Pope's vigil in Portugal draws 1.5 million pilgrims


Published: 2023-08-06 12:16

Last Updated: 2024-05-22 02:53

Pope's vigil in Portugal draws 1.5 million pilgrims
Pope's vigil in Portugal draws 1.5 million pilgrims

A sea of 1.5 million pilgrims packed a riverside park near Lisbon on Saturday for a vigil held by Pope Francis as part of a global Catholic youth festival.

Worshippers cheered as the 86-year-old pontiff slowly drove by on his "popemobile" to the stage at the Parque Tejo on the outskirts of the Portuguese capital.

"We are the pope's youths!" they chanted as national flags fluttered in the crowd estimated at around 1.5 million people according to the Vatican, citing local officials.

The Argentine pope urged the crowd to "pick themselves up" whenever they suffer a setback in life.

"Those who remain on the ground have retired from life, have lost their hopes and dreams," he added.

Drones formed the words "rise up" and "follow me" in the sky above the stage as the pope spoke.

Many waited for hours under a blazing sun for the start of the vigil, singing, dancing and playing cards to pass the time at the park, which was built for the occasion on a former landfill site.

There was little shade, and worshippers protected themselves from the sun with umbrellas or makeshift tents made from sheets, or tried to cool off by pouring water over their heads.

- 'Powerful moments' -

Portugal's state weather office has put Lisbon on alert for scorching temperatures that reached nearly 36 degrees Celsius (97 Fahrenheit) on Saturday.

Charlotte Bordas, a 26-year-old who came from Mont-de-Marsan in southwestern France, said she was moved to see people from around the world at the event.

"We hear all languages spoken and we see the same joy on people's faces," she told AFP.

"Gathering around the pope and praying together are very powerful moments that give hope and strengthen our personal faith."

The vigil is part of World Youth Day festivities, which is actually a week of religious, cultural and festive events held every three years in a different city.

Santi Salvador, a 19-year-old Spanish student, said he walked to Lisbon from Barcelona to attend the event, a distance of some 1,300 kilometers (800 miles).

"We left 40 days ago... It's a pilgrimage to see the pope," he told AFP.

The leader of the world's 1.3 billion Roman Catholics will deliver a final open-air mass on Sunday morning at the Parque Tejo before returning to Rome.

Many pilgrims who attended Saturday's vigil planned to sleep in the park to be there for the service.

- 'Everyone can enter' -

Earlier Saturday, Francis visited the shrine of Fatima, a revered site north of Lisbon devoted to the Virgin Mary, where he was welcomed by around 200,000 people.

He recited the rosary with sick and disabled youths at the chapel built on the spot where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to three shepherd children in 1917.

In an address to the crowd, the pontiff reinforced calls made many times during his trip for an inclusive Church.

"This little chapel where we find ourselves, is like a beautiful image of the Church, welcoming, without doors," he said in improvised remarks.

"The Church does not have doors, so that everyone can enter," he added to applause from the crowd.

The pope prayed in silence for several minutes before a statue of the Virgin Mary in the chapel.

In a text published later on Twitter, recently rebranded as X, the pontiff said he had prayed for the "church and the world, especially for countries at war".

The pontiff, who now uses a wheelchair or walking stick to get around, arrived in Portugal on Wednesday for the World Youth Day jamboree.

World Youth Day, created in 1986 by John Paul II, is the largest Catholic gathering in the world and features a wide range of events, including concerts and prayer sessions.

This edition, initially scheduled for August 2022 but postponed because of the Covid pandemic, will be the fourth for Francis after Rio de Janeiro in 2013, Krakow in 2016 and Panama in 2019.