Pope Francis, 1.5 million youth to World Youth Day

July 11, 2023

Pope Francis uses incense as he venerates a statue of Our Lady of Fatima during the canonization Mass of Sts. Francisco and Jacinta Marto, two of the three Fatima seers, at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal, May 13, 2017. The Vatican announced the pope will return to Fatima Aug. 5 while in Portugal for World Youth Day. (CNS photo)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis will have nine events with young people, including hearing their confessions and eating lunch with them, during his Aug. 2 to 6 trip to Portugal.

He will arrive in Lisbon on Aug. 2, where he will be welcomed by Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, president of Portugal, and meet with government officials, including Prime Minister António Costa. The pope will then pray vespers with local bishops, priests, religious, seminarians and pastoral workers.

Pope Francis will begin his activities with young people on Aug. 3, meeting with students from the Catholic University of Portugal as well as participants in the local branch of Scholas Occurrentes, an education initiative the pope has been involved with since he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires.

The following morning the pope will hear young people’s confessions. He will then meet with aid workers from local charities before having lunch with young people at the Apostolic Nunciature in Lisbon. In the evening, he will participate in the Stations of the Cross with young people.

On Aug. 5, Pope Francis will visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Fátima and pray the Rosary with young people who are ill.

The Marian shrine at Fátima is connected to Pope Francis’ public prayer appeals for an end the war in Ukraine. In March 2022, just over one month after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the pope consecrated both countries to Mary’s immaculate heart, praying before a statue of Our Lady of Fátima in St. Peter’s Basilica. Before her death, Sister Lúcia dos Santos, one of the three Portuguese children who claimed to see apparitions of Our Lady of Fátima in 1917, had said Mary requested that Russia be consecrated to her immaculate heart by a reigning pope to bring peace to the world.

Previous popes had consecrated Russia to Mary’s immaculate heart in various forms but had never mentioned the country by name as Pope Francis did in 2022.

In 2017, Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the shrine to mark 100 years since the apparitions of Our Lady of Fátima as part of a quick trip to Portugal that lasted just over 24 hours. He canonized Francisco Marto and Jacinta Marto, the cousins of Sister dos Santos, who also saw Mary at Fátima. Francisco in 1919 at the age of 10, while Jacinta succumbed to her illness in 1920 at the age of 9. Sister dos Santos died in 2005 at the age of 97.

Pope Francis will end his trip to Portugal by celebrating the closing Mass for World Youth Day along the Portuguese coast.

About 1.5 million young Catholics are expected to attend World Youth Day in Lisbon. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston will be taking 106 young adult pilgrims to participate in the event. It will be the Catholic Church’s first global event since the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

Bryce Kathage will likely be the “youngest” in the crowd. The third-year nursing student at Australian Catholic University (ACU), who also has served in the Australian military’s infantry corps, became a Catholic at Easter, inside the chapel where he experienced his first Mass. The World Youth Day in Lisbon will be his first international Catholic encounter.

“At the start of the year, I didn’t even know what World Youth Day was,” Kathage said. “Admittedly, I still have a lot to learn about the Catholic faith, I’ve really only learned the basics, but hopefully, I can come back from World Youth Day with a lot more knowledge to share with the community here at ACU.”

As the U.S. Catholic bishops heard at their spring assembly’s June 16 plenary session in Orlando, World Youth Day 2023 can be not just a singular event but become a movement to uplift the Church for years and generations to come.

“Let’s consider more ways to leverage this moment for the mission of the Church,” Bishop Robert E. Barron of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, said.

He told the U.S. bishops that World Youth Day, both in Lisbon, Portugal and in accompanying stateside celebrations, can be “the start of a movement in our Church that can renew our hope, rejuvenate our communities, and rekindle our missionary mandate.”

Bishop Edward J. Burns of Dallas, the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops’ episcopal liaison to World Youth Day, said that among the more than a million Catholics set to gather at the event will be 26,000 pilgrims — most of whom are young adults over the age of 18 — from more than 900 pilgrimage groups across the United States. That number is more than double the number of U.S. pilgrims from 2019 World Youth Day in Panama.

This World Youth Day, U.S. pilgrims, including the attending clergy and religious, were asked to lead and participate in synodal catechetical sessions called “Rise Up!” so “young people,” Bishop Burns said, “can engage in prayer and open dialogue with bishops.”

Bishop Barron, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth, stressed the importance of local stateside celebrations in dioceses.
“We need to give all the young people in our dioceses the opportunity to feel this global solidarity,” he said.

World Youth Day is an event that was initiated by St. John Paul II in 1985 and is meant to gather Catholic young people from around the world for several days of prayer, catechesis and community.