Pope bestows blessings and urges young Catholics to fight for economic justice and climate

More than 1.5 million pilgrims from around the globe expected to attend World Youth Day gathering

Pope Francis waves at a gathering of young people in Eduardo VII Park in Lisbon. AP
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Pope Francis on Thursday asked the world's youth to take on the twin scourges of global warming and poverty as he made an open-air address to thousands on the second day of his visit to Portugal.

At the Catholic University of Portugal in Lisbon, he told the young crowd to accept no compromise in fighting for their planet.

“We must recognise the dramatic and urgent need to care for our common home,” he said, speaking in Spanish. “Yet this cannot be done without a real change of heart.

“We cannot be satisfied with mere palliative measures or timid and ambiguous compromises.”

The pontiff urged students to take risks and reject the temptation to merely perpetuate the status quo, or what the pope called the “present global system of elitism and inequality”.

“An academic degree should not be seen merely as a licence to pursue personal well-being, but as a mandate to work for a more just and inclusive – that is, truly progressive – society,” he said.

The Pope encouraged the students to use the privilege of their educations to protect the environment, care about poor and marginalised people, and to “redefine what we mean by progress and development”.

“Yours can be the generation that takes up this great challenge,” he said.

“We need to align the tragedy of desertification with that of refugees, the issue of increased migration with that of a declining birth rate, and to see the material dimension of life within the greater purview of the spiritual.”

The pontiff also emphasised his call for the Catholic Church to be welcoming to all, sinners included.

“There is room for everyone in the church,” the Pope told the crowd, leading the young people in a chant of “todos” – Spanish and Portuguese for “everyone”.

He also told the assembled crowd to beware of the false happiness lurking in social media.

Seemingly energised by the crowd of young people singing and dancing, the pontiff warned them to beware “the illusions of the virtual world”, where algorithms used their names for market research but could never understand a person's uniqueness.

“Many realities that attract us and promise happiness are later shown to be what they really are: vain, superfluous and surrogate things that leave us empty inside,” he said.

About 6,500 people, including Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and bishops, were gathered under a bright sun in a main square of the campus of the institution, one of Portugal's leading universities, to listen to the Pope.

Catholics spanning a diverse array of ethnicities, backgrounds and languages are gathering in Lisbon to celebrate their faith at World Youth Day (WYD).

More than 1.5 million pilgrims from across the globe are expected to attend the event, which runs until Sunday.

Pope Francis touched down in Portugal on Wednesday and prayed for peace in Ukraine.

The National visited the WYD event and spoke to some of those who had travelled from around the globe.

Ricardo Gema, a member of the Portuguese WYD orchestra, was one of hundreds of musicians who performed at the opening mass on Tuesday.

“It was an honour,” he told The National. “There were so many people there and it was broadcast to people around the world.

“And we will also get to play for Pope Francis when he says Mass. I will always remember this experience. God made music for us so we can take it to him and take it to the people.”

Jover Brinas travelled from Toronto with a group of friends. He said the wisdom he will gain and the strength he receives from praying with others will stay with him long after the festival concludes. “It does not stop here,” he said. “This is just the seed. It’s going to grow into something more. God has a plan and I believe he wanted me to be here.”

Joel Kappan made the trek to Lisbon from India with fellow members of Jesus Youth, an organisation for young Catholics. He said the size and strength of the “mother church” was evident in the crowds and it was heartwarming to see people from different backgrounds unite in prayer. “There are people here from all ethnicities sharing their faith,” he said. “It shows that we are all part of the same church.”

WYD was initiated in 1985 by Pope John Paul II and takes place every couple of years in a different country. The last was held in Panama in 2019. The Covid pandemic caused the Lisbon gathering to be delayed.

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Updated: August 08, 2023, 11:18 AM