LISBON – Youths attending WYD in Lisbon this week alongside hundreds of thousands of their peers have marveled at the electric atmosphere, saying the joy and enthusiasm pulsating through the city is proof that faith is not merely something for generations past, but is alive and well for young people.
Natasha Corranado, who hails from Atlanta, said she came to World Youth Day (WYD) because she wanted “to be in a place where we can share our joy with so many people. It’s exciting.”
“Being here shows you that being Catholic is not only for old people and it brings you together and helps you form a community internationally,” she said, saying, “Everybody is so on fire. It really makes the world feel a lot smaller.”
Fellow Altanta pilgrims Suzanna Perak and Carlay Solorzano said they love seeing “the universality of the church” on display.
“It’s amazing, it’s a lot of walking and there’s a lot of people everywhere, but the atmosphere is unmatched,” Solorzano said.
Perak said she has loved meeting people on the subway and joining other groups in song as they walk through the streets of Lisbon and has already had several “really deep conversations that will definitely stay with me for a while.”
Yet despite her conviction that the faith is not just for the elderly, Corranado said she appreciates their presence and advice, as well as Pope Francis’s insistence on intergenerational ties.
“Sometimes when you’re young, I think we think that we’re never going to die or get old, and then you talk to your grandparents and your parents see that they’ve been through what you’ve been through, and they have the faith and can show you have to live it throughout those different stages,” she said, saying her grandmother was the first person she called when they visited the Marian shrine of Fatima.
Around one million young people from over 200 countries around the world are expected to turn out for this week’s global World Youth Day event in Lisbon, which holds the theme, “Mary went in haste.”
Pope Francis is the guest of honor for the event. He is on an official Aug. 2-6 trip to Portugal during which he is meeting with various groups and presiding over several key WYD events.
On Friday morning he heard the confessions of three young people before visiting a social center and eating lunch with a group of 10 youths, and he is scheduled to preside of the praying of the WYD Via Crucis in the evening.
He is slated to visit the Marian shrine of Fatima Saturday, after which he will lead a WYD prayer vigil and close the WYD gathering with Mass on Sunday.
Yet with the pope in town, it’s not only the youth who feel young, but also the bishops who accompany them.
Speaking to Crux, Bishop Oscar Solis of Salt Lake City said this is his very first time attending a WYD, leading a group of 21 pilgrims, and that he loves being around the young crowds.
“They are enthusiastic, happy, a wild bunch of kids who are enflamed by the Holy Spirit and filled with joy. They’re wonderful to be with, I feel younger again,” he said.
Solis said the “non-stop action and non-stop joy and enthusiasm” is energizing, and that many people don’t realize youth feel this way about the faith.
“We always consider them as the future of our church, no, they are the church right now. If we can really bring them all together in our churches, in our community, you will see a different kind of vitality in the life of the Catholic Church all over the world,” he said.
Similarly, Bishop James Golka of Colorado Springs, who brought a group of 36 youths, said his trip was off to a rough start, as his flight was delayed and his luggage arrived late, but that it had not taken away from the spirit of the event.
“Today I spent a couple of hours on the subway with people singing and dancing, just making friends with people cross-culturally, with different languages. It’s a bigger sense of humanity,” Golka told Crux.
“When people realize that they are together and have support it gives you so much strength and so much direction. I’ve seen that happen again and again, and it’s a joy to witness that,” he said, adding, “being surrounded by hundreds of thousands of other Catholics gives you all the impetus you need to run forward with God, and it’s fun to watch that.”
Golka said the cross-cultural relationships that are formed are one of the most striking aspects of the event, saying the intersection of young people from various countries and backgrounds gathered in one place for their faith is an image the world needs to see.
“We’re ready for it after COVID, we’re hungry for relationship. Isolation is not what we’re made for. We are made for community and especially a community of faith, we are so ready for that, the whole world,” he said.
“In our country, the United States, we are so divided and there’s a lack of civility and even a lack of faith in the culture in some ways,” he said, saying, “it’s great to see youth stand up and say no, faith is what’s leading us in life and being together matters.”
Solis echoed the sentiment, saying he agrees with Pope Francis’s assertion in his first speech in Portugal, given to local civil authorities, in which the pontiff said WYD is a sign of hope for a troubled Europe, and a troubled world.
Pope Francis, he said, “injected that sense of hope not only to the youth, but to the whole church. I think that it’s happening, and I hope that we listen to his words of wisdom to open our hearts once again and be filled with the spirit of God to make us alive and make the church more alive! And it’s happening.”
Speaking of the divisions and polarization global society, Solis said this is a challenge that the church must fact.
“We are living in an imperfect world, there will be polarization, there will be individualism, there will be secularization, but because we forgot, we forgot God, we have pushed God away from our society. We are building a different kind of society these days, a Godless society,” he said.
The world has been hit with all kinds of ideologies “that push God away from our society,” Solis said, saying, “I think this is a wonderful way to open once again our church, our homes, our souls, our hearts, to the presence of God and see the difference we could make.”
Friends Kevin and Alex from Boston said they are excited to be in Portugal for WYD and are excited to meet Pope Francis.
Speaking to Crux, Kevin said that for him, “It’s so inspiring to see such a shameless joy. Every single person I see in the street, they’ll come up to you first with such a welcoming presence. Everybody is so interested and motivated by seeing so many other people around them.”
“As a young person myself, in facing a lot of the tribulations that come with being a young Catholic today, there’s nothing more inspiring and nothing more invigorating than seeing people live their faith just like you are,” he said.
Kevin said he has enjoyed meeting and praying with people from different countries and in different languages, and that “I’m kinda just opening up my eyes to everything.”
Similarly, Alex said he was in disbelief that the crowds would be as large as predicted for WYD, “but here I am, and at Mass yesterday it was amazing just seeing all of the people and the flags in the air, it was definitely something special.”
“I told my friends this summer that I’d shake hands with [Pope Francis], so that’s still my goal,” he said.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen