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Music, prayer, silent adoration fulfils Aussie pilgrims’ WYD journey

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Pope Francis greets children with a variety of illnesses and physical challenges after reciting the rosary at the Chapel of Apparitions at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fátima in Fátima, Portugal, Aug. 5, 2023. CNS photo/Lola Gomez

World Youth Day Lisbon concludes with music, prayer, adoration, and a call to introduce the world to Jesus Christ

For one magical, joy-filled week, young people filled Lisbon’s streets singing, dancing and waving flags of nearly every nation on earth, including ours.

The official World Youth Day program ended on 6 August with a celebration and a test of endurance for the estimated 1.5 million young Catholics who walked for hours in scorching heat to secure their place for the outdoor vigil and closing Mass with Pope Francis.

The vigil Mass closed out a week of highlights for the 1000 Sydney pilgrims, including catechesis with Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP and US evangelist Bishop Robert Barron, music by Fr Rob Galea and Matt Maher, and the extraordinary silence of more than a million young people deep in Eucharistic adoration in a large field outside of Lisbon city on the final night.

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Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP with the World Youth Day cross. Photo: Supplied

Even the pope seemed younger than his 86 years, often departing from his prepared material to speak from the heart, and pausing to greet and speak with individual pilgrims.

Patriarch of Lisbon Cardinal Manuel Clemente welcomed the pilgrims at the opening Mass on 1 August, two days before the Pope’s arrival, urging them to be inspired by the example of Mary, who “arose and went in haste” to carry Jesus to her cousin Elizabeth—the theme of World Youth Day Lisbon.

“All of you also set out. For many it was a difficult journey due to the distance, the connections, and the costs that the trip required,” the cardinal acknowledged.

“This is how we should face our own lives, as a journey to be travelled.”

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP delivered well-received catecheses on social friendship and ecology, with Q&A time for the young audience of thousands.

Fr Chris de Sousa CRS said that at his catechesis on “social friendship” Archbishop Fisher “didn’t hold back on the hot topics of pro-life, teaching true faith and so many other ways of expressing love of God and humanity.”

“Giving us Our Lady as an example because of her love of prayer, Archbishop Fisher said prayer for us Catholics is at Mass or adoration. We don’t need always noise or a smartphone app … only God and only friendship with him. The church is God’s gift to help us love like great and godly lovers. As His Grace said, let this WYD do this.”

Catechesis with Bishop Barron was another highlight for many Australians, with Sydney priest Fr Bijoy Joseph Bishop saying the 4 August session was “clear and concise.”

“He explained that prayer was the ‘one thing necessary’, that it involved ‘wasting time with God’, and that silence was necessary for one to enter into prayer,” Fr Joseph said.

“He then offered some practical points such as praying the rosary, prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and the Jesus prayer.

“One point that particularly struck me (as well as many of the young people) was his distinction that most people think that prayer is the movement of the will to the absent good, but in doing so miss that prayer should also be the will savouring the present good of God.”

Priests offered Masses and the sacrament of reconciliation throughout the week, with the Holy Father also taking time to hear pilgrims’ confessions.

A performance-style meditation on the Stations of the Cross with the Holy Father, involving testimonies from youth about their struggles in life, was another centrepiece of the program.

Fr Ben Saliba, Fr John Nguyen OFM Cap, and Fr Lewi Barakat await the vigil.

However, it left a few pilgrims as mystified as they were edified.

“I was moved by the youth-focused reflections and the testimonies that were scattered throughout the stations,” said pilgrim Brendan Bourizk.

“An interesting choice of interpretive dancing was used to reenact the moments of Our Lord’s Passion, bringing to some a novel way of expressing those last solemn moments of Jesus’ life.

“I however along with others felt confused and were left guessing what the performance was trying to say at each station and longed for a more reverent and prayerful experience.

“Nevertheless, praying with the million or so youth and the Holy Father both at the stations of the cross and in Eucharistic Adoration at the vigil, I realised that the whole church is on display here, from top to bottom, from Pope all the way down to lay faithful, even has young as babies. In these moments together we are witnessing to the world the reality of Christ’s presence in the church, his mystical body.”

Saturday was given over for pilgrims to make their way by foot to the vigil site, carrying sleeping bags, food kits, blue tarps and umbrellas for shade, braving a severe weather warning, high 30s temperatures and smoke haze from nearby bushfires.

“We then waited until the Holy Father arrived with lots of chaos and hype as thousands gathered,” Sydney Catholic Youth’s Anna Harrison said.

Archbishop Fisher with pilgrims.

“While the testimonies and music were lovely and the thrill of seeing many young Catholics inspiring, the real highlight was the stark silence that accompanied the beginning of adoration. You could hear a pin drop as our Lord was exposed. The minutes were very sacred and many pilgrims I’ve spoken to agree it was a highlight. To get that many people in one place fixated and silent was miraculous.”

The sight of a sea of people preparing to sleep outdoors before the final morning Mass prompted Juliette Khoury to reflect on John Paul II’s original vision for World Youth Day and the purpose of the extraordinary effort it entails.

“What motivates 1.5m people to trek from all around the world, enduring unimaginably huge crowds and extreme weather to gather in this way?” she asked.

“Perhaps one purpose is unity. We know that ‘it is not good for man to be alone’, that we are created to be relational, and at the core, each person wants to be connected to others and the world in which they live.

“As Catholics in the modern age it is easy to feel like the isolated minority, especially for young people.

“The World Youth Day gathering, in particular the final Mass of biblical proportions, confirms a sense of belonging to something significantly larger than oneself, to something relevant, something unfathomably powerful and joyful.

“For many young people, this is the doorway through which they enter into holiness, into the world of endless riches that is our faith.”

Sydney’s pilgrims have travelled to Fatima after World Youth Day for a three-day retreat before returning home.

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