All the roads of young Catholics have come to Portugal. The World Youth Days bring together more than a million young people, many of whom have travelled thousands of kilometres to get here. You can see the dark circles under their eyes from the tiredness and sleep they have accumulated. We hear voices speaking languages we do not understand. We see faces that show peoples and cultures so different from our own. But we have all arrived for the same cause, responding to the same call of Pope Francis who invited us to make Portugal a place of pilgrimage, of encounter, of sharing life, values and experiences, and of recharging our batteries to continue building a more human, more fraternal and more Christian world.
I too left the hot Amazon to let myself be touched by the joy, faith and openness of this young planet. As the Spiritans launched the challenge of Familia Una, I began by accompanying the young people before the day of the event itself, spread over four poles in the north, with the Houses of Communities of Braga, Barcelos, Régua and Porto as the centre.
In Porto, at the House of Spiritan Formation of Pinheiro Manso, I found a first group that was very intercontinental, with young people coming from various countries in Europe, America and Africa. There I participated in a Prayer Concert, with the presence of the Little Sisters of the Poor and several Spiritan Sisters.
Godim, in Régua, was my second meeting point with young people. I climbed with them to Loureiro, always flanking vineyards and looking at the Douro and its slopes, a World Heritage Site. It is always a breath-taking landscape, with a unique beauty that fills our eyes. The young people, coming from different parts of the world, reflected during the climb and shared a packed lunch, with their eyes on the unique beauty of this Douro landscape.
I went to Barcelos where I had the joy of meeting Spiritans from all over the world accompanying young people and then, in the parish of Abade de Neiva, I participated in the Eucharist and the Festival of the Peoples, a very lively moment with the performance of the local Folkloric Ranch and the intervention of young people from Brazil, USA, Taiwan … It was a happy meeting of peoples and cultures, much applauded by all, demonstrating that the richness of diversity is a value to be cultivated and shared.
Braga was my last stop in the north. I was in the parishes of Nogueira and Lomar, entrusted to the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit. There I celebrated, there I had dinner, in a particularly strong moment, because the good people of this land, who welcomed the young people in their families, came to the pavilion of the Secondary School of Nogueira for a shared dinner and much celebration. The typical Taiwanese costumes were impressive, as well as the joy that radiated from younger and older faces, all united around this major event, the World Youth Day (WYD).
The Pre-Days appealed to the social sensitivity of the young people, marked by visits and animations in various solidarity institutions.
From the north, the four groups travelled to Fatima, via Caneiro, in the shadow of the castle of Ourém, where they had lunch, courtesy of the parish and the unconditional support of several members of the great Spiritan family, especially LIAM and Youth Without Borders. It was another great moment to show how in an extended family everything can become easier. I realised that in the organisation of all the events of these Spiritan Pre-Days, Lay Spiritan Associates, Fraternities and many people who belong to LIAM, JSF, ASES, or who have spent good times in these Missionary Movements are involved.
Fatima was the climax of these Pre-Days. The Opening Ceremony was presided over by . Fr. Jeff Duaime, 1st Assistant to the Superior General of the Congregation from Rome and Fr. Pedro Fernandes, Provincial Superior of the Province of Portugal. Celebrations, workshops and thematic meetings on Mission today, as well as planned and improvised moments of animation and sharing of the cultural richness of each young person and each country filled the Torre d’Aguilha with celebration and faith. This XVII Sunday, the young people participated in the Eucharist in the two parishes entrusted to the pastoral care of the Spiritans: Tires and Abóboda.
From there they will set off to experience this WYD, from 1 to 6, in the centre of Lisbon. Pope Francis can come, because young people are ready and open-hearted to welcome him and, with him, to celebrate the future of the Church and the world that is in the hands of the new generations.