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World Youth Day 2023 in Portugal

I thought this weekend it would be good to do a bit of a show and tell of my trip for World Youth Day in Portugal. Here is a summary of some of the significant highlights!

Portimão- Days in the Diocese

Our group of 27 pilgrims arrived in Lisbon, Portugal on July 26th, and immediately took a two-hour bus to the south coast where we would be staying for the week– the city of Portimão. Portimão was where our group took part in the Days in the Diocese. These events were coordinated by Chemin Neuf, a community composed of consecrated people and married couples, which has its roots in France. This meant that many of the French speaking pilgrims from different countries came here. These days gave us a taste of what we could expect for World Youth Day in Lisbon in many ways. Some of the highlights for me this week were the sunset boat tour of the coast that some of us went on, the sung morning prayer in one of the beautiful local churches, and spending time with one another by the ocean (I really enjoyed the fresh, grilled sardines, a staple food in Portugal).

Sunset Boat Tour off the coast of Portimao
Morning Prayer with some pilgrims at the local church
Enjoying food and fellowship on the beach of Portimao!

Arrival in Lisbon and Opening Mass

We bussed from Portimão back to Lisbon on Monday, not missing some significant views such as the old aqueducts that used to provide water for the city and the amazing 25-metre-tall statue of Christ the King atop an 80-metre platform overlooking Lisbon. Tuesday night was the official Opening Mass with the Cardinal-Patriarch of Lisbon. Here was the first big gathering of World Youth Day, and I was impressed by the sight of so many priests together for the Mass with all the many other pilgrims from the many nations in the crowd that overfilled the park and streets reserved for those events.

Christ the King overlooking Lisbon across the river Tagus
The large traffic circle at the bottom of the park, all decked out for the many events and pilgrims
Priests and clergy gather for the Opening Mass of WYD with the Cardinal in Lisbon

Forgiveness Park

Our pilgrim group of 27 consisted of 3 priests as well as Archbishop Richard of Winnipeg so we typically spent a good portion of many of our afternoons helping with confessions at “Forgiveness Park”, a section within the larger WYD organised “City of Joy”. The priests had appointments scheduled with about 2-hour slots where he would receive pilgrims who had come from all over, depending on the language of the priest. As only an English speaker, I had some downtime when there were none waiting in line, though other times bigger groups had made their way through the long line up and I would get continuous visits. Assisting with this sacrament was one of my favourite aspects of WYD.

The confessionals built for this occasion
Pilgrims from all over come to be reconciled at Forgiveness Park

Conference and Mass with Bishop

Many of the bishops who attended WYD were asked to host conferences in the mornings. Our group decided to go to the one hosted by Archbishop Richard on the topic of “social friendship”, a concept from Pope Francis’ recent encyclical letter Fratelli Tutti. We ended up being the only group there, so we had quite a bit of freedom to discuss and share with him on social friendship, and the conference concluded with the celebration of Mass. After the Mass, we were given a little tour of the church, which had previously been a cloistered Carmelite monastery, but was now functioning as a local parish church with an attached residence for elderly people in need of assistance.

Bishop's conference in a church dating to the 15th century
The church was formerly part of a cloistered Carmelite monastery, the grille still overlooking the altar for Mass
Beside the grille is a small door where the nuns could receive Holy Communion

Welcoming Ceremony for Pope

The Holy Father was officially welcomed to Lisbon by the pilgrims for WYD on Thursday evening. This was when I really began to realise the size of scope for these days as we made our way to the park early to get a decent spot and saw so many other pilgrims going with the same intent. This portion of the city was blocked off for many vehicles and public transportation now with security barriers and brief police checks of bags– all signs that the Pope was going to be here. These same experiences were felt with the Way of the Cross that happened on Friday evening.

Starting to get a sense of how big these days would be as everyone gathers for the Pope
Many pilgrims on the hill overlooking the park where the Pope would drive past on the way to the stage
You can kind of see the papal convoy, along with the cross to be used for the Way of the Cross

Vigil and Mass

Our pilgrim group left our hostel Saturday morning with our overnight gear for the park where we would be staying for the Vigil and Sunday Mass the following morning. We walked with our heavy bags all morning and happily arrived in our assigned sector. With the walk overcome, the next challenge was the lack of shade from the intense afternoon sun. Luckily, our group came together to build a little tarp shelter. As more and more pilgrims joined us in our sector the tarp had to come down, and soon there were people and sleeping bags everywhere– going anywhere meant hopping or stepping over people or gear as best as possible. After a beautiful time of prayer with Pope Francis, we did our best to get a bit of sleep. My brother priests and I were up before the sunrise to make our way to the sector reserved for us to concelebrate at the 9 o’clock Mass, while many of the pilgrims awoke to some morning music played by a priest DJ. The closing and sending Mass of WYD with Pope Francis was a powerful experience with so many pilgrims present, all praying and united together.

Trying to hide from the sun under our tarp shelter in the field where we would camp
All pilgrims kneeling in prayer during Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament happening on the main stage
Up early to get decent seats in the priest sector for the final Mass. Pretty pleased with these!
As many pilgrims sleep, the sun begins to rise and more priests arrive for the final Mass

Fatima and Santarem

With WYD now officially done, our group took a bus to two places outside Lisbon– Fatima in the morning and Santarem in the afternoon. One cannot go to Portugal without making a stop in Fatima, the place where the Blessed Mother appeared to 3 young children. It was a really special place, with the one downside being that we didn’t get enough time to really soak it all in with two different cities to visit in less than 8 hours. Having had a taste though, I shall certainly be back! The next stop was the city of Santarem, to the church known for a Eucharistic miracle. Our group was hoping to be able to get close to the Host involved in the Eucharistic miracle, but we eventually found out that they weren’t permitting people to see it from up close at the time. The Lord provided in a different way, however, when an English-speaking priest began celebrating Mass in the church, so we joined in with the other group present. Instead of seeing a Eucharistic miracle up close, we were able to receive the greatest Eucharistic miracle in Holy Communion. It was a real blessing to celebrate Mass in the church known for the Eucharistic miracle.

The plaza between the two basilicas in Fatima
Inside the original basilica, Our Lady of the Rosary, where the tombs of the 3 who spoke with Mary now lie
The church where the Eucharistic miracle of Santarem now resides, with the Host still contained in a monstrance at the top of the sanctuary

St. Anthony of Lisbon and Cathedral with Final Mass

Our last day in Lisbon, Tuesday, was a free day for our group to split up and do or see anything before our flight back to Canada the following day. I went with the other priests to visit the church of the birthplace of St. Anthony of Padua. I wasn’t aware that Padua, a city in Italy, is only where St. Anthony died, but he was actually born in Lisbon, Portugal. It was a humbling experience to be able to go and pray under the church in a small cove where Pope John Paul II had also gone to pray. Right behind the birthplace of St. Anthony lay the enormous and ancient cathedral of Lisbon, the Cathedral of St. Mary Major, originally dating from 1147, the oldest church in the city. It was wonderful to see and experience the cathedral church where much of the diocese would still gather today for the bigger celebrations of faith with the cardinal-patriarch, as well as its rich history. One of the highlights of the cathedral was the large treasury, a museum-type exhibit of many ancient objects that had been used: vestments, ritual books, vessels, relics, furniture– the highlight perhaps being the Eucharistic Monstrance of King José, weighing 17 kg in gold and arrayed with 4100 precious gems (only the best for Jesus!). Our whole group was able to celebrate our final Mass in Lisbon within the Blessed Sacrament chapel where the main tabernacle is located for the cathedral– such a blessing!

The little cove under the church where St. Anthony was born, now a place of intimate prayer
Behind St. Anthony's church looms the original cathedral of Lisbon, St. Mary Major
Dual organs surround the seat of the Cardinal-Patriarch with the main altar in the centre
Cathedral's Blessed Sacrament chapel where we celebrated our final Mass in Lisbon as a pilgrim group together

In sum, it was a really good experience, challenging parts included, and I’m grateful to have had the chance to accompany the many young adults of our local church here in Manitoba. Please join in prayer with me that the Lord may multiply the fruits of grace within all the lives touched by this and all the many other World Youth Day events—including the upcoming one in South Korea for 2027!

I am, in our Lord, yours.

Fr. Brian Trueman


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