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Gerard O’ConnellAugust 06, 2023
Pope Francis waves to the congregation at the end of the closing Mass for World Youth Day at Tejo Park in Lisbon, Portugal, Aug. 6, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

More than 1.5 million young people participated in the closing Mass of World Youth Day in Lisbon’s Tejo Park on Aug. 6, presided over by Pope Francis on the last day of his five-day visit here. At the end of Mass, he announced that there will be a Jubilee for young people in Rome in 2025 and that the next World Youth Day will be held in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, in 2027.

While yesterday, at Fatima, the pope did not use the words “war,” “peace” or “Ukraine,” today at the Angelus he spoke explicitly about all three as he called those present to be peacemakers in a world rife with conflict. Noting that many young people could not attend this World Youth Day because of armed conflicts around the world, he said, “I feel great sorrow for beloved Ukraine, which continues to suffer greatly.”

Pope Francis at World Youth Day: “What will we take back with us as we come down from the mountain to resume our daily lives?”

“Dear friends, allow me, as an older person, to share with you, young people, a dream that I carry within me,” the pope said. “It is the dream of peace, the dream of young people praying for peace, living in peace and building a peaceful future. As we pray the Angelus, let us place the future of humanity into the hands of Mary, Queen of Peace.”

The congregation had attended a vigil led by Pope Francis the previous evening in this same park that included music and dance, individual testimonies, an eight-minute interactive conversation between Francis and young people and an hour of eucharistic adoration. They had slept in sleeping bags in this vast park situated on the right bank of the Tago river, with spectacular views of the sea and Europe’s longest bridge. Many were only waking up when Pope Francis drove among them in his popemobile at 8:15 this Sunday morning at the start of a very hot day that saw the temperature exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit (40C), presenting a daunting challenge for the organizers to ensure everyone had drinking water.

Pope Francis concelebrated the Mass with 30 cardinals—including Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, whose office is responsible for World Youth Day, and Matteo Zuppi, president of the Italian bishops’ conference and the pope’s special envoy to explore paths to peace for the war in Ukraine. Over 700 bishops and 10,000 priests from many countries concelebrated, including America associate editor Ricardo da Silva, S.J.

The entire South Korean hierarchy concelebrated. They had come, together with 1,000 young people, because they wanted to be present when Francis announced that the next World Youth Day would be held in Seoul in 2027.

Despite a busy and tiring week, in which many extra events were added to his already crowded program, Pope Francis seemed in good form at the Mass. Because it coincided with the Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus, Francis sought in his homily to link the experience of the young people at World Youth Day to Jesus’ transfiguration. He urged them “to be radiant in your youthfulness, to bring the light of the Gospel everywhere, and to be beacons of hope in these dark times.” He delivered his homily energetically, going off script many times to make a point. He told the young people that “[a]fter these exciting days surely we feel like repeating the words of the Apostle Peter on the mount of the Transfiguration: ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here!’” (Mt 17:4).

Francis sought in his homily to link the experience of the young people at World Youth Day to Jesus’ transfiguration.

“In the wake of these grace-filled days, we can also ask an important question,” the pope said. “What will we take back with us as we come down from the mountain to resume our daily lives?” He drew on the Gospel story of the Transfiguration to answer that question with three verbs: “to shine, to listen and to be unafraid.”

Referring to the verb “to shine,” he recalled that when Jesus was transfigured, “his face shone like the sun” (Mt 17:2). But, he said, “Shortly before this, he had predicted his passion and death on the cross, shattering the disciples’ image of a powerful and worldly Messiah, and disappointing their expectations. Now, to help them embrace the loving plan of God who is glorified in and through the cross,” Jesus took the three disciples up the mountain, where he was transfigured before them. “His face shines like the sun and his clothes become dazzling white. Through this brilliant burst of light, Jesus prepares the disciples for the dark night they will have to endure; this overwhelming experience of light would help them to endure the dark hours of Gethsemane and Calvary.”

“We, too, need a burst of light if we are to face the darkness of the night, the challenges of life, the fears that plague us, and the gloom that often overtakes us,” the pope continued. “That light, the Gospel tells us, has a name. Yes, the light that has come to illumine the world is Jesus himself (cf. Jn 1:9). He is the sun that never sets, but continues to shine even amid the darkness of the night.”

“In the light of Christ, we too are ‘transfigured’; our eyes and faces can shine with a new light,” he said. “This is what the church and the world expect of you: to be radiant in your youthfulness, to bring the light of the Gospel everywhere, and to be beacons of hope in these dark times… we radiate light when we welcome Jesus into our hearts and learn to love as he does. Then the light of true beauty shines forth: the radiance of a life that is willing to risk everything for the sake of love.”

Commenting on the verb “to listen,” Francis recalled that on the Mount of the Transfiguration, “a bright cloud overshadows the disciples and the Father’s voice proclaims that Jesus is his beloved Son” and tells them “listen to him” (Mt 17:5).

Pope Francis: “That is what we need in this life, then: not fame, success or money, but the realization that we are not alone, that we always have Christ at our side."

“The entire Christian life is contained in these, the last words spoken by the Father in Matthew’s Gospel,” Francis said. “We are to listen to Jesus, talk to him, read his words and put them into practice, and follow his footsteps.

“That is what we need in this life, then: not fame, success or money, but the realization that we are not alone, that we always have Christ at our side, that we can start and end each day certain of the Lord’s embrace. We need to listen to Jesus in order to trust that we are loved, embraced by a love that never fails.”

Francis finished by unpacking the third verb: “to be unafraid.” He recalled that these were the last words spoken by Jesus on the mount of the Transfiguration, to encourage his fearful disciples: “Get up and do not be afraid!” (Mt 17:7). “After having a foretaste of Easter glory, after being bathed in light divine and hearing the Father’s voice,” Pope Francis said, “the disciples can come down from the mountain and face the challenges that await them on the plain below. It is the same for us: If we cherish the light of Jesus and his words within us, we can live each day with hearts free of fear.”

“You have great dreams, but often you may fear that they cannot come true. Sometimes you can think that you are not up to the challenge, and you may be tempted to lose heart, to think you fall short, or to disguise your pain with a smile,” the pope continued, but “the church and the world need you, the young, as much as the earth needs rain.”

He told them: “I would like to look each of you in the eye and say: Do not be afraid! Now I will tell you something even more beautiful: Jesus himself is now looking at you. He knows you; he knows what is in your heart; he smiles at you and tells you once again that he loves you, always and infinitely.” So, he said, “do not be afraid, for the Lord loves you and walks at your side.”

Before taking a plane back to Rome later that afternoon, Pope Francis met with and thanked the many volunteers who had assisted with World Youth Day. As is often the case on his international travels, the pope was scheduled to hold a press conference on the plane.

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