YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – In a matter of days, one million pilgrims, mostly young people, will meet in Lisbon, Portugal for the 2023 World Youth Day under the theme “Mary arose and went with haste.”

That phrase has special meaning for African pilgrims to Lisbon, who are seeking to muster a sense of haste to address the challenges of a continent where the faith is being tested by conflict, war, poverty and secularism.

Father Boniface Idoko, the National Youth Animator and the Secretary of the Youth Committee of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, said that Nigerian participants aren’t going to Lisbon as tourists, but to have a faith encounter with Christ.

“Our youths are in high spirits to attend the WYD,” Idoko told ACI-Africa.

“The World Youth Day is a faith encounter with Christ, not for tourism or vacation; it is going to open youth’s understanding about the gospel of Christ, from the catechesis they are going to receive and the testimonies they are going to share from other participants,” he said.

He said the WYD will increase the devotion of young people to the Catholic Church, especially in a country where Pentecostalism is taking over the pulpits.

He said the participating youths stand to gain “the needed commitment to be true soldiers of Christ and also to give them an opportunity to interact and build friendships with youths from other nations.”

Nigeria will be sending a delegation of 95 people, along with four bishops, namely the Chairman for the Youth at CBCN, Bishop Patrick Eluke, Archbishop Valerian Okeke of Onitsha, Bishop Michael Apochi of Otukpo, and Bishop John Oyejola of Oshogbo.

Burkina Faso, with a delegation of about 35 people, heads to Lisbon “for a celebration of fraternity, where new friendships will be made,” says Father Paul Valéry Sakougri, the country’s national youth chaplain.

“For others, it will be a time of deepening, where they can reflect on their own history, with themselves and others. It is a time of inner renewal that will enable young people to make new decisions and imagine new horizons,” said Valéry.

He said deepening the faith for Burkina Faso’s young people will be critical for a country where insecurity, in the words of the priest, “makes things very complicated. In some areas, there are not even any Masses any longer, and everyone has fled. We’re thinking about what we can do to breathe new life into young people, especially in areas where some young people are even co-opted to join terrorist groups.”

In South Africa, Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of the Bloemfontein Archdiocese said in a July 26 report that participating African youths will enjoy the presence of “people of deep faith from across the world, and hopefully they will also lift up their faith to be part of that million people who will be celebrating World Youth Day.”

He said the Church “would like to see more testimony and more witnessing of the young people so that they become the leaders of faith,” and urged the youth, inspired by faith, “to be leaders in their communities,” and to serve as models to those struggling in faith.

“It will be a big difference, not only in their own personal lives, the lives of their families, but in the lives of the public,” the cleric said.

Angola’s National Youth Chaplain. Father Armando Pinho Alberto, believes the Lisbon rendezvous will be a time for inter-cultural exchanges, where Angola will keep “its culture alive” and get what others have to offer the country in terms of culture.

In Cameroon, where 109 youths, 22 Catholic Priests, and a woman Religious are set to participate in the WYD, the National Youth Chaplain of the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon, Father Clement Mevo, says the delegation will have the pleasure of “celebrating with other young people from all over the world around Pope Francis, and we hope that the Holy Father’s messages will edify our young people and that they will be the relays of this message.”

One way of relaying the Pope’s message is by going digital, as is already the case with the African Digital Youth Faith Influencers (ADYFI), a group of over 200 young people drawn from 50 African countries, and some of them will be taking part at the WYD event in Lisbon.

A Ugandan Priest from the Archdiocese of Kampala, Father Ambrose Bwangato, has told them that they aren’t going to Portugal on vacation.

“You’re not going there as visitors. You are going there as pilgrims of faith. And as a consequence of that identity, your faith must influence your entire experience,” he said at a July 23 Mass to commission the ADYFI members travelling to Lisbon.

“Your journey, your interactions, your participation in all events, and all the spiritual events that will be organized must be characterized by the faith of the martyrs,” he said at the mass that took place at the Munyonyo Martyrs Shrine in Kampala, the spot where the martyrs of Uganda started their journey to Namugongo, the place of their martyrdom.

“Munyonyo has retained this status in our faith. It is where any meaningful pilgrimage starts. That is why we are here to send off our faith influencers to the World Youth Day,” he explained.