If I had to choose one adjective to express my experiences at World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal, last week, it would be contagious. The positive, enthusiastic, joyful energy of the 1.5 million people in attendance could be felt throughout my entire visit. It is not an experience that is easy to explain for those not present—what overwhelming excitement to be surrounded by over 700 bishops, 10,000 priests, countless faithful young people, and of course, Pope Francis.
There was a cheer, repeated throughout the crowd, again and again in Spanish, “Esta es la juventud del Papa,” which translates to “This is the youth of the Pope.” These words moved as a wave throughout the crowd, each time invoking more and more energy and excitement. On the pilgrims’ faces, you could see how this World Youth Day sparked such hope and joy, how profoundly beautiful pride in being Catholic. I pray they retain every moment in their hearts and bring it back to their homes to help others experience Christ and contaminate others with the contagious joy received during their WYD experiences.
“Let’s all repeat this phrase in our hearts: ‘Don’t be afraid,'” Pope Francis said during his homily of Sunday’s closing Mass. “Jesus knows the hearts of each one of you, the successes and the failures, he knows your hearts, and today he tells you, here in Lisbon for this World Youth Day: ‘Don’t be afraid.'” Pope Francis asked the young people, “What will we take back with us to the valley of our daily lives?” Drawing on the Gospel of the day, which was the Transfiguration of the Lord, the Holy Father proposed three verbs: shine, listen, and be unafraid. He encouraged them to take the seeds the Spirit has sowed in their hearts back with them and to be a light in the darkness, “We become luminous, we shine, when, welcoming Jesus, we learn to love like Him. To love like Jesus: that makes us luminous, that leads us to do works of love”, he said.
Each event was so well done; the music, art, acting, and talks were so engaging to the young people. Specifically moving was the depiction of the Stations of the Cross—a true highlight for me as I’ve never seen them portrayed quite like this—incredibly powerful. The presentation included two powerful testimonies of the transformative power of embracing the cross in your own life. The cross made its way up a giant scaffolding with each station, moving farther and farther up to reach the highest point— amazing. You would never have realized there were a million people around you, as one could hear a pin drop. The pilgrims were so focused, concentrating on what was happening before them. Despite difficulties faced throughout the week—long lines, transportation issues, heat—the atmosphere remained respectful, prayerful, and upbeat.
Many of the Bishops I spoke with shared how they, too, were touched by the experience and the enthusiasm rippling through the event. I believe this was the third largest World Youth Day, with the first being in the Philippines and the second in Rio de Janeiro in 2013.
Another memorable moment for me came when we left at 4:00 am to be on time and settled in our places for the 9 am Final Mass for World Youth Day. As we arrived at our location before the altar, the sun began to rise on the horizon of the ocean we were nearby. As the sun rose, so did the throngs of young people who had spent the night at the plaza following the vigil the night before. All of this under the bluest sky, without a cloud in sight. It was a perfect picture, a glorious setting, for this special Liturgy.
Fall River Diocesan Pilgrims
What busy days those were in Lisbon last week. Despite the busy schedule and the difficulty we had to face to move from place to place, I was glad to be able to celebrate Mass together with our Fall River Diocesan pilgrims at the hotel where they were staying. I was glad to spend some time in prayer and to share the Eucharist with this tired yet extremely joyful group of young people. My hope is that they, too, will bring with them whatever the Spirit has sowed in their hearts this week back to our Diocese. They will become transforming agents, evangelizing to other young people—instruments of grace and hope so others can discover the beauty, the power, and the importance of having God in their lives and practicing their faith. I pray each will let the light in their hearts not fade; they will work together as a group to keep that flame alive and never let it be extinguished. For our part, we need to help them stay connected to each other and support their efforts to bring their WYD experiences to others.
Pope Francis announced the next World Youth Day will be held in Seoul, South Korea, in 2027. I pray that some of you may be afforded the opportunity to attend so as to experience the joy of this global community of faith for yourself.
Yours in Christ,
Bishop da Cunha