Saturday, 2nd December 2023

Pope winds up Portugal visit with big outdoor Mass

Pope Francis celebrated an open-air Mass before a huge crowd on Sunday at a waterside park near Lisbon to wrap up an international jamboree of Catholic youth.

Pope Francis greets South Korean pilgrims during the closing mass of the World Youth Days (WYD) in Tejo Park, Lisbon, on August 6, 2023. – Around one million pilgrims from all over the world will attend the World Youth Day, the largest Catholic gathering in the world, created in 1986 by John Paul II. (Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)

Pope Francis celebrated an open-air Mass before a huge crowd on Sunday at a waterside park near Lisbon to wrap up an international jamboree of Catholic youth.

Around 1.5 million people attended the service at the Parque Tejo park on the eastern outskirts of the Portuguese capital, the Vatican said.

The crowd waved national flags and cheered as the 86-year-old pope arrived at the park, which was built for the occasion on a former landfill site.

Many had camped out overnight in sleeping bags or floor mats after attending a vigil in the park held by the pope.

In his homily, Francis thanked the youth for taking part in the festival, calling them “the hope of a different world”.

He also urged the crowd to extend their “affection and prayers” to those who could not come “because of armed conflicts and wars”.

“There are many of them in our world. In thinking of this continent, I feel great sorrow for beloved Ukraine, which continued to suffer greatly,” he added to applause.

With little shade in the park, pilgrims protected themselves from the blazing sun with umbrellas or makeshift tents made from sheets.

Portugal’s state weather agency has issued a “red” alert — its highest level — for Lisbon on Sunday due to the heat, with temperatures forecast to hit 41 degrees Celsius (106 degrees Fahrenheit).

“It’s extraordinary to be able to be here to see our Pope Francis who has managed to gather people from the whole world,” Pimentel Gomes, a 52-year-old priest from Brazil, told AFP as he sat for breakfast before the Mass.

– ‘Touching’ –
The pope, who now uses a wheelchair or walking stick to get around, will meet with the thousands of event volunteers on Sunday afternoon to thank them before flying back to Rome.

This was his first foreign trip since he spent nine nights in hospital after undergoing hernia surgery in June.

Charlotte Bordas, a 26-year-old who came from Mont-de-Marsan in southwestern France, said she was moved to see the pope had made the trip despite his health problems.

“We see he’s really tired, weakened, but he still took the time to come to see us, talk to us, and it is particularly touching for me to see him,” she told AFP.

Francis arrived in Portugal on Wednesday for World Youth Day, a six-day international Catholic jamboree featuring festive, cultural and religious events.

It comes as Francis attempts to galvanise young Catholics at a time when secularism and priest paedophilia scandals cause some to abandon pews in Europe.

The pope met 13 victims of clerical abuse at the Holy See’s diplomatic mission in Lisbon during his first day in Portugal.

“The meeting was held in an atmosphere of intense listening and lasted more than an hour,” the Vatican said.

– ‘Moment of joy’ –
He also met 15 youths from war-torn Ukraine’s delegation, visited a community centre in Lisbon’s impoverished Serafina neighbourhood and prayed at the shrine of Fatima north of the Portuguese capital.

“It has been an extraordinary moment of joy, of energy, with remarkable speeches by the Holy Father, with very important messages,” Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa told public television RTP before Sunday’s Mass.

Francis has received an enthusiastic welcome throughout his visit to the Catholic-majority country, with well-wishers lining the streets to see him go by.

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 pandemic, is the fourth for Francis after Rio de Janeiro in 2013, Krakow in 2016 and Panama in 2019.

At the end of Sunday’s Mass, the pope announced that Seoul in South Korea would host the next edition in 2027.

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