by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA 2023 Teacher of Peace
The U.S. media seems to have given at best passing notice to a recent event of epic proportions in the Catholic world. The August 1-6 World Youth Day (WYD) in Lisbon, Portugal rivaled any quadrennial Olympic games in attendance and events. More importantly, the WYD touched the 1,500,000 participants at the deepest level: in their relationship with God in Christ.
Where was the media?
The logistics that faced the organizers of this event defy the imagination, as did the willingness of these young women and men to travel long distances in and around Lisbon to the 500 artistic events in more than 100 venues. The closing Mass took place ten miles from center city and with public transportation understandably shut down, the throngs walked to the site and slept in the open the night before.
Another nearly unbelievable datum: at one of the Eucharistic celebrations led by the Holy Father 10,000 priests concelebrated! Each was issued a specially made chasuble, symbolic of the occasion. One can only imagine the planning required for Holy Communion at such a gigantic cerebration of the Lord’s Supper, not only for the concelebrants but for hordes of lay people also receiving Communion.
At the center of it all was Pope Francis. This nearly 87-year-old man in a wheelchair, speaking in his characteristically weak voice, touched the young crowds deeply with his obvious love for them, his charismatic persona and simple relevant messages. The motto selected by Francis for this Youth Day was, “Mary arose and went with haste…” (Luke 1:39) It is so typical of this pastor to select what surely was a Gospel moment with which the young could relate: a teenage girl running to help an aging relative.
A few excerpts from the Holy Father’s inspiring messages:
In his welcoming address, Francis said: “I am pleased to see you all of you and also to hear the delightful noise you are making. That makes me share your infectious joy.
“You are not here by accident. The Lord has called you, not only in these days but from the beginning of your days. He called you by name… None of us is a Christian by chance; all of us
were called by name: at the beginning of the story of our lives. Because we are loved.
“In the church there is room for everyone. No one is left out, young and old, healthy and infirm,
righteous and sinners. So, repeat with me: ‘Everyone, everyone.’
“Don’t ever stop asking questions; it is better often than giving answers because asking questions is a sign of restlessness.
“Take heart, move forward, knowing that all of us are ‘mortgaged’ by the love God has for us.”
From the pope’s final message: “As young people, you have great dreams, but often you may fear that they cannot come true. Sometimes you can think that you are not up to the challenge and you may be tempted to lose heart, to think you fall short, to disguise your pain with a smile.
“As young people, you want to change the world and work for justice and peace. You devote all your energy and creativity to this, yet it still seems insufficient.
“Still the Church and the world need you, the young, as much as the earth needs rain.
“Dear young people, I would like to look each of you in the eye and say: ‘Do not be afraid!’ Now I will tell you something even more beautiful: Jesus himself is now looking at you. He knows what is in your heart; he smiles at you and tells you once again that he loves you, always and infinitely.”
No wonder that this multitude of young people returned to their homes and parishes all over the world describing the Pope and his message with their favorite word, “awesome.”
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace and the 2023 Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.