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Gerard O’ConnellAugust 02, 2023
Pope Francis and Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa arrive at the Belém Cultural Center in Lisbon, Aug. 2, 2023, for a meeting with government and political leaders, diplomats and representatives of civil society. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

On his arrival in Lisbon for World Youth Day, Aug. 2, Pope Francis issued a heartfelt plea for peace. In his first speech of the pope’s five-day trip, addressing an audience of 1,000 people including Portugal’s civil and religious authorities and the diplomatic corps, he called on Europe, and especially the European Union, to take up the role of “bridge builder” and “peacemaker” and to bring an end to the war in Ukraine and the armed conflicts in Africa and in the Middle East.

Speaking at the Centro Culturale di Belém, near the seafront in Lisbon, the pope insisted that Europe is capable of taking on these roles because it learned how to bring about “reconciliation” between “former enemies” after two world wars.

But right now, he said, “We are sailing amid storms on the ocean of history, we sense the need for courageous courses of peace.”

Pope Francis, who is exploring ways to end the conflict in Ukraine and in other parts of the world, told his audience: “Looking with deep love for Europe, and in the spirit of dialogue that distinguishes this continent, we must ask her: Where are you sailing if you do not show the world paths of peace, creative ways for bringing an end to the war in Ukraine and the many other conflicts that are causing so much bloodshed?”

Looking further afield, he asked, “On what course are you sailing, Western world? Your technologies, which have brought progress and globalized the world, are not by themselves sufficient. Much less your highly sophisticated weapons; they do not represent investments for the future but an impoverishment of its authentic human capital: that of education, health and the welfare state.” He added, “It is troubling when we read that in so many places funds continue to be invested in arms instead of in the future of the young.”

“It is troubling when we read that in so many places funds continue to be invested in arms instead of in the future of the young.”

He said he rejoiced at being here in Lisbon, “a city of encounter that embraces many peoples and cultures…that is grounded in the desire to be open to the world and to explore it, sailing toward new and more vast horizons.”

Portugal has a population of just over 10 million people, the vast majority of whom profess to be Catholic. Lisbon, the capital city and one of the oldest cities in the world, has a population of more than three million in its metropolitan area.

Since becoming pope in 2013, Francis has participated in four World Youth Days: Rio de Janeiro, Krakow, Panama City and now Lisbon. On the plane from Rome, he greeted each of the 80 journalists accompanying him on the plane, including America’s Vatican correspondent. He expressed joy that he would meet so many young people at the event and remarked, “I will return [to the Vatican] rejuvenated.”

‘Where are you sailing?’

After a three-hour flight from Rome, Francis was welcomed at Lisbon’s Figo Maduro military airport by Portugal’s president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who later honored him with an official state welcome with full military honors, at the presidential Palacio Nacional de Belém. Then, after a private conversation at the palace, the president accompanied him to the nearby Centro Culturel de Belém.

In his speech there to the civil authorities, the first Latin American pope, recalling that Portugal faces the Atlantic Ocean, said, “Gazing at the ocean, the Portuguese people reflect on the immense reaches of the soul and the meaning of our life in this world.” He added, “I, too, allowing myself to be transported by the image of the ocean, want to share some thoughts.”

“The ocean does not merely link peoples and countries, but lands and continents,” he said, and Lisbon, as an ocean city, “reminds us of the importance of the whole, to think of borders as places of contact, not as boundaries that separate.”

“Today, we realize that the great questions facing us are global, yet we often find it hard to respond to them precisely because, faced with common problems, our world is divided, or at least not sufficiently cohesive, incapable of confronting together that which puts us all in crisis. It seems that the planetary injustices, wars, the climatic and migratory crises run faster than our ability, and often our will, to confront these challenges in a united way,” the pope said.

"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?"

On the other hand, he said, Lisbon can suggest “a different course.” Pope Francis recalled that in 2007 the Treaty of Lisbon that reformed the European Union was signed. It affirmed that “[i]n [Europe’s] relations with the wider world…it shall contribute to peace, security, the sustainable development of the Earth, solidarity and mutual respect among peoples, free and fair trade, eradication of poverty and the protection of human rights.”

He went on to mention other key issues challenging Europe today. He singled out the fact that “in today’s evolved world, paradoxically, the defense of human life [is] menaced by a creeping utilitarianism has now become a priority.”

“I think of so many unborn children,” he continued, “and older persons who are abandoned, of the great challenge of welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating those who come from afar and knock on our doors, and the isolation felt by so many families that find it hard to bring children into the world and raise them.”

Faced with this reality, Pope Francis said: “Here too, we might ask: 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? Where are you sailing if, before life’s ills, you offer hasty but mistaken remedies: like easy access to death, a convenient answer that seems ‘sweet’ but is in fact more bitter than the waters of the sea?” Portugal’s government voted last year to decriminalize euthanasia, joining the growing number of European countries that have legalized or are debating legalizing assisted suicide.

Finding hope in ‘a sea of young people’

Faced with all this, Francis suggested that Lisbon can give us another “reason for hope” as today it embraces “a sea of young people.” He hoped the presence of so many young people from across the world—an estimated one million between the ages of 15 and 35 from 200 countries and six continents—“who long for unity, peace and fraternity,” would give “an impulse toward universal openness” not only to Portugal but also to Europe.

“They urge us to make their dreams come true,” he said, “and they are taking to the streets, not to cry out in anger, but to share the hope of the Gospel.”

He told the Portuguese authorities and the ambassadors of many governments present that “at a time when we are witnessing on many sides a climate of protest and unrest, a fertile terrain for forms of populism and conspiracy theories," World Youth Day “revives our desire to accomplish something new and different, to put out into the deep and to set sail together towards the future.”

Young people "urge us to make their dreams come true, and they are taking to the streets, not to cry out in anger, but to share the hope of the Gospel."

He reminded them of the words of one of Portugal’s most famous poets, Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935), who said, “to set sail is necessary, to live is not…. What is important is to create.”

“So let us resolve, with creativity, to build together!” he said, suggesting “three construction sites of hope in which all of us can work together: the environment, the future and fraternity.”

Speaking of the environment, he praised Portugal for its “outstanding contributions” in this field, but said “on the global level, the problem remains extremely grave: “The oceans are warming,” and “we are transforming great reserves of life into dumping grounds of plastic.” Francis asked, “How can we claim to believe in young people, if we do not give them healthy spaces in which to build the future?”

Referring to the future, “the second construction site of hope,” Francis said, “young people are the future…yet they encounter much that is disheartening: lack of jobs, the dizzying pace of contemporary life, hikes in the cost of living, the difficulty of finding housing and, even more disturbing, the fear of forming families and bringing children into the world.” He said: “A healthy politics can accomplish much in this regard; it can be a generator of hope. It is not about holding on to power, but about giving people the ability to hope.”

Francis said the third “construction site of hope is ‘fraternity,’ which we Christians learn about from Jesus Christ.” While there is “a lively sense of closeness and solidarity” in Portugal, he said, “in the broader context of a globalization that brings us closer but fails to create fraternal closeness, all of us are challenged to cultivate a sense of community, beginning with concern for those who live close by.”

Pope Francis said: “How beautiful it is to realize that we are brothers and sisters and to pursue the common good, leaving behind our conflicts and differing viewpoints! Here, too, we can see an example in those young people who, with their pleas for peace and their thirst for life, impel us to break down the walls of separation erected in the name of different opinions and creeds.”

He concluded his speech, which had drawn applause several times, with these words: “Let us all feel called, as brothers and sisters, to give hope to the world in which we live, and to this magnificent country. God bless Portugal!”

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