After recovering from hernia surgery two months ago, Pope Francis embarks on a significant five-day journey to Lisbon for World Youth Day, a major Catholic event that is expected to attract a million pilgrims.
Despite being 86 years old and dealing with recent health issues, which led to a nine-night hospital stay in June—his third since 2021—the Argentine pontiff maintains a busy schedule in Portugal. Pope Francis, an outspoken Jesuit known for his close connection with the faithful, is especially adored among young Catholics. During the event, he is likely to address topics close to their hearts, such as climate change and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
World Youth Day, held every two or three years, encompasses a week of religious, cultural, and festive activities. This gathering is also a chance for the Catholic Church to reaffirm its relevance, particularly following decades of scandals involving clerical child sex abuse that left many followers feeling alienated.
Organizers anticipate approximately one million pilgrims from all corners of the world, with the Portuguese government suggesting the number could reach 1.5 million.
This trip marks Pope Francis’ first journey abroad since his surgery. Throughout the visit, he is scheduled to make 11 public statements and engage in numerous meetings, including a visit to the shrine of Fatima, north of Lisbon, on Saturday.
Amid concerns about the Pope’s health, Americo Aguiar, the auxiliary bishop of Lisbon and the event’s organizer, acknowledges the need for flexibility in the program. They are making necessary adjustments to accommodate the Pope, who frequently uses a wheelchair. Efforts include minimizing the number of times he needs to enter and exit a car.
Overall, Pope Francis’s presence in Lisbon for World Youth Day signifies a momentous occasion for Catholics worldwide, and the event will undoubtedly leave a lasting impact on both the Church and its followers.
Despite some groups of Catholics experiencing a waning of faith, the commitment to their beliefs remains strong among certain segments, especially among students, as highlighted by Jose Pereira Coutinho, a sociologist at the Catholic University of Portugal.
Americo Aguiar emphasized the significant influence of Pope Francis, particularly on young people who may have a distant relationship with the Church. Many youths who do not regularly attend Sunday mass find inspiration and connection through the Pope, making him a magnetic figure for them. This observation prompts the need for a different approach to engagement with this demographic.
Originally planned for August 2022, the Lisbon World Youth Day, being the 16th international edition, is an immensely significant gathering of Catholics worldwide. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event had to be postponed. Conceived by the late Pope John Paul II, the current World Youth Day is the fourth one overseen by Pope Francis, who assumed the role of the head of the Catholic Church in 2013. Past editions of the event were held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (2013), Krakow, Poland (2016), and Panama City, Panama (2019).
Lisbon marks the 42nd overseas visit for Pope Francis, who will subsequently embark on trips to Mongolia in early September and Marseille, France, on September 23rd. His travels underscore the global significance of his role as the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church and his commitment to connecting with people from diverse cultures and backgrounds.