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American youth come alive at national gathering in Lisbon

American flag WYD Lisbon

Photo by Isabella H. de Carvalho / IMedia

Isabella H. de Carvalho - published on 08/03/23

At the US bishops' National Pilgrim gathering at World Youth Day in Portugal, American young people cheered, prayed, and sang as they rejoiced in being together.

“This is my first World Youth Day and I absolutely love it, I love getting to wave the flag,” says James, a 17-year-old from New York who can barely contain his excitement as he waves a large American flag over his head. The restless crowd that has taken over the Quinta das Conchas Park in Lisbon matches James’ enthusiasm, as the sound of live performances mixes in with chants repeating “U-S-A, U-S-A.”

The US bishops organized a National Pilgrim gathering in Lisbon on the evening of August 2, featuring Bishop Robert Barron of Winona-Rochester as a main speaker, along with testimonies of faith and Eucharistic adoration. Despite the presence of international pilgrims as well, this gathering was a moment for Americans to get together and make their voices heard in all their expressions, before returning to the international mix of World Youth Day. 

“It has been super fun to encounter people from different parts of the world but to find people from the US has been really impactful,” says David Zamora, a 23-year-old seminarian from the Los Angeles region. He explains he is glad to see “the faith alive” in places where he speaks the same language and is familiar with the ways to worship. 

The US is one of the most represented countries at WYD with more than 25,000 pilgrims coming to Lisbon, according to the USCCB. Some 60 bishops have also come to accompany their young people. At the gathering, each bishop present got on stage and introduced himself and his diocese, causing the crowd to erupt in loud cheers every time, giving their prelates a celebrity treatment. 

Pilgrims confess in an open confessionals area in Belem, Lisbon, during the World Youth Day

The Church is alive through it’s young people 

“Let Christ come to life in you, set your heart on fire and then you’ll know who you are. Through your mission you will find joy and transfigure the world,” Bishop Barron told the audience, who listened attentively. “The gospel says when you hear about the Lord Jesus Christ and he takes possession of your heart, you know who you are.”

“I think many would have us believe that the Church is a thing of the past, but as you look around this park today the Church is very much alive,” said 33-year-old Father Karim Smith, from the Archdiocese of New York, responding to a question on what it is like being a Catholic in the USA today. “I think we have our difficulties and our fights, but the Church in every age has had them. We are the Church of Now, as Pope Francis calls the young people. We are here to do the work and are eager to do it because God is alive.”

“It is so great to see everyone, we are all here for one reason: Jesus. It is amazing. I will definitely take back with me to the US a sense of understanding that the Church is really the universal Church,” explained James.

International pilgrims share the faith at US gathering 

Amidst the American and US state flags, banners from India, the UK, Ireland, Poland and more could be spotted above the sea of people. The US national gathering attracted many international pilgrims, who were just as excited to cheer, pray, and share the faith with their American friends. 

“We all want to listen to Bishop Barron!” said 25-year-old Jubia, from Cardiff (Wales, UK) who was part of a group representing the youth movement of the Syro-Malabar Church, an Eastern Catholic Church based in India. “We are a combined mission made up of the youth movements of different Syro-Malabar eparchies, including from the US, Canada, Australia, UK and Europe. We came along with our American friends to experience this.”

Victoria, 22, and Lucrezia, 19, part of the youth group of the Vilnius Cathedral in Lithuania, also said they came because some people in their 16-person group listened to Bishop Barron’s podcast. They had had their own Lithuanian meeting earlier in the day, and said they were touched by how Portuguese people attended their Mass and noticed how they pray and worship. Similarly, they then came to attend the US national gathering. “It is very nice to see how different cultures praise God,” said Victoria.

At the end of the event, as the sun was starting to set, a eucharistic procession and adoration was held. As the Blessed Sacrament passed through the crowds of excited pilgrims, a silence descended as people of all nationalities kneeled, closed their eyes, and prayed. 

World Youth Day
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