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WYD Roundup for Aug. 3: Francis’ European Challenge, Clearing Up Communion Rumors, and Christmas Card Conversion…

WYD Roundup for Aug. 3: Francis’ European Challenge, Clearing Up Communion Rumors, and Christmas Card Conversion…

Francis’ European challenge and Christmas card conversion Skip to content

As World Youth Day continues Aug 1-6 in Lisbon, Portugal, The Pillar’s WYD correspondent, Filipe d’Avillez, brings you a daily news diary with everything you’ll want to know:

When the papal plane landed in Portugal Wednesday, Lisbon was uncharacteristically but mercifully cloudy. 

Pope Francis addresses government leaders and representatives of civil society at the Belém Cultural Center in Lisbon, Portugal, Aug. 2, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media.

Francis was driven to the presidential palace, which is very close to the City of Joy, one of the central World Youth Day (WYD) locations that includes 150 confessionals hand-built by prison inmates. The pope himself will be hearing confessions there Thursday.

Thousands of WYD pilgrims and local families flooded the streets to catch a glimpse of the pope as he drove past, and at least one father managed to pass a newborn baby to a member of the pope’s security team, who then took it to Francis to be blessed and kissed.

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After the presidential reception, Francis went to the nearby cultural center where he made his first speech of the day. He delighted the Portuguese audience with repeated references to cultural figures such as the fado singer Amália Rodrigues, the poets Fernando Pessoa and Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, and the Nobel laureate José Saramago, as well as criticizing the recent legalization of euthanasia. The main theme of his speech, though, was Europe.

Pope Francis is, of course, the first non-European pope in more than a thousand years. When he was elected, people soon realized that his would not be a Eurocentric pontificate, and indeed he has yet to visit such historically Catholic European countries as Austria, Croatia, and Spain, to name only a few. 

His only visit to France thus far was a daylong trip to Strasbourg, to speak in the European Parliament, in 2014. I happened to be covering that trip and I remember that his speech was a very powerful rebuke of the current state of Europe. This was not a pope ignoring Europe, but a pope telling Europeans some hard truths: That they are not what they once were, and not yet what they have the potential to be. 

Europe had a role to play, he was saying, and needed to step up to the plate.

A pilgrim from Laos at World Youth Day in Lisbon. Credit: Filipe D’Avillez.

Nine years later, things are no better. One of the main members of the European Union has left. Others are facing rising polarization and populism. Attitudes to immigrants and refugees continue to be negative in many places, and social practices and laws are increasingly distant from Catholic teaching.

In Lisbon Wednesday, Francis repeated his call for Europe to return to its roots and fulfill its vocation. 

“The world needs Europe, the true Europe,” he said. “It needs Europe’s role as a bridge and peacemaker in its eastern part, in the Mediterranean, in Africa, and in the Middle East.”

“In this way, Europe will be able to make its own specific contribution in the international arena, based on the ability it showed in the last century, in the aftermath of the world wars, to achieve reconciliation and to realize the vision of former enemies joining together to work for a better future.”

In one dramatic sentence, he summed up many of Europe’s ills, asking: “Where are you sailing, Europe and the West, with the discarding of the elderly, walls of barbed wire, massive numbers of deaths at sea and empty cradles?”

He expressed his hope that the energy and enthusiasm of World Youth Day would help motivate Europe to recover its own youthful spirit.

Facing the abuse crisis

Wednesday was also the day that Pope Francis touched on the topic of sexual abuse in the Church. He did so first through a comment in his address at Vespers with the clergy, in the monumental Jerónimos Monastery, calling on the Church to undergo a “constant, humble purification, starting from the cry of pain of the victims, who should always be welcomed and listened to.”

When that meeting finished, he returned to the nunciature, where he received 13 victims of clerical abuse. 

Meanwhile, an anonymous group of online activists put up three billboards in Lisbon Tuesday morning, reminding WYD pilgrims that a recent independent commission concluded that there had been almost 5,000 victims of sexual abuse in the Church in Portugal since 1950.

The issue of sexual abuse was always going to be present at WYD, but Portuguese bishops are taking the blame for a series of decisions which preceded the gathering: First, they gave the independent commission a year to do its investigation and draw up a report, hoping to have the issue out of the way before WYD – to the detriment of the quality and scope of the report itself. Then they undermined that effort with a promise to set up a memorial to abuse victims during WYD, and then, to make matters worse, announced only days before the event that the memorial had been postponed indefinitely.

This is what motivated the online activists to put up the billboards. Their website announces that there has been “nothing but silence” from the Church since the scandal broke.

“Since the report was published there has been little or no movement from the Catholic institutions. And on the eve of the World Youth Day (WYD), the Portuguese Catholic Church seems content to pretend that this report does not exist,” the activists said. “A memorial was announced in March, to be inaugurated in Belém during the event, but was postponed.”

The demonstrators are seen by some as exhibiting a kind of selective anger. It is worth noting that the group has chosen to direct its action at the most prominent institution in Portugal to have done anything significant to address the social problem of sexual abuse within its ranks. And it is simply not true that Church figures have been silent on the matter, if for no other reason than that they are asked about it every single time they come face to face with a journalist.

A view from the altar at Lisbon’s Eduardo VII Park. Filipe D’Avillez.

Eucharistic rumors

Distributing the Eucharist to hundreds of thousands of pilgrims is not easy. Several months ago, WYD organizers began to enlist extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, who received special formation over the past few weeks. A total of 1,800 Eucharistic ministers were present at the opening Mass.

Just a few minutes after WYD’s opening Mass began Tuesday, hundreds of Eucharistic ministers began to file into the crowd and took up their positions with ciboria in hand, standing there throughout the Mass until Communion. This led to rumors that the hosts were consecrated at a distance. But The Pillar has confirmed that this was not the case: The hosts had been consecrated beforehand, at another Mass, and were stored in a tent that doubles as a chapel for staff.

I do not know if this is standard practice at events with this many Catholics, or if it has happened at other WYDs, but from a purely practical perspective, it would have been very difficult, if not impossible, to have the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion only take their positions after the consecration.

Article 85 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says that “it is most desirable that the faithful, just as the priest himself is bound to do, receive the Lord’s Body from hosts consecrated at the same Mass,” but this was clearly deemed to be impractical.

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Fr. Kinley, Yeshi, and Jivan, from Bhutan. Filipe D’Avillez.

A Christmas card and telling silence

On Thursday afternoon Pope Francis will finally greet WYD pilgrims at a welcoming ceremony in Lisbon’s Eduardo VII Park, where the opening Mass was held. Part of the ceremony will include young pilgrims parading flags from all the countries in the world.

The young man holding the Eritrean flag during Wednesday’s dress rehearsal didn’t appear to be from Eritrea, but that is because the members of the Eritrean delegation were refused visas just before they were due to travel, though there is still hope that at least one will make it.

I managed to catch up with a girl carrying the Nicaraguan flag. I asked her if she was actually from Nicaragua, and she said yes. When I asked her what the situation was like in her country at the moment, she turned away in a silence that spoke volumes.

The members of the Bhutanese delegation, on the other hand, were very talkative. Bhutan has only 100 Catholics in a population of 800,000, all of them converts. For the soft-spoken Yeshi, this is an unforgettable experience. 

“It’s amazing to be here, seeing people from different countries, all sharing their love, their culture, and a few people who are appreciating our delegations, it is amazing,” Yeshi said.

The three Bhutanese youths are led by Fr. Kinley Tshering, the first and so far only Bhutanese priest, who explained that his conversion began when he happened to chance upon a Christmas card. 

“I came to be a Catholic by reading. In our country there is no Christian symbolism, no crosses, no literature, nothing,” he said. “But I happened to chance upon a Christmas card, and that was my entry point.” 

“I was curious about that little baby, and then as I grew up I realized that the little baby was the man on the Cross, and that is how my faith kept growing, and then I realized that he not only died, but he rose again… Such a wonderful story! The Christian story, and the life of Jesus, are so magnificent that, even if it weren’t true, it would still be worth living for.”

Cardinal Manuel Clemente and Cardinal Pietro Parolin at Lisbon’s Tropical Botanical Garden on Aug. 2, 2023. Filipe D’Avillez

Cardinal Parolin sees the trees

Also on Wednesday, children and youths of different religions gathered in the Tropical Botanical Garden to plant trees representing their different religions. This was one of the highlights of the interreligious program in this WYD, but it was always meant to be low key.

There was quite some surprise, therefore, when both Cardinal Manuel Clemente, the Patriarch of Lisbon, and Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, turned up. 

Parolin was very friendly, smiling and greeting those present in a very informal atmosphere, but did not speak.

Judaism and Christianity are represented by olive trees donated by the Israeli embassy; Muslim representatives – Shias and Sunnis together – planted a date palm; the Taoists planted a peach tree, and the Hindus and Buddhists planted different varieties of fig trees.

As a final note, in yesterday’s diary, I mentioned that a Frenchwoman had fallen and was in a coma. I have learned that she was not a nun, but a lay mother of three, and sadly she died Wednesday at the hospital, surrounded by her family and after receiving the last rites. Four of her relatives attended the pope’s morning Mass Thursday at the apostolic nunciature.

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