LISBON – After holding an unannounced meeting with clerical abuse survivors after arriving in Lisbon Wednesday, Pope Francis held another surprise encounter on Thursday, this time with young people from Ukraine.

According to the Vatican, the pope met the Ukrainian youths prior to leaving the Vatican’s nunciature in Lisbon to attend the first event on his official agenda, a meeting with students at the Catholic University of Portugal. According to the Vatican, he was accompanied by a priest in charge of youth pastoral work for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic community, the largest of the eastern churches in communion with Rome.

Roughly 15 young people from Ukraine participated in the meeting along with the Ukrainian government’s Consultant for Dialogue with Religious Organizations, Denys Kolada.

After listening to the “touching stories” the youths shared, Francis offered some brief reflections, expressing “his painful and prayerful closeness.”

The meeting, which lasted roughly 30 minutes, closed with the recitation of the Our Father prayer and with “a thought turned toward the martyred Ukraine.”

Pope Francis is currently in Lisbon as part of an Aug. 2-6 visit for the international World Youth Day (WYD) gathering, during which he will visit the Marian shrine of Fatima and will participate in several formal events for the gathering.

Fatima is the site of the famed 1917 apparitions of the Virgin Mary to three shepherd children, two of whom were canonized by Pope Francis during his visit for the centenary of the apparitions in 2017.

The shrine also holds a connection with Russia, as one of the “three secrets” Our Lady of Fatima disclosed to the children was a request to consecrate Russia to her immaculate heart in order to prevent the spread of atheist communism.

While various popes have made acts of consecration over the years, some hardcore Marian devotees have said these gestures have not gone far enough.

Pope Francis himself in March 2022, after the outbreak of the war a month prior following Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion, consecrated both Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in gesture intended to inspire efforts toward peace.

Prior to his departure for Portugal, it was speculated that once in Lisbon, the pope would hold an initiative of some sort for or with Ukrainian and Russian youths attending the event.

It is expected that he will mention the Ukraine-Russia war during his visit to Fatima Saturday, given the shrine’s historic connection with Russia.

After arriving in Lisbon Wednesday, Francis closed the day with an unannounced meeting with clerical abuse survivors. On Thursday morning, in addition to his meeting with Ukrainian youth, he also celebrated Mass with relatives of a 23-year-old French woman who died in a car accident on her way to WYD.

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