LISBON – Pope Francis closed his five-day trip to Portugal Sunday thanking the 24,000 volunteers who helped organize the global World Youth Day gathering, saying service to others helps them grow in love of God.

After hearing the experiences of three of the volunteers, he praised their tireless efforts, saying, “You have labored for months, quietly, without fuss, not seeking the limelight, so that we could all be here to sing together.”

“You have been a good example, because you worked together as a team! Yet your efforts have been more than work, they were a service, and service is the first testimony of what we have been saying in these days: that love is freely given, that we love through what we do,” he said.

Lisbon is a port city, and referring to the great waves that crash upon it, the pope said the volunteers had been called upon to cope with a “great wave” of youth that washed through the city during World Youth Day.

“I want to tell you: keep it up, keep going,” the pope said. “Ride the waves of charity, be ‘surfers of love’!”

Pope Francis arrived in Lisbon Wednesday, Aug. 5, and throughout the week has met with national civil authorities and presided over several main events for the World Youth Day (WYD) gathering, including its closing Mass Sunday morning.

He also made a brief visit to Fatima on Saturday, where he prayed the rosary with sick young people and youth in prison.

In his meeting with volunteers, the pope pointed to several biblical figures who also showed a spirit of service, including the Virgin Mary, saying, “Those who love do not stand idly by, but hasten toward others.”

He praised the volunteers for working round the clock to make things run smoothly, even when they were tired, saying, “You have done much running about, yet never in a frenetic or aimless way that can sometimes characterize our world.”

“That kind of racing around does not lead to an encounter with others, indeed it can become an escape from relationships,” he said, but said the volunteers who offered their time “always ran ahead knowing where you were going: toward real sisters and brothers, to love and serve them in the name of Jesus, who came to serve and not to be served.”

Francis said he wanted to amplify their servile efforts and pointed to the testimonies given by some of the volunteers, saying their words were a reminder that “meeting Christ is the most important encounter, the one that drives every other, that moves life forward.”

He pointed to how one volunteer named Francisco spoke of finding something he needed through his service that he didn’t even know he was looking for, saying, “As you walked, worked and prayed with others, you realized that you could not let yourself be imprisoned by the mess, the ‘unmade beds’ of the past, nor live with a feeling of being unfulfilled.”

The remark about “unmade beds” was likely a reference to the throngs of young people who slept outside on the grass overnight after Saturday’s prayer vigil in order to secure their places for the closing Mass the next day.

“With the help of Jesus and your brothers and sisters, you were given the opportunity to tidy ‘the room of life,’” the pope said, referring to Francisco’s testimony.

Having one’s life in order is important, the pope said, saying, “When we feel that things are not going well, we often throw ourselves into other things, which then become anesthetics, escape routes, but which do not solve the problem.”

“Yet to put life in order we do not need distractions, money or things. We need to enlarge our heart, expanding it by opening it up to love,” he said.

Pope Francis also noted how Franciso in his testimony said that as he worked he felt like shouting that he wanted to be a saint to everyone.

“In the end that is the only thing that counts, and it will make us joyful. So why not shout it out all together, each in your own language: ‘I want to be a saint!’” he said, telling them to shout even louder.

Noting that another volunteer said he met both Jesus and others in his service, the pope said “The encounter with Jesus is a personal and unique moment, which can only be described and recounted up to a certain point, but it always comes through a journey made with others, made through the intercession of others,” including those at home.

World Youth Day, he said, “cannot be reduced to a moment, but is part of a history that precedes and follows it.”

“So, I urge you, keep going along the path you have taken, so that World Youth Day will continue tomorrow: at home, in the parish, at school and at university, carrying on the group’s journey with others and always bearing witness!” Francis said.

He closed making a reference to the famed Portuguese seaside town of Nazare, known for its tall waves and which is a popular surfer destination.

Pope Francis told the volunteers to “carry on, keep riding these waves of charity, be propelled by love! May your World Youth Day service be the first of many waves of goodness. Each time, you will be carried higher, closer to God, and this will let you see your path from a better vantage point.”

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen