Wed. Jun 12th, 2024

Pope Francis presided over a Way of the Cross reenactment at a Lisbon park on Friday before hundreds of thousands of flag-waving pilgrims, part of a global Catholic youth festival.

The rite commemorating Jesus Christ’s suffering and death is one of the highlights of World Youth Day festivities, a six-day international Catholic jamboree.

Pilgrims shrieked and waved as the pontiff, surrounded by bodyguards, slowly drove by on his popemobile to the stage set up at the hillside Eduardo VII park for the event.

The 86-year-old pope, wearing a white cassock, paused several times to have babies brought to him, and he kissed them on the head.

Many national flags fluttered in the huge crowd, estimated by local authorities at around 800,000 people.

The pope, who now uses a wheelchair or walking stick to get around, urged the pilgrims not to be afraid of love.

“Loving is risky. You have to take the risk of loving. It’s a risk, but it’s worth taking,” he said.

The crowd then watched solemnly as a group of 50 young people from more than 20 countries carried a large cross and performed a 90-minute choreography which represented each stage of Christ’s last moments.

“Every moment we spend with the Holy Father is exciting, it motivates us to keep our faith,” Pedro Puac, a 27-year-old from Guatemala, told AFP. He had waited under a blazing sun for three hours for the event to start.

  • ‘Like a priest’ –

The pope, who arrived in Portugal on Wednesday, began his day by hearing confessions from three people from Italy, Spain and Guatemala who were in Lisbon for the festival.

One of the youths, 21-year-old Francisco Valverde from Cordoba in southern Spain, told reporters afterwards that the Argentine Jesuit had quickly put him at ease.

“I didn’t feel any type of shame, any pressure at any moment,” he said, adding the pope was “like a priest in any parish in any town”.

Francis, who has made concern for the poor a hallmark of his papacy, also visited a community centre in Lisbon’s impoverished Serafina neighborhood.

The area was once riddled by drug and crime problems but the centre run by a Catholic priest has helped it put that past behind it.

Local residents applauded and cheered as the pope arrived.

Francis high-fived a little boy in a wheelchair who was waiting outside before entering to deliver a speech thanking charity workers for getting their “hands dirty” to help others.

Since becoming pope in 2013, he has made a point of visiting Rome’s poorest neighborhoods and was well known for his visits to slums in Buenos Aires when he was archbishop of the Argentine capital.

  • Rosaries and water bottles –

The pope will on Saturday travel to the Catholic shrine of Fatima in central Portugal and then celebrate an open-air vigil in the evening at a riverside park in a Lisbon suburb.

He will deliver a mass on Sunday in Lisbon on the last day of his five-day visit to Portugal, when temperatures are forecast to soar to 39 degrees Celsius (102.2 degrees Fahrenheit).

Local authorities have repeatedly urged pilgrims to drink plenty of water.

Registered participants received rucksacks containing reusable water bottles and sunhats, along with a rosary.

Organizers expect a million people from around the world to attend the week of festive, cultural and spiritual events.

World Youth Day, created in 1986 by John Paul II, is the largest Catholic gathering in the world and features a wide range of events, including concerts and prayer sessions.

This edition, initially scheduled for August 2022 but postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, will be the fourth for Francis after Rio de Janeiro in 2013, Krakow in 2016 and Panama in 2019.

©️ Agence France-Presse

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