Pope visits Portuguese neighbourhood once blighted by crime and drugs

The visit began with the pontiff hearing confessions of young people taking part in World Youth Day

Pope Francis during his visit to the Serafina parish social centre to meet representatives of volunteers and charity centres. AFP
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Pope Francis on Friday visited a Portuguese neighbourhood once troubled by crime and drug problems to highlight the Catholic Church’s charitable work.

The visit, coming midway through a five-day trip to the country, began with the 86-year-old pontiff hearing confessions of young people taking part in the large Catholic World Youth Day festival.

He will later preside over a Way of the Cross procession at the event, recreating Christ's crucifixion.

The Pope spoke with residents of the Serafina neighbourhood, an area dogged by social problems two decades ago that have now largely been left behind.

That was thanks in part to efforts by church charity groups, including one that was created to provide a home for children with parents unable to care for them.

Speaking off the cuff to young people and the charity organisers, Pope Francis said true service must be done with concrete gestures that make an impact. He thanked church groups that have “gotten your hands dirty, touching the reality and the misery of others”.

“There is no such thing as abstract love. It doesn’t exist,” the Pope said. He said he could not come to Lisbon to celebrate World Youth Day without visiting the centre because “this is also youth, in the sense that you generate new life continually”.

“With your conduct, your commitment and getting your hands dirty by touching the reality and misery of others, you are giving inspiration and generating life,” he said.

Pope Francis has long said that true service and charity has to hurt, and that it’s not enough just to give a beggar a coin on the street. He has championed the charitable side of the Catholic Church, including boosting the Vatican’s charitable efforts by providing showers and medical care to homeless people while also sending regular lorryloads of aid to Ukraine and other places affected by conflict or natural disasters.

The pontiff was welcomed earlier this week by hundreds of thousands of flag-waving young people from around the globe, who gave him a raucous welcome to the World Youth Day festival.

About 500,000 pilgrims attended the music-and-dance-filled World Youth Day opening ceremony in Lisbon’s Eduardo VII park on Thursday, a figure that was expected to more than double over the duration of the festival.

The Pope's visit to Portugal is aimed primarily at young people, but his message about reversing economic inequalities has found resonance among people of all ages, who lined his route and watched from hotel balconies or the street as his motorcade passed on Thursday, the first day of the festival.

He travels to the Catholic shrine in Fatima on Saturday and then celebrates an open-air vigil on Saturday and final Mass on Sunday morning.

After arriving in Lisbon on Wednesday, the Pope immediately addressed Portugal’s crisis of sexual abuse by the clergys, which intensified after a panel of experts hired by the country's bishops reported in February that priests and other church personnel may have abused at least 4,815 boys and girls since 1950.

Meeting with the bishops at Lisbon’s Jeronimos Monastery, Francis said the scandal of sexual abuse had marred the face of the Catholic Church and helped drive the faithful away. He told the bishops that abuse victims must always be welcomed and heard.

The Pope met for more than an hour that night with 13 victims at the Vatican embassy.

Updated: August 04, 2023, 12:47 PM