UK groups returning from World Youth Day in Lisbon have described the experience as “an adventure”, “inspirational” and “an amazing journey”. Around 900 pilgrims from England and Wales were among more than 300,000 officially registered for WYD, and most dioceses had representation, including at least 14 bishops.
Fr Dominic Howarth of Brentwood Diocese said, “Great joy and energy was a hallmark of World Youth Day.” He co-led a group from Brentwood Catholic Youth Service with Siân Thomas-Cullinan, accompanied by Bishop Alan Williams, who directed a morning catechesis session in Fatima on the theme of pilgrimage.
Facebook was full of images of groups camping out last weekend for the final vigil on Saturday evening and Sunday Mass with Pope Francis. “Particularly moving was a moment during the vigil when we were asked to pray for each other, with our hand on each other’s shoulders,” reported Fr Dominic. He said, “The Pope was speaking from around a mile from where we are seated, but this did not detract from the power of his words.” Around 1.5 million participants cheered Pope Francis as he was driven through the crowds and then viewed the services on large screens.
The Brentwood group made a conscious decision to travel by coach rather than fly, following Laudato Si’ principles. “We saved 25.6 tonnes of carbon by travelling this way,” Fr Dominic told The Tablet. He said the experiences of the pilgrimage will now be turned into stories to share with parishioners and school students in the weeks and months ahead.
The Brentwood youth group.
Last Sunday, Bishop Patrick McKinney of Nottingham tweeted: “The sun is beginning to rise as Bishop Nick Hudson and I gather very early with a million and a half people for the final Mass with Pope Francis at World Youth Day in Lisbon. The people of Lisbon and Portugal have been so kind and welcoming and have organised a wonderful WYD. Thank you!”
Leeds Diocesan Youth Service said: “We’re so thankful and honoured to be able to have journeyed alongside such a wonderful group of people!” From sharing a morning mass with Salford and Hallam Youth to dancing with Spanish pilgrims in a Lisbon Square to watching a “stunning” sunrise on the morning of the final Mass.” They intend to be at the next WYD in Seoul in 2027. The Shrewsbury youth team reported last weekend, “It was a privilege to share our WYD experience live from Lisbon on BBC Merseyside.”
Jesuits in Britain provided vlogs from WYD, giving a glimpse of events with their international dimension. The Jesuit Refugee Service UK tweeted, “We’re really struck by Pope Francis’ message, urging us to wake up to life around us.”
In an interview with Vatican News, Liverpool-based Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States and International Organisations, said WYD “fills us with great hope for the future and this meeting with the Holy Father will be an encouragement for everybody.” He highlighted the importance of young people bearing witness to their Christian faith, saying, “I think that they can sort out some of the mess that we, their elders, have created for them.”