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Never the same: WYD pilgrims head home renewed

Pope Francis receives a JMJ (WYD) plaque from a volunteer during the closing mass of the World Youth Days

Photo by Handout / VATICAN MEDIA / AFP

Cyprien Viet - Isabella H. de Carvalho - published on 08/07/23

After 2 emotionally-charged weeks, the more than 1M participants of the Lisbon WYD will be returning home with their faith renewed. Many of them testify to their desire to live a committed life in the service of others, free from the clutches of the virtual world.

“I can live my life without fear and hesitation,” said Adela, a 34-year-old South Korean, at the end of the WYD in Lisbon. “I received a lot of courage and power from Pope Francis. It was incredible,” reflected the young woman, whose country will host the next WYD in four years’ time.

Very touched by the benevolence of the Portuguese — who she describes as “very kind, pure and blessed” — Adela said she is “really looking forward” to WYD in Seoul. “I hope we see many people from around the world come to our country with gratitude and joy and with an atmosphere like this,” she said, indicating the pilgrims camped out around her. Adela noted the challenges that young people face in her country, such as a particularly competitive culture for school and jobs, with alcohol and social networks as outlets.

“Young people compete with each other,” laments Adela, who would like the Church to be more welcoming to them.

“I believe this [attitude] must come not only from other young people, but also from priests, nuns, and the laity. We need to help each other and we need to focus on social problems,” she explains.

Breaking away from cell phones

Johannes, a 17-year-old from Germany, was excited to experience his first WYD in Lisbon. “It was very nice, I took part in a lot of events in which famous people prayed, and they gave me a lot of inspiration for my future life, and that really helped me to be motivated for my graduation.”

“I’m going to change my life when I get back to Germany because I was very addicted to cell phones. I hope things will get better and I’ll look at the world in a different way,” he says.

Youth “transfigured in the image of Christ”

Céline, a 44-year-old woman accompanying the group from the Diocese of French Guyana, ended the WYD with a sore knee, protected in a knee brace. Along the steep and rocky avenues and streets of Lisbon, medical teams attended to a large number of young people suffering from heat exhaustion, sprains, and physical difficulties due to the long pilgrimage-walk to the location where the final events were held. 

But despite it all, faith and joy prevail. “Our bodies are bruised, but we are transfigured in the image of Christ. A lot has happened in these two weeks, a lot of healing, a lot of moving towards God’s ways … That’s what’s important! We’ll see about the body afterwards,” Céline assured.

“Understanding the importance of commitment”

François-Léopold, a young man from Paris, had already taken part in WYD Krakow in 2016 as a pilgrim. He wanted to experience WYD in Lisbon in a different way and decided to serve people with disabilities, with the “A Bras Ouverts” (“With Open Arms”) association. “It was more intense, but very beautiful! You give a lot of yourself, your energy and your time, but you also receive a lot more,” he explained.

The young man he accompanied throughout WYD, Gabriel, who has a speech impediment, is reluctant to answer any questions. “I’m going home happier than before. That’s all I can say,” he said, as his companions look on with admiration. “Gabriel taught me a lot, and helped me to make the most of every moment,” explained François-Léopold. “It helps me understand the importance of commitment. For young people, commitment is fundamental,” insists the young Parisian.

His friend Pierre-Louis explains that the “festive atmosphere” of WYD 2016 had already “made him aware of the catholicity of the Church,” but this time he came with more maturity.

“Now, I’m more in the logic of returning, of giving back what I’ve received. What’s amazing about this WYD is the amount of work that went into preparing the event. What we received, we owe to other people. And now, as we return to Paris, we have to pass on this gift. I think we’re going to have to remind young French people that the message of joy they received at WYD will have to be passed on and transformed, through commitments and vocations,” he explained.

Sophie, who also came with the “A Bras Ouverts” association, says she was “amazed by the time spent in prayer with disabled people.”

“Their way of thanking God will remain engraved in my memory. I’ll be going home with a lighter heart, and with the conviction that faith enters every heart,” she said.

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