World Youth Day Lisbon 2023. Open Arms

WYD Lisbon 2023 is less than four months away. We talked with Monsignor Américo Aguiar, auxiliary bishop of Lisbon and president of the WYD 2023 Foundation (Local Organising Committee, LOC).

“If the WYD Lisbon were described in two words, these would be ‘generosity’ and ‘welcome’. The Portuguese capital is extending its open arms to the incoming young people. Generosity and welcome are two hallmarks of the Portuguese people,” said Mons.  Américo Aguiar, president of Local Organising Committee, LOC).

He continues: “It will be the WYD of encounter. We are doing our utmost to ensure that the Day may be a special time to turn a new page with young people who are the protagonists of this change. We are committed to ensuring that Lisbon may usher in a new time for the new generations, a time when they will return to express their dreams and hopes for the future.”

According to the Organising Committee, they are planning to welcome at least one million young people from 180 world countries, including Russians and Ukrainians. There are over 200 registered bishops so far, but there will certainly be more. They also expect young people from other Christian denominations and other faiths, such as Muslims, to attend the WYD.

Do you expect many participants from the African continent?  “We expect” – said mons. Américo Aguiar – “many young people especially from Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe, which are Portuguese-speaking countries. As was the case with previous international WYDs, the solidarity fund of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, whose ‘Youth Section’ organises the international WYD events, has been activated. This will enable the participation of many young people who have fewer opportunities to reach Lisbon.”

The technical-organizational preparations for the WYD are accompanied by the spiritual preparations that are represented, in particular, by the WYD symbols: the Pilgrim Cross and the icon of Our Lady that is being brought in pilgrimage to all Portuguese dioceses.

The bishop commented: “The Pilgrimage of the WYD symbols recently passed through the diocese of Coimbra in this month of April, then Fatima in May, Santarem in June and finally Lisbon. The pilgrimage started two years ago, on July 8, 2021, in Luanda, Angola. I am personally accompanying this pilgrimage and I think it is the most beautiful sign of the WYD, for I have seen the deep faith of so many young people. It is they who are the fruits of the WYD. However, I cannot fail to notice the weakness of the pastoral structures that are supposed to welcome them. I see them carry the Cross and the Icon of Mary everywhere, among their peers, in hospitals, prisons, barracks, schools, everywhere. They bring hope to those existential and geographic peripheries that are people rarely visit.”

One of the interesting aspects of the WYD is that it will be a ‘green’ WYD: thousands of trees will be planted to make this event economically, environmentally and ecologically sustainable. A total of one thousand native trees dedicated to the WYD were planted in the diocese of Aveiro at the end of March. The initiative came about as a response to last year’s wildfires that severely impacted the area. It is also a response to the global challenge of planting new trees, launched by the WYD local organising committee in partnership with the Global Tree Initiative (GTI), to compensate for part of the environmental burden created during the papal event. To date, more than 7,300 trees dedicated to WYD Lisbon 2023 have already been planted in various parts of the world.

Mons mons. Américo Aguiar adds: “The site where the Vigil and Final Mass will take place, immediately after the closing of the WYD, will become a 50-hectare green park open to the public. This former industrial area was reclaimed for Expo 1998. This reclamation will now be completed for the WYD, and the area will once again be open to visitors. The park will be the legacy of the WYD for Lisbon. But there is one more aspect I would like to highlight… WYD Lisbon will also be a first for digital natives since most participants were born and grew up when the new information technologies became widespread. Also, for this reason, there will be no paper publications related to the WYD, only digital ones. We will also facilitate waste management: we are currently studying ways to minimize the packaging of the young people’s food parcels.”

Will Fatima be included in the WYD program? “The Pope will certainly visit Fatima – confirms the bishop -, but we still don’t know when. That will probably be an appropriate occasion for the Pontiff to meet not only the young people, but also many other faithful who will thus have the opportunity to show him their affection. Fatima is a key site for the WYD. Young people will flock there throughout the course of the event and even afterwards.”

The bishops concluded: “The WYD in Lisbon will be provocative and missionary. Its theme is an invitation for us all to get up, like Mary who goes forth to meet Elizabeth. In doing so, she brings Jesus to meet her cousin Elizabeth and her son, John the Baptist, whom she carried in her womb. This ‘four-person’ meeting epitomises young people’s material needs and spiritual aspirations.” (Daniele Rocchi)

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