will die. …The Church needs young people so it doesn’t grow old,” he said, and, pointing to the gathering’s theme, said that as soon as Mary found out she was going to be the mother of God, “she didn’t stay there taking a selfie or showing off.”
Rather, the first thing she did “was to set out on a journey, in haste, to serve, to help. You too have to learn from her to set out on a journey to help others,” he said, and voiced hope that a “seed for the world’s future” would be planted during the event in Lisbon.
“We are at war; we need something else. A world that is not afraid of witnessing the Gospel. A joyful world — because if we Christians have no joy, we are not credible, no one will believe us,” he said, asking everyone to join him in praying that WYD will help youth “to set out on the journey, witnessing to the Gospel with our own lives.”
This week’s gathering marks the first WYD since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instituted by Pope Saint John Paul II as a way to reach out to young people and engage them in church life, World Youth Day (WYD) was established in 1985, with the first international gathering taking place in Rome in 1986.
Over the years, WYD got the nickname “Catholic Woodstock” due to the massive crowds of young people high on the Holy Spirit that turn out for the global gatherings.
Originally planned for 2022 but delayed due to COVID-19, the event is expected to draw around one million young people from all over the world, according to local church authorities. Prior to Portugal, the last WYD was held in Panama in 2019.
While the Portuguese church scandals are unlikely to overshadow the joyful atmosphere characteristic of WYD, they have been an important talking point in the country in recent months, and they form part of the backdrop against which the event is taking place.
One of the most anticipated moments during Pope Francis’s trip is a private meeting with survivors of clerical sexual abuse. The event was not included on the official program for the pope’s visit, and the details have been kept confidential to ensure the victims’ privacy.
In an online discussion with journalists accompanying Pope Francis to WYD, the patriarch of Lisbon, Cardinal Manuel José Macário do Nascimento Clemente, said the meeting with abuse survivors was organized by the bishops’ conference.
Victims who will attend the meeting, he said, are known to the various organizations associated with the bishops’ conference and that work with abuse survivors.
Cardinal Clemente said the meeting will be “discreet,” and that the time and place will likely not be announced beforehand, “in order to respect those people who have already suffered a lot.”
Asked whether he thought Pope Francis would ask forgiveness for the abuse perpetrated by church representatives, Clemente said he can’t predict what the pope will say.
“Many popes have asked forgiveness, including we here in Portugal, but I don’t know if he’ll say something directly, explicitly, here, or if he’ll say it on the flight returning to Rome,” he said.
Cardinal Clemente said he does expect Pope Francis to bring the abuse crisis and its many victims with him during his visit to the Fatima shrine, along with other global problems such as the war in Ukraine, the environmental crisis, immigration, and poverty.
“All these things that the pope holds in his heart, will be present in Fatima,” he said.
After arriving in Portugal Aug. 2, Pope Francis will spend his day meeting with Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, and Prime Minister António Costa, as well as civil authorities and the diplomatic corps before meeting with the country’s bishops, priests, deacons, consecrated persons and seminarians.
On his second day in Lisbon, the pope will meet with university students at the Catholic University of Portugal before meeting with youth belonging to the Scholas Occurentes organization and presiding over the official welcome ceremony for WYD celebrations.
The following day, the pope will kick off the morning hearing the confessions of several young people attending WYD before meeting with charity workers. He will then have lunch with a group of around 10 youths from different countries and in the afternoon will preside over the traditional WYD Via Crucis, which will feature prayers as well as songs and performances.
Pope Francis will travel to the Marian shrine of Fatima, the site of the famed 1917 Marian apparitions, on Friday, Aug. 5, where he will pray a rosary with young people who are sick. There has been speculation that while in Fatima, the pope will make some act of entrustment of Russia and Ukraine to Our Lady of Fatima, given Fatima’s association with Russia and the Virgin Mary’s apparent request for the pope to entrust Russia to her immaculate heart, however nothing has been confirmed.
After leaving Fatima, Pope Francis will have lunch privately and will meet privately with members of the Jesuit order in Portugal before presiding over the WYD prayer vigil.
On Aug. 6, his final day in Fatima, the pope will celebrate the closing Mass for WYD and will meet with volunteers assisting with the event before returning to Rome that evening.
In his comments to journalists, Celemente said he expects WYD to be “a nice moment in Lisbon, very strong for everyone,” and that like previous gatherings, it will consist of moments of prayer, catechesis sessions, and moments with the pope.
“It will be a week full of events,” he said, voicing his hope that regardless of the recent abuse scandals, it would be a “joyful” event for everyone who attends. The most unique aspect of the week, and the most exciting part for the youths who come, he said, will undoubtedly be the presence of Pope Francis.