With last month’s meeting in Lisbon, I have now completed nine World Youth Days. My first
was over 30 years ago. Each one brings many surprises. When a million or so young people are added to a city’s streets almost overnight there are always trials, chaos, and a bit of confusion. Long lines for food and bathrooms are the norm. There are also instances of suffering. For example, when one of your pilgrims gets dehydrated or when your group is
denied entrance into a special event because it is too crowded. I always tell our pilgrims that World Youth Day is a pilgrimage, not a vacation. Amid the tumble and shuffle of any World Youth Day, there are always small intimate encounters, prayerful highs and massive crowd experiences that are so profound that they will never be forgotten by those attending. With that said, I would like to share with you three such moments.
- The Pre-World Youth Day trip to Fatima: Walking to the main shrine with Juliana.
Before arriving in Lisbon, our group spent two days at the beautiful Marian Sanctuary of Fatima; a place where one hundred years ago the Blessed Mother appeared to three shepherd children with messages from heaven. On our second night there, I gave our group the option to either attend the candlelight procession in the sanctuary or get some rest. Rest was a suitable option for many since we had already attended the candlelight procession the previous night and because we had walked over 10 miles on this particular day. This being the case, I was pleasantly surprised that most wanted to go again to the shrine. As we began our journey that night, I walked most of the way with our youngest pilgrim, Juliana, who only that day had turned sixteen. I was surprised she decided to go because she was tired, and earlier in the day her ankle had been bothering her. I asked her why she was going. She responded, “Because there are many people that have asked me to pray for them and I want to light a candle tonight on their behalf.” She made me so happy! I thought, “Our youngest pilgrim understands the nature of this trip! She is in the right place.”
- The Pre-World Youth Day trip to Fatima: Walking to the original houses of the Visionaries. “We have truly arrived at the World Youth Day!”
Not far from the main Basilica in Fatima there is a wall-lined cobblestone path through what was once open fields where the three children of the Fatima visions walked, played, and watched the sheep. There in these fields, Our Lady appeared to them in one spot and “the Angel” appeared to them in another. Along the path are beautiful stations of the cross. The path takes you ultimately to the original houses of the three visionaries.
It was a hot day when our group attempted this walk, and we were already tired; however, it turned very peaceful when we began to pray the rosary and even more awe inspiring when we saw thousands of youths walking this same path and singing joyful songs of praise to God and encouraging each other as they chanted the names of each country they were from. The World Youth Day truly was beginning! I was so happy! My group, tired and worn out, was singing and chanting along with all the others. Praised be Jesus Christ!
- At the stairs that lead up into the Church of St. Anthony in Lisbon: A sacred moment with our young pilgrim, Jacob, in his wheelchair.
In the ancient downtown of Lisbon, there is a church dedicated to St. Anthony. It stands on the spot where historians say once stood the small house where St. Anthony was born. As you might imagine, it is a hallowed spot in the city. St. Anthony is one of the most known saints of the Christian faith and the people of Lisbon are very proud of this heritage. As a group, we wanted, of course, to visit this church. No problem? Guess again. When, in your group, you have a teenager, Jacob, with a disability and you must traverse the many stairs to get in because, like nearly every church in Lisbon, it is not handicapped accessible, you must carefully consider your options. As we approached the stairs, I was deeply, deeply heartened to see our pilgrims well-nigh fighting to help carry Jacob and his wheelchair up the many stairs. Crowds pushed aside as we scaled the steps. It was a wonder to behold! I pondered immediately the scripture passage of the four friends who helped the disabled man, amid the crowds, to get to Jesus taking the initiative of even lowering him through the roof. I quickly surmised that nothing was going to stop our group from allowing Jacob to experience all that the others could enjoy.
Today, I have given you just a taste of the many incredible heartwarming moments of the
World Youth Day 2023. I am the old man in the group now, but World Youth Days always makes me feel young and repeatedly gives me hope. Praised be Jesus Christ!
Fr. Michael Harrington, a native of Swampscott, MA, is a Catholic Priest for the Archdiocese of Boston, and Currently the Pastor of St. Mary’s of the Annunciation Catholic Church in Cambridge. In the past he served as The Director of the Office of Cultural Diversity for the Archidiocese of Boston and is currently a Consecrated member of the Institute of Jesus the Priest (the Pauline Family).