By Jason Cegayle, Animator for Manitoba and Thunder Bay
The 38th World Youth Day was held in Lisbon, Portugal, from August 1 to 6, 2023. The event, created by Pope St. John Paul II, was first held in Rome in 1985. It is an occasion for young Catholics from the world over to celebrate their faith and its diversity through prayer, worship and fellowship. Like others at this international gathering of diverse young people, I partook in a moving journey of faith that culminated in an overnight outdoor vigil and a closing Mass presided by Pope Francis. Here are some of my reflections.
Dictionaries define the word “pilgrimage” in terms of a “journey,” especially one in a foreign land, undertaken for faith. For the 1.5 million pilgrims who came to it, World Youth Day was truly a journey of faith, a moment of encounter and celebration of Catholic youthfulness. They had prepared for the event for a year, bringing with them their burdens, difficulties, joys and hopes for the Church of today.
The theme for World Youth Day 2023 (WYD 2023), derived from the Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth as highlighted in the Gospel according to Luke, was “Mary arose and went with haste” (Luke 1:39).
Presiding the opening Mass, the Patriarch of Lisbon, Cardinal Manuel Clemente, clarified that “the haste is different; it is to share what already carries us forward. That is why it is an urgency that is serene and without trampling. How you got here and how you will be here, bringing to others what brought you.”
WYD 2023 encouraged young people to be beacons of charity to each other, just as Mary, who bore Christ in her womb, journeyed to accompany and serve her pregnant cousin Elizabeth.
The start of the journey
A sea of 5,000 Canadian pilgrims travelled to cities and towns across Portugal for a week of preparatory “Days in the Diocese.” Local dioceses opened their doors and hearts to pilgrims and renowned speakers from around the world, introducing them to Portuguese culture and hosting them in prayer, worship and celebration, prior to official WYD celebration in the nation’s capital.
I had the opportunity to participate with 27 other pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Winnipeg and St. Boniface. We were warmly welcomed by the Diocese of Algarve in Portimão, a warm southern city best known for its golden beaches. Chemin Neuf, a Catholic Charismatic community with an ecumenical spirit of fraternity, service and charity accompanied us and nearly 4,000 other international pilgrims in prayer and worship.
I particularly enjoyed the reflections on the Stations of the Cross, which connected the Passion of Our Lord to the suffering of many young people today. Other highlights included meeting Cardinal Luis Tagle, former president of Caritas Internationalis and an old friend of Development and Peace ― Caritas Canda. Addressing the hundreds of young pilgrims who filled the Igreja Matriz de Portimão church, he underlined the importance of vocation as a call to deepen our relationship with God.
Another familiar face was Canada’s very own Cardinal Michael Czerny, SJ, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. He spoke about integral human development at the Portimão Arena. Later, he said in his homily that “the act of coming to World Youth Day is an act of faith, hope and love.”
Archbishop Richard Gagnon was also in attendance, having travelled with the delegation from Winnipeg. He offered a talk on social friendship in the Santa Teresa de Jesus de Cardine convent. The past president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said, “In the Gospels, we are required to put the work into building relationships with each other to overcome social boundaries.”
It was truly inspiring to hear many conversations and inspirations on the themes of fraternal and social friendship and care for our common home.
I had brought the flag of Development and Peace ― Caritas Canada, which many pilgrims recognized because they knew of Caritas Internationalis. It was a blessing for me to be able to connect many young people to their local Caritas agencies for becoming involved and volunteering. How incredible it is that one little purple flag can inspire so many to become agents of social change!
The pilgrimage to Lisbon
From the sunny beaches of Portimão, it was a two-hour bus ride to the cultural hub of Lisbon, the host city of WYD. Throughout the week, pilgrims could attend workshops on various topics “à la carte.” At the Caritas Internationalis booth, participants learned about the root causes of poverty the impact of climate change. Caritas Portugal organized an interactive scavenger hunt that helped pilgrims discover what various Caritas partners are doing to combat climate change and how to stand in solidarity with them.
Also present was our former animator for Southwestern Ontario, Rebecca Rathbone, who is now the Caritas Internationalis officer promoting youth leadership. To her, “It was amazing to have the opportunity to show the world how crucial young people are to the mission of Caritas, and to share and celebrate their amazing contributions to our confederation every single day all over the world.”
I also met several representatives of the Bartolome de las Casas Institute, including theologian José Luis. This organization, of Development and Peace ― Caritas Canda’s partners in Peru, helps impoverished youths put faith into action through leadership training.
The pilgrim flag finally reached its destination: Campo de Graça, the site of the vigil and closing Mass with Pope Francis. In the evening, pilgrims prayed together during Adoration with Pope Francis. Later that night, we watched “The Letter,” a documentary about five young people’s struggles against climate change. The next morning, we were awoken by the hype music of Portugal’s very own “Priest DJ,” Fr. Guilherme Peixoto!
On the Feast of Transfiguration, Pope Francis urged young people to heed the call of the Gospel of that Sunday: “This is my Son, the Beloved… listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5).
For me, the most powerful moment in Pope Francis’ homily was his plea for young people to be agents of change in the world, responding out of the love of Christ that calls us to listen to His voice and to express His love to those who need it. The Holy Father said, “As young people, you want to change the world… you want to work for justice and peace. You devote all your life’s energy and creativity to this, but it still seems insufficient. Yet, the church and the world need you, the young as much as the earth needs rain.”
Sending forth from the journey
After much time to reflect and pray, I, like many other pilgrims, left revived, with heart and spirit energized to serve the Church. How beautiful is the Catholic faith that teaches us the love of Christ and God for justice, service and charity for his people?
Among those who accompanied us Canadian pilgrims was the Most Rev. Pierre Goudreault, Bishop of Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière and member of Development and Peace ― Caritas Canada’s national council. He was marked by the “climate of fraternity, the sharing of faith between young people, the inspiring messages of Pope Francis and the moments of prayer.” He said, “I return home with a heart filled with wonder, gratitude and confidence in young people!”
Let’s continue keeping young people in our thoughts and prayers as they prepare for the next World Youth Day gathering, which will take place in Seoul, South Korea, in 2027.